Smarter teachers, smarter students

Should we select teacher candidates for their smarts? asks the National Council on Teacher Quality Bulletin. If so, “can we raise the bar without endangering equitable access to strong teachers or limiting diversity?”

The cognitive skills of a nation’s teachers is linked to their students’ PISA performance, conclude Eric Hanushek and two Germany-based researchers. The study tried to control for “parental cognitive skills, a country’s educational culture, differences in student aptitude” and other factors. 

It assumed places with higher public-sector salaries would draw more academically talented people to teaching. If that’s valid, then “raising average teacher cognitive skills by a standard deviation likely raises student performance in math by 20 percent of a standard deviation in math and 10 percent in reading.”

Another study suggests it’s possible to get more talented teachers into the classroom. Teachers’ academic aptitude has been rising in New York over the past 25 years, concludes a study by Hamilton Lankford and others.

In the late 1990’s, almost a third of New York’s newly certified teachers were drawn from the bottom-third of the SAT scale. Beginning in 1998, the state tightened requirements on teacher preparation programs, eliminated temporary teaching licenses (which tended to be awarded to low-scoring individuals), and allowed selective alternative routes (e.g., Teach For America and TNTP) to begin operating. By 2010, more teachers were being drawn from the top-third of the SAT distribution than any other group.

The sharpest rise came in SAT scores of new teachers at the most disadvantaged schools, especially in New York City.

Average SAT scores rose more for new black and Latino teachers than for whites and Asian-Americans. Yet the state’s teaching force become more diverse.

Sex ed: Too hot to handle?

“There is probably no subject that has posed greater headaches to teachers than sex education,” writes Jonathan Zimmerman in his new book, Too Hot to Handle: A Global History of Sex Education.

“And no other topic illustrates the complexity and emotion that lies at the heart of the debates about parental, local, and federal control over education,” writes Jessica Lahey in What Schools Should Teach Kids About Sex.

In many U.S. districts — and around the world — students get “a smattering of information about their reproductive organs and a set of stern warnings about putting them to use,” writes Zimmerman, an NYU professor of history and education.

I learned in sex-ed movies that teens only have sex because of peer pressure. Nobody really wants it.

Young people can go online to sites such as, which has drawn 1 billion users since its launch in 2006, notes Lahey. Here are popular recent questions.

Learning about reproductive biology isn’t enough, sex advice columnist Dan Savage tells Lahey.

We should be teaching the real things that can trip people up, things that can ruin people’s lives or traumatize them, like what is and isn’t consent, and what is and isn’t on the menu, and what are you or are you not comfortable with, and how do you advocate for yourself, and how do you draw someone out and solicit their active consent so that you don’t accidentally traumatize someone? We need to talk about sex for pleasure, which is 99.99 percent of the sex that people have, and that’s 99.99 percent of what’s not covered …

Savage analogized the state of sex education today to a driver’s education class that focuses exclusively on the mechanics of the internal combustion engine, with no mention of brakes, steering, red lights, and stop signs. “That’s sex ed in America. We hand kids the keys to the car, and when they drive straight into walls, we say, ‘See? See? If we’d only kept them a little more ignorant, this wouldn’t be happening!’”

Diversity makes it harder for people to agree about how to teach about sex, says Zimmerman. Values vary. Globalization doesn’t mean liberalization, he writes in a New York Times commentary. “Globalization has served to curtail rather than expand school-based sexual instruction.”

‘Diversity’ keeps Asians out of top colleges

Do Diversity Initiatives Indirectly Discriminate Against Asian Americans? asks Andrew Giambrone in The Atlantic.

I’m not sure “indirectly” is accurate, but otherwise the answer is “yes.”

Students for Fair Admissions has filed a federal suit charging that Harvard’s admissions practices violate Title VI of the 1964 Civil Rights Act by discriminating on the basis of “race, color, and national origin.” A similar suit targets University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

The suit cites an Asian-American applicant who was turned down despite perfect SAT scores and AP Scholar status. The applicant was the captain of the varsity tennis team, a volunteer fundraiser for National Public Radio, and tutored classmates.

Highly qualified applicants are routinely rejected,” writes Giambrone.

The Harvard complaint notes that Asian Americans comprised more than 27 percent of applicants at the three most selective Ivy League colleges between 2008 and 2012 but represented only 17 percent to 20 percent of their admitted students . . .  according to the complaint, Asian Americans made up roughly 46 percent of applicants in 2008 “with academic credentials in the range from which Harvard admits the overwhelming majority of students.” That threshold was defined as an SAT score higher than 2200, out of 2400 total points.

According to No Longer Separate, Not Yet Equal, published in 2009, Asian-American students need about 140 more SAT points than white applicants, 320 more than Hispanics and 450 more than African-Americans to get into elite, private colleges.

“Asians are the new Jews” at elite colleges, writes Charles Murray.  In the mid-90s, when the Ivies limited Asians to 16 percent of enrollment, plus or minus 2 percent, Asians at meritocratic CalTech rose from 28 percent to 39 percent of enrollment.

If Caltech is too narrowly science-oriented for you, consider the comparison between Stanford, which uses the same “holistic” admissions procedures as the Ivies (“holistic” means considering the whole applicant, not merely academic achievement) and Berkeley, the most elite of California’s public universities, which is required by law to have a transparent set of criteria for admission. Stanford’s Asian enrollment averaged 23% from 1995–2011. Berkeley’s Asian enrollment averaged 41% during the same period—almost double Stanford’s.

Stuyvesant, one of New York City’s nine specialized (elite) public high schools, admits students based on test scores: 73 percent of  “Stuy” students are Asian, 22 percent are white, 2 percent are Hispanic, and 1 percent is black. And the admissions process is under attack as a result.

Rejected Asians sue Harvard for bias

Asian-American students are suing Harvard, charging they were rejected because of affirmative action policies that discriminate against Asians.

According to a 2009 Princeton study, the average Asian American applicant needed a 1460 SAT score to be admitted, a white student with similar GPA and other qualifications needed a score of 1320, while blacks needed  1010 and Hispanics 1190.

Project on Fair Representation, which filed the suit,  also has filed suit against University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill for discriminating against both whites and Asians.

“The College considers each applicant through an individualized, holistic review having the goal of creating a vibrant academic community that exposes students to a wide-range of differences: background, ideas, experiences, talents and aspirations,” wrote Robert Iuliano, Harvard’s general counsel in a statement.

“Asian-American students benefit greatly from attending the racially and socio-economically diverse campuses that affirmative action helps create,” said Julie Park, assistant professor of education at the University of Maryland and author of When Diversity Drops.

It reminds me of the quotas against Jews back in the day. Ivy League schools feared they’d end up with too many Jewish students if they admitted based on academic qualifications.

Is it legal? asks Slate? “In remanding the case of Fisher v. University of Texas to a lower court in 2013, SCOTUS held that schools have a responsibility to attempt race-neutral means of achieving diversity (giving a leg up to low-income applicants, say) before turning to race-conscious means, and it’s not clear whether the Court would agree that Harvard and UNC have met that test.”

Halloween: Too pagan for schools?

When some parents complained Halloweeen is a pagan holiday, a New Jersey school canceled the annual celebrations.

But Halloween is back on the schedule at Seth Boyden Elementary School in Maplewood.

District officials decided they needed more time to discuss the issue.

Each year, students whose parents object to celebrating Halloween are given an alternative activity.

Parents who think Halloween is the work of the devil must be frustrated by how much fun the holiday is for its celebrants. It’s tough to compete.

A Smarter Charter

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Empowered teachers and integrated enrollments make for A Smarter Charter, argue Richard Kahlenberg and Halley Potter of The Century Foundation. That’s the original vision of teacher union leader Al Shanker, they write.

“The charter model still offers an exciting opportunity to “build new schools from scratch,” the authors write in a New York Times commentary. “A small but growing number are using their flexibility in governance and enrollment to increase the influence of teachers and to integrate their student bodies.”

Some charter teachers have unionized with “thin” collective bargaining agreements that provide flexibility.

Others asks teachers to share administrative responsibilities.

Kahlenberg and Potter praise charter schools that serve a racial, ethnic and socioeconomic mix of students. For example, San Diego’s High Tech High “employs a lottery weighted by ZIP code that capitalizes on the unfortunate reality of residential segregation” to achieve diversity.

“Different families want different things for their children,” writes Neerav Kingsland in response to the op-ed. “While socioeconomic diversity is a noble goal, it may not be the number one priority for all families.”

In addition, Kahlenberg and Potter dismiss “strong evidence of the benefits of charter schools for African-American students,” writes Kingsland. CREDO’s 27-state charter study found that African-American students in poverty who attended charter schools achieved nearly two months of extra learning per year. As yet, there’s “little rigorous research” backing the educational benefits of socioeconomically diverse schools.

Who’s diverse?

From Democrats for Education Reform:

student demographics.png


Note that charter and TFA teachers tender to be younger than traditional public school teachers.

Ethnic studies replaces geography

Ethnic studies will replace geography as a graduation requirement in El Rancho Unified School District in southern California, reports the Whittier Daily News.

The requirement will “expose our students to global perspectives and inclusion of diversity,” said Jose Lara, vice president of the school board.

“Students need to feel validated,” said Aurora Villon, the board president. ““When you negate their culture, they feel less than other students.”

Although 98 percent of El Rancho students are Hispanic, “a variety of cultures will be studied,” Villon said.

Lara said students might take an art class that focuses on Mexican-American work or an English class that includes African-American literature.

Via Democrats for Education Reform:


The browning of Teach for America

Half of Teach for America‘s 5,300 new corps members are “people of color.” Nationwide, 50.2 percent of public school students — but only 20 percent of their teachers — are non-white.

Forty-seven percent of the new recruits received Pell Grants, a “reliable indicator of low-income background, writes Andre Perry. One-third are the first in their families to attend college.

Twenty-two percent identify as African American, 13 percent as Hispanic, 6 percent as Asian American or Pacific Islander, 1 percent identify as Native American, 10 percent as multiethnic/other and 48 percent as white.

Two-thirds joined straight from college. The rest have been working, in graduate school or serving in the military.

Jarrett McDonald, one of 100 veterans in the group, has experience setting goals, working under stress and taking on leadership roles. The Army is “built upon a shared mission of service,” he writes. So is teaching.

He wants to be what Teddy Roosevelt called “the man in the arena.”

“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles…. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause…”

McDonald will be teaching in Jacksonville, Florida.

UW seeks ‘equity’ in grades, majors

Blacks and Latinos should achieve “equity” in grades and high-demand majors at the University of Wisconsin in Madison, according to the Framework for Diversity and Inclusive Excellence passed by the Faculty Senate. No one challenged the plan or debated the consequences, charges W. Lee Hansen, an emeritus economics professor, in Madness in Madison.

The framework is vague, a “thicket of cliches,” writes Hansen. However, an Ad Hoc Diversity Planning Committee has formulated goals and recommendations based on “Inclusive Excellence” framework  adopted earlier by the Board of Regents.

The  “representational equity” section calls for “proportional participation of historically underrepresented racial-ethnic groups at all levels of an institution, including high status special programs, high-demand majors, and in the distribution of grades.”

What does that mean?

 Suppose there were a surge of interest in a high demand field such as computer science. Under the “equity” policy, it seems that some of those who want to study this field would be told that they’ll have to choose another major because computer science already has “enough” students from their “difference” group.

Especially shocking is the language about “equity” in the distribution of grades. Professors, instead of just awarding the grade that each student earns, would apparently have to adjust them so that academically weaker, “historically underrepresented racial/ethnic” students perform at the same level and receive the same grades as academically stronger students.

At the very least, this means even greater expenditures on special tutoring for weaker targeted minority students. It is also likely to trigger a new outbreak of grade inflation, as professors find out that they can avoid trouble over “inequitable” grade distributions by giving every student a high grade.

I’m sure “equity” in grades and majors is a goal, not a mandate. UW professors wouldn’t turn Asian-American males away from computer science majors and tell them to try sociology, Spanish or African-American Studies instead. They wouldn’t set different grading standards by race and ethnicity or give everyone A’s to erase an achievement gap.


If UW wants to help underprepared students succeed in demanding majors, there are real things the university could do. Work with high schools and community colleges to improve readiness. Rethink counseling and tutoring. Set up summer jobs in STEM fields.

Helping minority students earn good grades is a worthy goal, writes Ann Althouse, also a UW professor. “We want all our students to do well.”