Hamilton and the American Dream

Seven years ago at the White House, Lin-Manuel performed what would become the first song of Hamilton, later to win 11 Tony awards.

The crowd thought a musical about Alexander Hamilton was a joke, writes Andy Smarick on The 74. Miranda, the son of Puerto Rican immigrants, persisted with “Hamilton-esque doggedness.”

Traditionally, struggle and success have been paired, writes Smarick.

Whether the American DreambootstrappingHoratio Alger-ism, or Frederick Jackson Turner’s “frontier thesis,” our story was that anyone willing to tirelessly strive had access to endless possibilities.

Now, some are “seeking to unmask ‘privilege‘,” while others advocate “grit,” he writes. The underlying issue is “the extent to which effort matters.”

I believe the “privilege” lens can be like a candle used for illumination: It reveals dark corners, helping us see the meaningful advantages and disadvantages people possess through no credit or fault of their own. But the privilege candle can also be used for arson, to burn down what others have built through labor. By attributing too much of one’s success to luck, it can diminish her effort and sacrifice. Worse, it can undermine our collective interest in inculcating in our students values (like conscientiousness, verve, and determination) that lead to individual, community, and national flourishing.

Schools should “teach our kids about responding to adversity,” writes Smarick. “Do we imply to our kids that there’s only so much they can do, or do we teach them the lessons of the American Dream and Hamilton’s anthem?
I’m just like my country.
I’m young, scrappy, and hungry
.

And I’m not throwing away my shot.”

If kids are taught they’re victims, they won’t try very hard — what’s the point? — or go very far.

Education reform is for everybody

Education Reform Advocacy Is About Addition Not Subtraction, writes Martín Pérez on Education Post. That is, it takes a coalition.

In his Los Angeles barrio, the neighborhood schools were “dropout factories,” he writes.

My parents were only able to save up enough money to send one of us to a Jesuit high school. They chose me. My brother Ulysses had to stay behind in the public high school. Four years later, when at 18 I became the first in our family to be accepted to college, my brother was entering the Los Angeles County jail. Four years after that, as I walked across the stage as a graduate of University of California, Berkeley, my brother was entering the penitentiary system for the second time.

. . . I decided instead to become the teacher he never had, the one who would understand him, who would take the time to connect with him; the one who he would remember later in life thinking, “If not for this teacher, I would be in jail.”

A Berkeley graduate, Pérez joined Teach for America, became District Teacher of the Year in Phoenix’s Alhambra district and is now an education advocacy fellow at 50CAN. Education reform needs leaders who are “ideologically diverse and racially and socioeconomically diverse,” he concludes.

Isn’t this obvious. Nooooo. Fordham’s Robert Pondiscio kicked off the debate by writing that conservative education reformers feel marginalized by left-wing reformers. “There is an unmistakable and increasingly aggressive orthodoxy in mainstream education reform thought regarding issues of race, class, and gender. And it does not include conservative ideas.”

The reform movement needs both the market and equity perspectives, writes Derrell Bradford, executive director of NYCAN, on The 74.

I’ve been increasingly frustrated to see so many people I like and respect (from Marilyn Rhames to Justin Cohen, Chris Stewart and Jay Greene) take aim at one another.

. . . Does and should the conservative or “Market” perspective — one focused on choice, pluralism and opportunity as the prime drivers — continue to have a place in the education reform movement, effort, confab, or whatever you want to call it? The answer has three letters: yes. Competition and innovation are essential, and may be the best way to level the playing field for kids of color.

“Even as the education reform movement strives to become more ethnically diverse, it could also become less so ideologically,” warns Bradford. “We do not win with a smaller tent against a unified enemy that has created the conditions we battle against.”

Reformers on the “right” and “left” agree about many issues, writes Rick Hess. However, the “social justice warriors” are using “white privilege” to shut down dialogue.

Those on the left have all too often taken any disagreement on these issues as evidence that those of us who disagree with them are blinded by “white privilege.” If we weren’t blinded, we’d agree with them. If we don’t agree, it’s evidence that we’re blinded. This infuriating little catch-22 can leave even conciliation-minded conservatives thinking, “The hell with it.”

Progressives should care about what conservatives think — and not simply “out of tactical self-interest,” Hess concludes. “It’s because exploring these substantive differences is good, healthy, and important, and makes for smarter decisions about policy and practice.”

Science fairs aren’t open to everyone

President Obama reacts as Joey Hudy of Phoenix, Arizona, launches a marshmallow during the 2012 White House Science Fair. Photo: Kevin Lamarque, Reuters

At this week’s White House Science Fair, President Obama showcased young scientists and inventors and urged girls to pursue STEM fields. “We’re not going to succeed when we’ve got half the team on the bench,” he said. “Especially when it’s the smarter half.”

“Diversity is important,” said Jo Handelsman, associate director for science at the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy. “We need more STEM workers, and we need to recruit the best talent of the world, and some of the talent will come from people who have not been traditionally involved in STEM.”

Science fairs have “became an exercise in privilege,”writes Carl Zimmer, a science writer, in STAT. Girls aren’t excluded. But children who don’t have educated parents and access to high-quality labs won’t go very far.

Veronica was able to carry out her science fair experiment in a Yale lab.

Told her seventh-grade science fair experiment required expert supervision, the author’s daughter was able to use a Yale lab. Photo: Carl Zimmer

His daughter decided to compare different ways to clean a toothbrush for her seventh-grade science fair.  She planned to brush with a new toothbrush,  clean it with water, lemon juice or vinegar, then see how much bacteria grew on a Petri dish.

Her proposal required filling out “an avalanche of confusing paperwork,” Zimmer writes. It was considered “so potentially dangerous that Veronica would have to carry it out under the supervision of a trained expert, who would first have to submit a detailed risk assessment.”

Most kids would have quit there. But Zimmer knew a Yale microbiologist who agreed to let the seventh-grader work in his lab. She ended up winning an honorable mention at the stair fair.

“When you look over the projects that win the Google Science Fair and the Intel Science Talent Search these days, it’s clear that they’re mostly the products of very bright, motivated students lucky enough to work in university labs where they can take advantage of expertise and equipment,” Zimmer writes. Kids without those connections are out of luck.

Online, the info-rich get richer


Affluent teens are more likely to use the Internet to learn, gather information and network with people who can help them find jobs, while low-income teens use it for entertainment.

The Internet isn’t improving social mobility, writes Robert Putnam in his new book, Our Kids: The American Dream in Crisis. Even low-income teens have smart phones, but easy access to information “has not leveled the playing field at all in terms of the difference between rich kids and poor kids,” he told MarketWatch.

“Compared to their poorer counterparts, young people from upper-class backgrounds (and their parents) are more likely to use the Internet for jobs, education, political and social engagement, health and newsgathering, and less for entertainment and recreation,” Putnam writes.

In other words, the information rich get richer.

Affluent teens also “spend much of their Internet time sending off Snapchats, playing games and watching YouTube videos,” writes Jeremy Olshan. “But since social networks online tend to reflect social networks in real life, the wealthier kids have more people to draw on digitally to help advance their education and careers.”

In fact, the social connections common to the wealthy may be even more important in an age where everyone can freely download all the world’s information, Putnam says. “Just because teens can get access to a technology that can connect them to anyone anywhere does not mean that they have equal access to knowledge and opportunity.”

He fears “the Internet seems more likely to widen the opportunity gap than to close it.”

SAT (and IQ) scores predict success

The SAT should be “abandoned and replaced,” argues Leon Botstein, former president of Bard, in Time.

Look at “the complex portrait” of college applicants’ lives rather than their test scores, writes Jennifer Finney Boylan in the New York Times.

The test measures only SAT-taking skills, adds Elizabeth Kolbert in the New Yorker.

Actually, the SAT predicts success in college “relatively well,” write David Z. Hambrick and Christopher Chabris, both psychology professors, in  Slate. It takes a few hours to administer and, unlike complex portraits, it can be scored in an objective way. 

SAT scores correlate very highly with IQ scores, they write. Harvard’s Howard Gardner, known for his theory of multiple intelligences, called the SAT and other measures “thinly disguised” intelligence tests.

A popular anti-SAT argument is that the test measures socioeconomic status rather than cognitive skill.

Boylan argued in her Times article that the SAT “favors the rich, who can afford preparatory crash courses” like those offered by Kaplan and the Princeton Review. Leon Botstein claimed in his Time article that “the only persistent statistical result from the SAT is the correlation between high income and high test scores.” And according to a Washington Post Wonkblog infographic (which is really more of a disinfographic) “your SAT score says more about your parents than about you.”

Test prep doesn’t make a big difference, write Hambrick and Chabris. And research shows a significant but “not huge” correlation between socioeconomic status and test scores. Plenty of low-income kids score well.

. .  .as it was originally designed to do, the SAT in fact goes a long way toward leveling the playing field, giving students an opportunity to distinguish themselves regardless of their background. Scoring well on the SAT may in fact be the only such opportunity for students who graduate from public high schools that are regarded by college admissions offices as academically weak.

“One person’s obstacle is another person’s springboard,” Dawn Harris Sherling wrote in response to Kolbert.

I am the daughter of a single, immigrant father who never attended college, and a good SAT score was one of the achievements that catapulted me into my state’s flagship university and, from there, on to medical school. Flawed though it is, the SAT afforded me, as it has thousands of others, a way to prove that a poor, public-school kid who never had any test prep can do just as well as, if not better than, her better-off peers.

Botstein advocates adjusting high school GPA “to account for the curriculum and academic programs in the high school from which a student graduates” and abandoning the SAT, note Hambrick and Chabris. “A given high school GPA would be adjusted down for a poor, public-school kid, and adjusted up for a rich, private-school kid.”

A commenter responds: “The idea that standardized tests and ‘general intelligence’ are meaningless is wishful thinking.  People find it cruel that something essentially beyond your control—intrinsic intelligence—could matter so much.  But it does.”

Another commenter writes: “It’s like trying to argue that looks are meaningless.  Yeah, it sucks for most of us, but doesn’t mean it’s not true.”

Study: High school grades predict college grades

College students admitted without submitting SAT or ACT scores do just as well as “submitters,” concludes a new study. Applicants with good high school grades will earn good college grades and complete a degree, said William Hiss, the study’s main author.  He is the former dean of admissions at Bates College in Maine, one of the first colleges to go test-optional.  

Defining Promise looks at students admitted to small, private liberal arts schools with test-optional policies and large public universities that admit most students based on high school grades and class rank.  (For the public universities, the study looked at admitted students with below-average test scores.) Also included were a few minority-serving institutions and two art schools.

Submitters had slightly higher high school grades and significantly lower test scores.  Their college grades and graduation rates were very similar to nonsubmitters’ success rates.

While many students outperformed their SAT or ACT scores, high school grades strongly predicted college success, the study found. 

. . .  kids who had low or modest test scores, but good high school grades, did better in college than those with good scores but modest grades.

Hiss says it’s probably not so surprising that a pattern of hard work, discipline and curiosity in high school shows up “as highly predictive, in contrast to what they do in three or four hours on a particular Saturday morning in a testing room.”

I can’t see elite colleges and universities going test optional: They have way too many straight-A applicants.

The SAT will be redesigned to “strongly focus on the core knowledge and skills” needed in college, said David Coleman, the new board president, in a letter to College Board members. Some believe the new SAT will look more like the ACT, which is gaining market share.

Coleman, a co-author of Common Core standards, has promised to “move beyond delivering assessments to delivering opportunity for students so they will be better prepared to succeed in college.” Nobody knows what “delivering opportunity” means, writes Alexander Russo.

Swedish preschool bans ‘him’ and ‘her’

At a government-funded preschool in Stockholm, teachers avoid “him” and “her”, reports the New York Times. There are no “boys” and “girls,” only “friends.”

Masculine and feminine references are taboo, often replaced by the pronoun “hen,” an artificial and genderless word that most Swedes avoid but is popular in some gay and feminist circles.

In the little library, with its throw pillows where children sit to be read to, there are few classic fairy tales, like “Cinderella” or “Snow White,” with their heavy male and female stereotypes, but there are many stories that deal with single parents, adopted children or same-sex couples.

Girls are not urged to play with toy kitchens, and wooden or Lego blocks are not considered toys for boys. And when boys hurt themselves, teachers are taught to give them every bit as much comforting as they would girls. Everyone gets to play with dolls; most are anatomically correct, and some are also black.

Blurring gender lines will “theoretically, cement opportunities for both women and men,” Swedes believe. Or there could be some confused “friends” in the future.

Can schools raise social mobility?

Can schools spur social mobility? asks Mike Petrilli on Flypaper.

No way, says Charles Murray, who visited Fordham to promote his new book, Coming Apart: The State of White America, 1960-2010. Murray sees a growing division between well-educated elites, who marry college classmates, and a semi-educated class who are less likely to marry at all.


New York Times columnist David Brooks worries about “the opportunity gap.” College-educated parents spend more time with their children — “reading “Goodnight Moon,” talking to their kids about their day and cheering them on from the sidelines” — than working-class parents. Affluent kids are more active in sports, theater, yearbook, scouting, etc. They’re more likely to go to church and to volunteer. It all adds up.

What to do? asks Petrilli

Our argument, as it goes, is that we’ve never really tried. Because of low expectations, mediocre teachers, a lack of options, ill-designed curricula—name your poison—poor kids have never had a chance to see their talents flourish. Put them into the right educational environment, surround them with supportive adults, and (if you’re of the broader/bolder persuasion) provide them with all kinds of social supports too, and we’ll see our elite college campuses—gateways to the new Upper Class—democratize before our eyes.

But academic ability isn’t evenly distributed. Whether by nature or nurture, successful parents are raising successful children.

“We’ve gotten really, really good” at identifying talented children from low-income and working-class communities and providing scholarships to good colleges, Murray says. Petrilli thinks online learning could provide more access, but there are limits to how many diamonds will be found in the rough.

 The second strategy is to be more realistic about the kind of social mobility we hope to spur. Getting a big chunk of America’s poor kids into the New Elite in one generation might be a fool’s errand—our meritocracy has put them at too great a disadvantage. But getting them into working -class or middle-class jobs isn’t so impossible. Here’s a question for the KIPPs and YES Preps of the world: Would you be happy if, ten years from now, your middle schoolers were working as cops, firefighters, teachers, plumbers, electricians, and nurses? This would be a huge accomplishment, it seems to me, as most poor kids will go on to work in low-paid service jobs a decade hence.

Rewarding people based on “real merit” — skills and performance — rather than credentials — SATs and degrees — would mean less social equality, writes Mickey Kaus. “Web-schooled winners” who rise without a university degree are likely to be smart people who have smart children who do well in school and out. “The social centrifuge separating the meritorious from the less meritorious won’t have stopped spinning. In some ways it will be spinning faster, with greater precision. Sorry.”

 

Study: Education doesn’t liberalize views

Highly educated whites and minorities are no more likely to support workplace affirmative action programs than are their less educated peers, according to a new study in Social Psychology Quarterly.  Education does increase support for race-targeted job training, said Geoffrey T. Wodtke, a doctoral student in sociology at the University of Michigan, who wrote the study.

“I think that some of the values that are promoted through education, such as individualism and meritocracy, are just much more consistent with opportunity-enhancing policies like job training than they are with redistributive or outcome-equalizing policies like affirmative action.”

While educated blacks and Hispanics are believed to be the most likely to benefit from affirmative action, they don’t support it.  They may feel stigmatized, speculated Wodtke.

Educating everybody

Some countries do a good job of educating everybody — rich and poor — but the U.S. is not one of them, writes Dan Willingham, a University of Virginia cognitive scientist, on The Answer Sheet.

Some countries have successfully minimized the disparity in educational outcomes between rich and poor. According to the PISA, the countries doing the best job include Iceland, Hong Kong, Japan, Korea, Canada, and Finland.

America is supposed to be the land of opportunity, Willingham writes. But the poor don’t have an equal opportunity to get a good education.

I don’t know how other countries have addressed this problem. It may be curricular. It may lie in how they fund schools. It may be that social services are better distributed so that, despite the large wealth disparity, kids don’t come to school hungry, or with a toothache because they’ve never seen a dentist.

I don’t know how they are doing it, but I think we would be wise to learn how other countries teach poor kids because they do it better than we do. And we can’t wait until poverty is eliminated.

Most Latino children start kindergarten with the same social and emotional skills as middle-class white children, concludes a new study. However, they fall behind “if they attend low-quality schools and live in low-income neighborhoods,” reports Mary Ann Zehr in Education Week.

(Researchers)  looked at several social areas: self-control, interpersonal skills, approaches to learning, and internalizing and externalizing problem behaviors.

Children from Mexican families start school better prepared than Puerto Rican children. Black children start with weaker social skills.

Update: The Education Department is opening up competition for Promise Neighborhoods grants. Modeled after Harlem Children’s Zone, the idea is to provide a web of social services to needy children to help them do better in school and life.