Tutors or cheaters?

Wealthy parents are hiring “tutors” to do their children’s work through private school — and sometimes college, reports the New York Post. Eager to get their kids into elite colleges by any means necessary, parents go online to find “legit and not-so-legit tutors, homework helpers and ghostwriters.”

“Charles” put himself through medical school and put a down payment on an apartment with $150,000 he earned over six years of ghostwriting for a single student.

The mother — a college professor — demanded Charles “tutor” her 15-year-old sophomore son by completing every homework assignment and writing every paper and college essay. . . .

Once the boy was off to his out-of-state private university, he flunked out after less than one year without the coddling of a tutor.

. . . And when the student was enrolled at a less-competitive school back in New York, Charles was pulled back in at the mother’s urging: “I was back in the picture in the same way as before: coming over five or six days a week. They paid for my apartment,” he says.

Teachers notice when mediocre students turn in “grad-school-like” papers, a private school teacher tells the Post.

“We would have staff meetings to discuss tutors: How do we grade this essay, knowing a tutor is crafting it? It puts teachers in an awkward position, because you don’t want to accuse the kid. Teachers can’t keep up with all the ways kids are cheating these days.”

It sounds as though private schools don’t want to confront parents who are paying the tuition bill as well as the ghost-writer’s bill.

College admissions officers also see a lot of ghost-written or mom-written essays. I wonder if there’s any point in requiring an essay.

Beyond race-based affirmative action

After oral arguments today in Fisher vs. University of Texas, many think the U.S. Supreme Court will limit, if not eliminate, universities’ ability to use race in admissions. The plaintiff, Abigail Fisher, argues UT has achieved diversity by admitting the top 10 percent graduates at each high school and doesn’t need to use a race-conscious policy to admit more blacks and Hispanics.

A loss for affirmative action would be good for ethnic and racial diversity in the long run, argues Thomas J. Espenshade, in Moving Beyond Affirmative Action, a New York Times commentary. Americans would have to address “the deeply entrenched disadvantages that lower-income and minority children face from the beginning of life,” writes Espenshade, a professor of sociology at Princeton and a co-author of  No Longer Separate, Not Yet Equal: Race and Class in Elite College Admission and Campus Life.

Race-based affirmative action affects only 1 percent of all black and Hispanic 18-year-olds, the students who apply to more selective colleges and universities, he writes. Eliminating the preference would cut black admissions by 60 percent and Hispanics by one-third at selective private schools. Giving preferences to low-income students wouldn’t make up the difference, “given the large numbers of working-class non-Hispanic whites and Asians in the applicant pool.”

Without affirmative action, racial diversity on selective college campuses could be preserved only by closing the racial achievement gap, Espenshade writes.

 If affirmative action is abolished, selective colleges and universities will face a stark choice. They can try to manufacture diversity by giving more weight in admissions to those factors that are sometimes close substitutes for race — for example, having overcome disadvantage in a poor urban neighborhood. Or they can take a far bolder step: putting their endowments and influence behind a comprehensive effort to close the learning gap that starts at birth.

That would be a long, hard struggle, but it would benefit many more people. “However the court decides the Fisher case, affirmative action’s days appear numbered,” Espenshade predicts. ”In 2003, in the Grutter decision, Justice Sandra Day O’Connor wrote that she expected such preferences to disappear within 25 years — by 2028. The children who would go off to college that year are already 2 years old.”

Exam schools from the inside

Exam schools — public schools for high achievers — attract far more applicants than they can take, write Fordham’s Checker Finn and consultant Jessica Hockett in Education Next.

Some school officials are uneasy about the practice of selectivity, given possible allegations of “elitism” and anxiety over pupil diversity. Still, most rely primarily on applicants’ prior school performance and scores on various tests.

. . . Their overall student body is only slightly less poor than the universe of U.S. public school students. Some schools, we expected, would enroll many Asian American youngsters, but we were struck when they turned out to comprise 21 percent of the schools’ total enrollment, though they make up only 5 percent of students in all public high schools. More striking still: African Americans are also “overrepresented” in these schools, comprising 30 percent of enrollments versus 17 percent in the larger high-school population. Hispanic students are correspondingly underrepresented, but so are white youngsters.

Exam schools are “serious, purposeful places” with motivated, well-behaved students. Teachers have high expectations for students. Most schools offer Advanced Placement (AP) courses, the International Baccalaureate (IB) program, their own  advanced courses and/or actual college classes. In addition, there are literary magazines, robotics competitions, sophisticated music and theater offerings, most of the usual clubs and organizations, plenty of field trips, and no dearth of sports—though champion football and basketball teams were rare!

But exam schools are under heavy pressure to get graduates into top-tier colleges. The “AP tiger” frustrates teachers, exhausts students and discourages  ”experimentation, risk-taking, unconventional thinking, unique courses, and individualized research, as well as pedagogical creativity and curricular innovation,” write Finn and Hockett.

While exam school students excel, it’s not clear the school added value to students who already were high performing, they write.

Should the U.S. have more exam schools for high achievers? Here’s the poll.

Uzbeks block texting on exam day

Uzbek authorities blocked text messaging and mobile internet service during nationwide university entrance exams on Aug 1. While one media network said the telecom system needed repair, Fergana News reported the measure was designed to prevent cheating.

 

Cheating on the SAT

Sam Eshaghoff, who charged up to $2,500 to take SAT exams for others, tells 60 Minutes why he did it (money) and how (easily faked high school IDs).

Eshaghoff, now a 19-year=old college student, took the SATs at least 16 times for pay. (He assumes parents came up with the money.) He doesn’t sound wracked with guilt.

I mean a kid who has a horrible grade point average, who no matter how much he studies is gonna totally bomb this test, by giving him an amazing score, I totally give him this like, a new lease on life. He’s gonna go to a totally new college, he’s gonna be bound for a totally new career and a totally new path in life.

Correspondent Alison Stewart asks if the client is “going to take the place of someone who may have actually worked for it and deserved that position.” Eshaghoff denies it, without explaining his reasoning.

Eshaghoff copped a plea to fraud and criminal impersonation and agreed to community service: tutoring low-income students on how to take the SAT. His former clients paid no penalty: “It is ETS policy not to tell schools about cases of suspected or confirmed cheating.”

SAT prep courses are a waste of money, Eshaghoff tells CBS. If you’re not a hard-working, “academically conditioned” student, you can’t study your way to significantly higher scores in six months, he believes. Yet he seems to think that the kid with horrible grades who buys his way into a better college will succeed there and go on to “a totally new career” and life path.

Don’t check Asian

College applicants now identify as white rather than Asian, if they can, to increase their admissions chances. That’s inspired Next Media Animation’s  Don’t check Asian.

Stanford ‘brands’ online high school

Stanford University is attaching its name and prestige to an online high school that will graduate 30 students in June, reports the New York Times. What’s been known as the Education Program for Gifted Youth will become Stanford  Online High School

Yes, that Stanford — the elite research university known for producing graduates who win Nobels and found Googles, not for teaching basic algebra to teenagers. Five years after the opening of the experimental program, some education experts consider Stanford’s decision to attach its name to the effort a milestone for online education

While other universities have sponsored virtual schools, Stanford’s cachet make this significant. Graduates will have no edge in admissions to the university, but graduation from a Stanford-sponsored program can’t hurt. The Times interviews a student with near-perfect SAT scores.

The program isn’t a roll-your-own affair.

In a typical class session, about 14 students simultaneously watch a live-streamed lecture, with video clips, diagrams and other animations to enliven the lesson. Instead of raising hands, students click into a queue when they have questions or comments; teachers call on them by choosing their audio stream, to be heard by all. An instant-messaging window allows for constant discussion among the students who, in conventional settings, might be chastised for talking in class.

. . . Students taking a full five-course load must be present for 10 seminars per week, each of them 60 to 90 minutes, with an additional 15 to 20 lectures of about 15 minutes that are recorded by the teachers and viewable at the students’ convenience. Fridays are reserved for activities like a student newspaper and an engineering team. Papers are submitted electronically, and students are required to find a Stanford-approved proctor to oversee exams.

Stanford should go beyond a “small, selective program for gifted students,” writes Bill Tucker of Education Sector. Stanford should expand to reach more students and study how it works, he writes on Education  Next.

Perhaps Stanford’s move will push other institutions to consider the real game-changer – offering elite quality education, at an affordable cost, on a more massive scale. When will the University of Michigan, UVA, UNC, Berkeley, or any of our other great public universities do this for an entire state?

My daughter did Education Program for Gifted Youth algebra in seventh grade to escape from a horrible pre-algebra class taught in “new new math” style. Ray Ravaglia, who still runs the program, told my ex-husband that students didn’t need to be gifted to handle the classes. He put “gifted” in the title so that schools wouldn’t be scared of losing too many students. I thought it worked for Allison because she was highly motivated, self-disciplined and could get math questions answered immediately by her father.  Without a parent’s help, it would have been very frustrating. Of course, this was nearly 20 years ago when the technology was practically at the smoke signals level.  But I think motivation and self-discipline are still important to make online learning work.

Larry Cuban graphs the hype cycle for online schools.

Does the college essay suck the life out of boys?

Does the College Essay Suck the Life Out of Boys? asks Dr. Helen on PJ Media’s Lifestyle.

She’s reading Andrew Ferguson’s Crazy U: One Dad’s Crash Course in Getting His Kid Into College. Ferguson describes his son’s struggle to write a politically correct admissions essay.

Many of the colleges ask for an essay about the student’s “inner life”–usually a buzz word for some kind of sappy self-absorbed nonsense where the student “took a risk” of some kind and went on to become a better person or some variation of that theme.

The son, who thought his inner life was his own business, finally wrote about passing a swimming test in camp that others could not.

In the essay, the son wrote that he was “tired but proud; he sympathized with his classmates who hadn’t finished and in his victory, accepted modestly, he learned the timeless value of persistence and determination, expressed with grim earnestness…”

But his father knew the truth: “which was the masculine truth. He didn’t remember the race because it proved the timeless value of persistence. He remembered the victory because it was a victory: he had competed against this classmates, friends and rivals alike, and beaten them soundly and undeniably, and earned the right to a sack dance in the end zone. He knew he couldn’t say this, though, and I knew he was right.”

Colleges don’t want critical thinking, concludes Dr. Helen. They don’t want “passion.” They want wimps — or boys pretending to be wimps.

I bet admissions officers are bored out of their skulls by the humble, persistent, lesson-learning, PC applicant. I got a thank you note from Stanford’s admissions director for writing a funny essay. And he let me in. But who wants to risk it?

IB grows and grows

Today, more than 111,00 students around the world will get their International Baccalaureate exam results, notes the New York Times. Only 2 percent of U.S. high schools offer I.B. classes, but nearly 7 percent of U.S. college applicants earn the credential.

I.B. started in Switzerland in the 1960′s. It keeps growing.

In a survey being issued Monday university admissions officers in Britain, the United States and Europe were asked to compare their own country’s secondary school qualification with the I.B. in nine different categories including business skills, communication skills, creativity, the ability to cope with pressure and detailed knowledge of a subject. British admissions officers rated the A-level superior in assessing detailed knowledge of a subject. However in every other category the I.B. was rated either equal or superior to other qualifications.

U.S. admissions officers were asked to compare the I.B. with a high school diploma. Selective colleges “view a diploma as a minimal requirement,” writes the Times. Grades, test scores and Advanced Placement results determine admission. Successful candidates “have taken the most demanding subjects offered by their particular school,” says Christopher Watson, dean of undergraduate admissions at Northwestern.

 

Admissions staff check Facebook profiles

In the college application, you’re a teen-age saint who tutors the underprivileged and picks up trash in the park. Online, you’re a party guy or gal flashing gang signs and strewing beer cans.

College admissions officers are looking at applicants’ Facebook profiles, according to Kaplan’s 2010 College Admissions Survey. (Here’s an infographic.) They also check Twitter and YouTube. Sixty-two percent said social-media profiles usually help applicants get accepted; 38 percent said  online profiles hurt students’ chances.