Elite colleges ask more of homeschoolers

Are Elite Colleges and Universities Discriminating Against Homeschoolers? asks Paula Bolyard, a recently “retired” homeschooler, on PJ Lifestyle.
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Homeschooled student “enter college with significantly higher test scores than their public (and even private) school peers,” she writes. “They graduate from college at a higher rate­—66.7 percent compared to 57.5 percent—and earn higher grade point averages while in school, according to one study.”

Princeton seems to get it, she writes. Applicants who can’t supply a traditional transcript can submit an outline of the homeschool curriculum.

Yale wants to make sure homeschooled kids are not socially awkward:

We look for evidence of social maturity from all our applicants and especially from home-schooled students. Your personal statement, interests and activities, and letters of recommendation should speak to your ability to integrate well with other students and tell us about your non-academic interests.

But elsewhere Yale says “academic strength” is the “first consideration” with “motivation, curiosity, energy, leadership ability, and distinctive talents” in second place.

“We’re going to want to know what the reason for homeschooling is,” a Dartmouth admissions official told Lindsay Cross at the Mommyish blog.

“Was the student busy with another demanding pursuit, like playing music? Were they traveling with their family? Was there a lack of resources in their area? Somewhere in the application, they’re going to need to explain.”

Private school students aren’t asked to explain why they didn’t attend public school, Bolyard points out.

Some elite colleges ask homeschooled students to submit additional SAT II test scores. That strikes me as reasonable. A straight-A student who’s been graded by Mom will need objective evidence of achievement.

But what about a teacher’s recommendation when Mom is the teacher?

In addition to a “not-so-subtle interrogation about the family’s choice to opt out of public education,” Brown also asks for “letters of recommendation from instructors who have taught you in a traditional classroom setting and who can speak to your abilities and potential in an objective way.”

Brown “would prefer not to receive letters of recommendation from your parents, immediate relatives, or from academic tutors in the paid employ of your family,” unless the applicant has no classroom instructors to ask.

To get into college, be perfect — or lie

Elite colleges are looking for genius tigerkids, the ethnically and sexually diverse  – and liars, writes Suzy Lee Weiss, a high school senior in Pittsburgh, in  To (All) the Colleges That Rejected Me in the Wall Street Journal.

Colleges tell you, “Just be yourself.” That is great advice, as long as yourself has nine extracurriculars, six leadership positions, three varsity sports, killer SAT scores and two moms.

Weiss worked at a pizza place and ran last on the track team.

Worse, she is white — not even 1/32 Cherokee — as well as middle class and heterosexual, the antidiversity trifecta. And she didn’t redeem herself by starting a “fake charity.”

Providing veterinary services for homeless people’s pets. Collecting donations for the underprivileged chimpanzees of the Congo. Raising awareness for Chapped-Lips-in-the-Winter Syndrome. Fun-runs, dance-a-thons, bake sales—as long as you’re using someone else’s misfortunes to try to propel yourself into the Ivy League, you’re golden.

Teens without traumas of their own are supposed to write their admissions essays about their trip to Africa — “spending that afternoon with Kinto changed my life” — but Weiss went to summer camp instead.

With a 4.5 GPA, 2120 SAT scores and a stint as a U.S. Senate page, Weiss was rejected by Princeton, Yale, Penn and Vanderbilt. Critics complain she’s whiny, but I read her as sarcastic and quite funny.

Admissions directors should stop demanding that applicants tell absurd lies, writes Megan McArdle.

 These days, a nearly-perfect GPA is the barest requisite for an elite institution. You’re also supposed to be a top notch athlete and/or musician, the master of multiple extracurriculars.  Summers should preferably be spent doing charitable work, hopefully in a foreign country, or failing that, at least attending some sort of advanced academic or athletic program.

Naturally, this selects for kids who are extremely affluent, with extremely motivated parents who will steer them through the process of “founding a charity” and other artificial activities.  Kids who have to spend their summer doing some boring menial labor in order to buy clothes have a hard time amassing that kind of enrichment experience.

In her day, applicants faked epiphanies about themselves. Now they have to fake epiphanies about the suffering of others, preferably foreigners. “This proves that they are really caring human beings who want to do more for the world than just make money so that they, too will, in their time, be able to get their children into Harvard.”

Gifted or test prepped?

Test prep for four-year-olds keeps escalating in Manhattan, reports the New York Times. It’s a game played by well-to-do parents eager to get their kids into public gifted programs or into selective private schools.

The New York City Education Department changed part of its admissions exam for its gifted and talented programs last year, in part to minimize the benefits of test prep. A test prep company “posted the news with links to guides and practice tests for the new assessment,” reports the Times.

The day Pearson announced changes in the exam used by many private schools, another company explained the changes in its blog:  “word reasoning and picture comprehension were out, bug search and animal coding were in.”

Schools worry that intensive test prep has made the admissions test invalid.

Nearly 5,000 children qualified for gifted slots in the city’s public kindergartens this year, double the number five years ago.

Natalie Viderman, 4, spent an hour and a half each week for six months at Bright Kids NYC, a tutoring company, working on skills like spatial visualization and serial reasoning, which are part of the Naglieri Nonverbal Ability Test, or NNAT 2, the new gifted and talented test. She and her mother, Victoria Preys, also worked every night on general learning, test prep and workbooks, some provided by Bright Kids.

Natalie’s brother, a Bright Kids graduate, tested into a gifted program. Natalie just missed the cut-off for a gifted school that uses an IQ test but hasn’t heard if she’s qualified for a gifted program that uses the NNAT 2.

Age-bias suit cites grade inflation

Ignoring grade inflation in law school admissions constitutes age bias, claims Michael Kamps in a lawsuit against Baylor’s law school.

 In the age discrimination suit, he claims that the 3.2 G.P.A. he earned in 1979 from Texas A&M University is equivalent to a 3.6 G.P.A. today because of grade inflation . . .

Kamps, a certified public accountant, first applied for the law school’s fall 2010 entering class and for a full-tuition scholarship for Texas A&M graduates. He was the only applicant to qualify  that year based on grades and test scores, but Baylor changed the formula to require a minimum 3.4 GPA.

In April, Baylor “accidentally sent each member of the fall 2012 admitted class a spreadsheet with each student’s G.P.A. and LSAT score,” reports Inside Higher Ed.

By looking through the leaked credentials, which he found available on the Internet, Kamps found that his LSAT score was better than those of about 97 percent of admitted students, while his G.P.A. was superior only to about 20 percent. But his Baylor Index score — a now-discarded evaluation method, according to the complaint — was superior to about 68 percent of the fall 2012 admits.

Kamps argues in the complaint that by looking at class rankings or taking into account a grade inflation factor — which a national study by Stuart Rojstaczer found to be about 0.14 points per decade — his G.P.A. is equivalent to a 3.6 G.P.A. today.

Baylor has offered Kamps a spring or summer start time, but he wants to start in the fall, when he believes he’d have a better shot at a scholarship.

What will college cost?

What will college cost? The Education Department’s new College Affordability and Transparency Center shows where college costs are rising the fastest or slowest and estimates net prices.

Also: Good debt, bad debt, student debt.

Don’t pay too much for prestige, advises Rick Hess. College rankings have been inflated: More colleges are rated “selective” because they’re rejecting more applicants and admitting students with higher high school grades. But that’s the result of technology — it’s easier to do multiple applications — and grade inflation, not improved quality.

Administration: Diversity justifies race-conscious policies

 Schools and colleges can consider consider race and ethnicity to promote diversity, advises the Education and Justice Departments in new “guidances” that reverse Bush Administration policy.

“Diverse learning environments promote development of analytical skills, dismantle stereotypes, and prepare students to succeed in an increasingly interconnected world,” Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. said in announcing the guidance Dec. 2 with Secretary of Education Arne Duncan.

Race-neutral policies should be considered first, but need not be tried before being deemed “unworkable,” according to the administration. And race or ethnicity can be a “plus factor,” but not a “defining” factor.

“A school district should not evaluate student applicants in a way that makes a student’s race his or her defining factor,” says the K-12 guidance, in reference to decisions on competitive academic programs, for example.

Civil rights groups have been lobbying for the changes.

The U.S. Supreme Court is expected to decide in January whether to consider a white student’s challenge of the use of race in University of Texas admissions policy.

Seeking wise, creative students

Colleges admit students with strong analytical skills, but may reject creative, wise and community-minded students who’d also do well, argues psychologist Robert Sternberg.  After trying his ideas as a dean at Tufts, which attracts very well-qualified students, Sternberg became provost at Oklahoma State, which takes 70 to 75 percent of applicants.  The university is testing new essay prompts to identify applicants with hard-to-measure qualities, reports Inside Higher Ed.

Oklahoma State accepts students with a 1090 SAT (without the writing test) or a 3.0 grade point average and top-third-of-the-class ranking. Students with lower grades and scores can get in by doing well on an essay question, which might ask about their goals or special interests.

The university is asking current freshmen to answer questions Sternberg developed. Several will be chosen for next year’s applications.  For example:

“Music spans time and culture. Explain how the lyrics of one of your favorite songs define you or your cultural experience.”

“If you were able to open a local charity of your choice, what type of charity would it be, how would you draw people to your cause, and whom would it benefit?”

“Today’s movies often feature superheroes and the supernatural. If you could have one superpower, what would it be, and how would you use it? Who would be your archenemy, and what would be his or her superpower?”

“Roughly 99 percent” of admitted applicants have qualified on some combination of grades and test scores, Sternberg says. “Who believes, really, that ACTs and high school grades are going to predict who will become the positive active citizens and leaders of tomorrow?”

I do.  The combination of high school grades and test scores predicts who’ll complete a college degree, which predicts active citizenship, such as voting and volunteering.

A good writer can express creativity and devotion to community service — maybe even wisdom — by writing about goals and interests. Just because the question is boring doesn’t mean the answer has to be. A bad writer won’t do any better because he knows a lot about comic superheroes. I suspect few C+ students with mediocre ACT or SAT scores can write a good essay on any topic.

But it’s an experiment. Maybe Oklahoma State will find hidden gems in its applicant pool by tweaking the essay prompts.

Admissions edge cuts chances

Going to the toughest college you can get into isn’t necessarily the best strategy, writes Gail Heriot, a University of San Diego law professor and a member of the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights. According to a report by the commission, “accepting an affirmative action leg-up probably hurts a student’s chances of becoming a doctor, scientist or engineer.” Students are more likely to achieve their goals if they attend a school at which their academic credentials are roughly average.

College-bound African-Americans are just as likely as whites to plan science and engineering majors, but much more likely to switch to easier majors along the way, Heriot writes. While black students earn lower science-related standardized test scores than Asians or whites, that’s not the whole explanation.

As three independent scholarly studies show, part of the problem appears to be relative. A student who attends a college at which his entering credentials put him near the bottom of the class — which is where a student who needed an affirmative action preference will be — is less likely to persevere in science or engineering than an otherwise identical student attending a school at which those same credentials put him in the middle of the class or higher.

. . . A good student can get in over his head and end up learning little or nothing if he is placed in a classroom with students whose level of academic preparation is much higher than his own, even though he is fully capable of mastering the material when presented at a more moderate pace. Discouraged, he may even give up — even though he would have persevered and ultimately succeeded in a somewhat less competitive environment.

Frederick Smyth, a University of Virginia psychology professor,  and John McArdle, a University of Southern California psychology professor, estimate that 45 percent more minority women and 35 percent more minority men would have persisted in science and engineering if they had attended schools where their academic credentials matched their peers.

With only 20 percent of total African-American enrollment, historically black colleges and universities produce 40 percent of the African-Americans graduating with a bachelor’s degree in the natural sciences, Heriot writes.

How the elite buy their kids in

Money matters in college admissions, writes TaxProf, who’s been touring colleges with his daughter.  He cites Daniel Golden’s  The Price of Admission: How America’s Ruling Class Buys Its Way into Elite Colleges — and Who Gets Left Outside the Gates, which argues that preferences for affluent whites are more significant at highly selective colleges than minority preferences.

Preferences also benefit children from well-connected and famous families, legacies, faculty children and “athletes in such patrician sports as rowing, horseback riding, fencing and even polo,” notes the Washington Post review.

Wealthy parents don’t need to be donors: They’re courted as “development cases,” even at endowment-rich Harvard. Duke “embarked on a systematic strategy of raising its endowment by seeking out wealthy applicants,” Golden asserts, estimating that Duke admitted 100 development applicants each year in the late 1990s who otherwise would have been rejected.

Also enjoying substantial preference at elite colleges, both public and private, are varsity athletes. In a fascinating case study of women’s sports at the University of Virginia, Golden shows how the effort to comply with Title IX, a gender equity law that has the praiseworthy goal of ensuring equality between female and male athletes, has had the unintended effect of giving an admissions edge to female athletes who play upper-class sports. Between 1992 and 2002, the number of college women nationwide in rowing, a sport highly concentrated in private schools and affluent suburbs, rose from 1,555 to 6,690; more recently, the number of female varsity horseback riders increased from 633 to 1,175 between 1998 and 2002. The net effect of the rise of these overwhelmingly patrician sports, Golden argues, has been to further advantage already advantaged women.

If elite universities ended affirmative action for the privileged, it would open up  25 percent of the places in the freshman class, Golden estimates. Some Asian immigrant striver would have a shot at Harvard, if Al Gore’s son (one of his examples) had to compete on academic merits.

Golden calls for ending preferences for legacies, faculty children and athletes in “upper-class” sports. Jerome Karabel, the Post reviewer, writes:

Equally important is his suggestion that a firewall be constructed between the admissions office and the development office — a change of no small moment in institutions where the link between the two now looks more like an autobahn.

“Absent a more profound change in the prevailing definition of merit,” fewer preferences for the rich by elite colleges will benefit well-educated “children of the upper-middle class,” Karabel predicts. Few low-income students are close to qualifying.

I worry more about the college prospects of low-income and working-class students. They don’t need to get into Harvard or Yale or Duke to be successful, but far too many are graduated from high school without the skills to earn a degree at Affordable State University — or even a vocational certificate at Local Community College.

Almost-Ivy students will go to slightly less elite colleges and universities,where they’ll be successful, if they continue to work hard.  Wealthy slackers will remain slackers.

Education-as-political-privilege

Just go read.  Here’s a teaser:

While many Chicago parents took formal routes to land their children in the best schools, the well-connected also sought help through a shadowy appeals system created in recent years under former schools chief Arne Duncan.

Whispers have long swirled that some children get spots in the city’s premier schools based on whom their parents know. But a list maintained over several years in Duncan’s office and obtained by the Tribune lends further evidence to those charges. Duncan is now secretary of education under President Barack Obama.

The log is a compilation of politicians and influential business people who interceded on behalf of children during Duncan’s tenure. It includes 25 aldermen, Mayor Richard Daley’s office, House Speaker Michael Madigan, his daughter Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan, former White House social secretary Desiree Rogers and former U.S. Sen. Carol Moseley Braun.

Really… whoever could have guessed that the best of publicly funded resources would go to the powerful?  It’s bad enough that the rich can fund their own better schools.  It’s even worse when they demand that the middle and lower class do it for them.

(H/T to Instapundit and Hot Air.)