Tell the truth about college readiness

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“Sam” earned mostly B’s at Average High. Is he/she/they prepared to pass college classes? Maybe, if the B’s were for achievement rather than effort and teachers’ standards were high enough. Maybe not.

U.S. schools don’t tell students the truth about college readiness, writes Chester E. Finn, Jr., former Fordham chief and assistant U.S. secretary of education, in National Affairs.

Then colleges admit unprepared students who require remedial classes. Most will “leave school with nothing but debt and disillusion,” writes Finn.

Ambition and optimism are laudable traits. So is this country’s long tradition as a place of second chances, a land where you can always start over, compensate for past mistakes, choose a new direction, and find the educational path that takes you there. But at a certain point, encouragement becomes damaging.

Nearly all high school students say they want to go to college. They know that college graduates do far better in the workforce than those with only a high school diploma. But don’t realize they’re not prepared to earn a degree.

. . . our K-12 education system has never gotten more than one-third of young Americans to the “college-ready” level by the end of the 12th grade. Twenty percent drop out before finishing high school, and of the rest only about two in five graduate with the reading and math skills that equip them to take credit-bearing college courses.

If colleges stopped admitting unprepared students — or the feds linked student aid to college readiness — people would be very, very angry, Finn writes. But what if it were possible?

We’d see greater seriousness about academic standards and achievement throughout the system and a lot more truth-telling. Fewer people would drop out of college, dejected and burdened by loans they cannot realistically pay back. More young Americans would truly be prepared for good jobs, economic success, upward mobility, and full participation in 21st-century life in a post-industrial economy. The country would be more competitive, too.

The money saved could go to high-quality technical education, he writes. Instead of  “college for all,” the mantra should be “honesty is the best policy.”

While elite students are loaded up with AP courses, most U.S.  high school students are learning less in high school, writes Marc Tucker.  They go to open-admissions colleges “with little more than middle school knowledge and literacy,” well below what it takes to earn a degree or go on to “attain a middle-class standard of living.”

Raising standards requires persuading parents that “their children have more to fear from standards that are too low than from standards that are too high,” Tucker writes. “Therein lies the core challenge for education leaders in the years ahead.”

Prof: Stop saying ‘microaggression’

Stop using “microaggression” or “training” students to avoid microaggressions, writes Scott. O. Lilienfeld, an Emory psychology professor, in  Microaggressions: Strong Claims, Inadequate Evidence. The core premises of microaggression theory are unproven, he argues. The study was published in Perspectives on Psychological Science, a peer-reviewed journal.

Microagressions” — “slights, insults, invalidations and indignities” — threaten the health of “marginalized groups,” say proponents of the theory. Unintentional slights are as bad as deliberate “micro-assaults.”

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“Racial and cultural insensitivities” are real, he writes. But there’s “negligible evidence” that slights and snubs cause psychological harm or that they reflect prejudice or aggression.

On many college campuses, students receive training on microaggressions and warning lists of what not to say, he writes. Occidental College is considering a system to encourage students to report their professors’ microaggressions.

Lilienfeld became interested in the issue when he learned that some colleges were “telling students that statements such as “I believe that American is a land of opportunity” and “I believe that the most qualified person should get the job” constituted microaggressions,” reports Campus Reform.

“I came to the conclusion that although the microaggression concept almost surely contains a kernel of truth, it is highly problematic on numerous grounds and is not close to being ready for real-world application” he explained.

“Sensitizing individuals to subtle signs of potential anger might inadvertently end up making many of them ‘perceive’ slights even when they are not present,” Lilienfeld said. That could “exacerbate racial tensions at colleges.”

Conor Friedersdorf wrote about the rise of the victimhood culture in The Atlantic in 2015.

“You guys” is on the no-say list at University of Wisconsin at River Falls “Ugly” is banned because it “can be connected back to white supremacist, ableist, sizeist standards of beauty.” It’s bad to say “bad.” But, Heat Street points out, “dick” is OK.

Warning to theology students: Jesus is crucified

University of Glasgow theology students receive trigger warnings before studying the crucifixion of Jesus, reports the Daily Mail. Those who believe they’ll be upset by seeing images of crucifixion can skip the lesson.

Cuomo plans ‘free college’ for most in NY

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo wants to offer free tuition at state universities to students from families earning up to $125,00 a year, reports the New York Times. Community colleges also would be tuition free.

The “Excelsior Scholarship” would cover any tuition payments not already covered by existing state and federal grants. The estimated cost is $163 million, though that’s a very fuzzy estimate, on top of $1 billion now offered in state tuition aid.

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced his free-college proposal with failed Democratic candidate Bernie Sanders at his side.

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced his free-college proposal with Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders at his side. Photo: Mary Altaffer/AP

Yes, Cuomo is being mentioned as a possible Democratic presidential candidate in 2020. He invited Bernie Sanders, who ran on the “free college” idea, to his press conference.

State colleges shouldn’t be free, writes Reason‘s Nick Gillespie a SUNY-Buffalo grad.

Cuomo’s plan, billed as helping “the middle class,” covers students from families earning more than double the median income in New York, writes Gillespie. “If you’re in a household making $124,000 a year, you’re in the top 16 percent of households.”

The sons and daughters of more-educated, more-remunerated folks are more likely to go to college in the first place and a lot more likely to graduate in four or six years.

. . . it would be far better to narrow the focus of the program to, say, students coming from the bottom 20 percent of households by income and giving them the sorts of support (intellectual and social) that might help them make it all the way through. As it stands, only about 20 percent of students from the bottom fifth of households have a college degree by age 24. That’s the same rate as in 1970. (And of course, educational reform should start at the K-12 level first and foremost, by making charter schools and vouchers more widely available to the students who would gain the most from them.)

He also argues that all college students should have “skin in the game.”

A college diploma raises average lifetime earnings by between $250,000 and $1 million (depending on many factors and assumptions) and it makes sense to ask the person who will cash that premium to pay for at least some part of it, doesn’t it?

If that dissuades the not-very-motivated from going to college, it’s “a good thing,” concludes Gillespie.

State colleges and universities already are tuition-free for low-income New Yorkers, writes Robert Kelchen.

Therefore, the benefits of the program would go to two groups of students. The first group is fairly obvious: middle-income and upper-middle-income families. In New York, $125,000 falls at roughly the 80th percentile of family income—an income level where families may not be able to pay tuition without borrowing, but college enrollment rates are quite high. The second group consists of lower-income students who are induced to enroll by the clear message of free tuition, even though they would have received free tuition without the program. Tennessee’s enrollment boost suggests this group is far from trivial in size.

Students still will need to borrow to cover living expenses, writes Kelchen. “Tuition and fees are less than half of the total cost of attendance at four-year colleges and an even smaller fraction at community colleges.”

Walk on the bewildering side

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College should be where things “get more complicated, not less,” writes Lyell Asher, a Lewis & Clark English professor, in The American Scholar.  Yet many students — and their teachers — avoid complexity and embrace “simplifications.”

Feeling offended implies an offense, and where there’s an offense there must be a culprit guilty of having committed it. No need to bother with the complexities of  context and intention—it says here that “impact” is what matters, that how I feel is what counts. No need to wonder whether an expression of hatred is real or a ruse, isolated or endemic—assume the worst and take the part for the whole.

But of course that’s the problem with homophobia, racism, sexism, religious extremism, and any other “ism” you care to mention. They’re shortcuts. Tell me your skin color, or your gender, whom you want to sleep with or marry, what god you worship or deny, and I’ll fill in the rest.

Last fall, before students went home on break, some Harvard staffers distributed Holiday Placemats for Social Justice in a campus dining hall: The mats offered talking points for family discussions on “race, student activism, and the refugee crisis,” writes Asher.

 . . . combining the proselytizing confidence of a fundamentalist religious tract with the marketing opportunism of McDonald’s, those placemats suggested that you could bear witness to the truth about everything from the Halloween costume controversy at Yale to the Syrian refugee crisis, all without missing a bite.

. . .  No need to think through these issues yourselves—we’ve done the thinking for you. Besides, it’s what everyone else will be thinking this fall.

Diversity talk is “long on the differences between groups, but short on the differences within them, and within each one of us,” writes Asher.

Yet these last differences—the “multitudes” and contradictions that Whitman found within himself—provide the surest route to human connection and regard, because only when we recognize and admit just how mysterious we are even to ourselves, can we begin to relate to one another with open attitudes of humility and uncertainty, rather than closed attitudes of judgment and fear.

Students need to learn the value of being frustrated and confused, writes Asher. Walk on the bewildering side.

Snowflake: Don’t compare me to a fragile student 


A Billings, Montana snowflake “is speaking out after learning that snowflakes are being used to describe overprotected college students who are easily distressed by ideas that do not align with their worldview,” sources told The Babylon Bee.

(Snowflakes) don’t demand safe spaces from kids’ scalding hot tongues. We don’t ask for trigger warnings every time a dog starts sniffing around. Enough is enough.”

The term Generation Snowflake “is an insult to snowflakes everywhere,” the flake concluded.

It sounds like cultural appropriation to me!

Meritocracy’s losers: No degree, no respect

Horatio Alger stories spread the belief that anyone can succeed, if they work hard enough. Educational elitism marks the modern U.S. economy, writes Victor Tan Chen in The Atlantic. College-educated winners scorn working-class Americans as “as lazy, untalented, uneducated, and unsophisticated.” A Virginia Commonwealth sociology professor, he’s the author of Cut Loose: Jobless and Hopeless in an Unfair Economy. 

Our culture is an extreme meritocracy, writes Chen. We believe anyone can “make it” in America. It follows that those who don’t succeed deserve their low status.

“The well-educated and well-off who live in or near big cities tend to endorse the notion, explicitly or implicitly, that education determines a person’s value,” writes Chen.

More so than in other rich nations, like Germany and Japan, which have prioritized vocational training to a greater degree, a college degree has become the true mark of individual success in America . . .

For his book, Chen interviewed laid-off auto workers, all former union members, who shared the view that the educated deserved to live better than the uneducated. Yet, “two-thirds of Americans age 25 and over do not have a bachelor’s degree,” he writes.

The labor market has become more polarized, as highly paid jobs for workers with middling levels of education and skill dwindle away. And as many have argued, advances in artificial intelligence threaten a net loss of employment (even for the well-educated) in the not-so-far-off future.

A new government report warns automation will increase demand for high-level technical skills — and decrease demand for routine skills.

Fordham’s Mike Petrilli calls this the great “coming apart.” Educational attainment (or the lack of it) is “the new dividing line.”

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He suspects “that a college education is simply a marker — of people who were lucky to be born into relative affluence and the stable homes that generally accompany it; of individuals with the ‘soft skills’ that allow them to persevere in their educations, but also—when they’re so disposed—in their jobs, even in their marriages.”

Some countries — Singapore, Switzerland, Germany — offer high-quality career and technical education linked to apprenticeships and jobs, he writes. The U.S. pushed a “bachelor degree or bust” strategy, writes Petrilli.  “The number of bachelor degrees has increased a bit, but the size of the ‘bust’ is much, much larger.”

A ‘bad year’ for Core-linked SAT

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After helping to write Common Core standards, David Coleman moved to College Board, where he pushed a plan to align the SAT and PSAT college entrance exams to the standards, reports Renee Dudley for Reuters. The new Core-linked SAT, released this spring, is facing “harsh realities.”

Within College Board, there were “pitched battles” over Coleman’s “timeline to create the new test,” writes Dudley, who had access to internal e-mails, memos and presentations.

As Reuters reported in March, the College Board has struggled to stop cheating rings in Asia that exploit security weaknesses in the SAT and enable some students to gain unfair advantages on the exam. A massive security breach earlier this year exposed about 400 questions for upcoming SATs.

And College Board officials went forward with the redesigned test even though they knew it was overloaded with wordy math questions, a problem that handicaps non-native English speakers and reinforces race and income disparities that Coleman has vowed to diminish.

Reviewers warned that linking to Common Core “would disadvantage students in states that rejected the standards or were slow to absorb them,” writes Dudley.

Aligning the SAT with the Common Core standards is not “educationally sound, nor will it be fair to students for at least several years, even if all fifty states enthusiastically adopt them,” wrote Dan Lotesto, a lecturer at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee.

“It was a bad year, and I’m sorry,” Coleman said in September, at a conference of university admissions officers and high school counselors. “It is no good to have vision if you don’t deliver.”

Several states have dropped the Common Core. President-elect Donald Trump has called the standards a “total disaster.”

The Common Core is “unraveling,” education historian Diane Ravitch said in an interview. “If the SAT becomes woefully out of line with what’s happening in schools, then it’s less valuable.”

The ACT has passed the SAT in popularity among collegebound students.

Building a prison-to-school pipeline

In its final weeks, the Obama administration is trying to help “justice-involved” youth (kids in juvenile detention) return to traditional schools, writes Hechinger’s Rebecca Klein.

David Williams, who works at Homeboy Industries, fills out paperwork to enroll in a seven-week construction course at Los Angeles Trade Tech College on Monday, April 1, 2015. Homeboy is one of the grantees in a $59 million federal investment announced Thursday. MAYA SUGARMAN/KPCC

Ex-con David Williams applies for a construction course at Los Angeles Trade Tech College. Photo: Maya Sugarman/KPCC

There are more than 50,000 juvenile inmates, the Department of Education reports. They are disproportionately black and male.

Many attribute that to the “school-to-prison pipeline, in which overly harsh discipline practices help push students out of school and into the juvenile justice system,” writes Klein.

Ex-cons who’ve made it to Berkeley and other universities want to help build the prison-to-college pipeline, reports Larissa MacFarquhar in a fascinating New Yorker story.

She profiles criminal go-getters who had lots of time to read in prison.

Steven Czifra, the son of alcoholics, was behind bars from the age of 16 to 30.

The one good thing about solitary in Y.A. (Youth Authority) was a big box there containing hundreds of books. He read until all that was left was a volume of Shakespeare, with four plays in it. At first, he found the language nearly impossible to understand, but he had nothing else to do, so he kept at it. He gradually realized that it was better than anything he’d read before, and he looked for more. He decided that his favorite play was “Richard II,” because of the way it forced you to confront a disagreeable man-child who ruined his life and killed people, and yet, by the end, made you feel compassion for him. When he finished with the Shakespeare, he wrote to a librarian, who sent him ancient-Greek literature in translation. He read Milton and Wordsworth and Dickens.

After his release, went to community college on a federal Pell Grant, then transferred to Berkeley, where he co-founded Underground Scholars with ex-con Danny Murillo, who also discovered reading in juvenile detention. Both earned their UC degrees in 2015 and now work to turn former inmates into successful students.

Out, out, darn Bard: Lorde is come

Penn students removed a portrait of Shakespeare from a staircase in the English Department, replacing the Bard with a picture of Audre Lorde, a black, lesbian, feminist poet.

English faculty “voted to relocate and replace the portrait a few years ago in order to represent a more diverse range of writers,” reports the Daily Pennsylvanian. However, nothing was done.

““Students removed the Shakespeare portrait and delivered it to my office as a way of affirming their commitment to a more inclusive mission for the English department,” wrote Jed Esty, chair of the department, in an email to the student newspaper. “We invite everyone to join us in the task of critical thinking about the changing nature of authorship, the history of language, and the political life of symbols.”

What does that invitation mean? Anything?