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.” 

Today’s students, tomorrow’s jobs

(Academic) college isn’t for everyone, wrote Fordham’s Mike Petrilli in Slate. Some students who are failing in college might succeed if they pursued job training, he argued.

It sparked a huge response. Many argued that students need college prep and career prep.
Others accused Petrilli of “the soft bigotry of low expectations” for low-income and minority students.

“Community college ready” should be the minimum goal for all cognitively able students, responded Sandy Kress, an aide to George W. Bush. That means high school graduates should be able to take academic or vocational classes at a community college without the need for remediation.

Kress “prays” that “CTE advocates make these courses as rigorous and valued as they promise they will, and not just a dodge for them to avoid teaching and learning in the so-called old fashioned courses.” In the past, dead-end vocational education has been a “trap” for low-income and minority kids, writes Kress.

Preparing Today’s Students for Tomorrow’s Jobs in Metropolitan America, edited by Penn Professor Laura Perna, looks at the gap between school and the workforce.

Check out “Nancy Hoffman’s excellent chapter on career and technical education,” advises Liz McInerny on Education Gadfly. Education and training for a specific calling  would keep students in school and on track for decent jobs, Hoffman writes.

Together but unequal

Some kids are ready to learn algebra, others haven’t figured out fractions and Johnny can’t add 2 + 2 and get 4. Their teacher is supposed to “differentiate instruction” for students at different levels in the same class. Get smart, writes the Math Curmudgeon. Differentiate by grouping students of similar readiness and ability in the same class.

If one-half of the room is “ready” for what you want to do and the other half is not, no amount of differentiation will cover that gap.

If the “simple” start for one group is too complex for the other, no amount of differentiation will cover that gap.

If “what is known” is too different, differentiation is futile. Those who start out ahead are held back and those who start behind are constantly trying to keep up, repeatedly reminded that “Masahiro and his friends” are the smart ones and that there is no point to trying to learn; one can only cling by the fingertips and hope for partial credit.

If the readiness gap is too wide, “algebra” will be two separate, simultaneous classes learning different things — and neither learning as much as possible, concludes the Curmudgeon. Or it might be three classes.

A summer bridge to kindergarten

California 5-year-olds with no preschool experience can prep for kindergarten over the summer, reports EdSource Today.  Free “summer bridge” programs are aimed at teaching kids to “wait their turn, raise a hand to answer a question or ask for help, play cooperatively with classmates and deal with time away from family.”

Most summer bridge programs run for half a day for two to six weeks.

A study of 828 summer preschool participants in Kern County last summer found that the program did have a clear effect. Children at all five elementary schools that hosted the program showed significant improvement in math, reading and social skills according to pre- and post-program tests.

Although programs usually pay a kindergarten teacher to teach a group of eight children, a summer bridge is far cheaper than nine months of preschool.

Indiana rethinks A-F school grades

Indiana lawmakers want education officials to rewrite the A-F grading system for schools to reflect both students’ passing rate and progress — without comparing students to each other, reports StateImpact Indiana.

Critics say the system is too complex. (Indiana’s system is the most rudimentary scoring system I’ve seen yet, writes Matthew DiCarlo on Shanker Blog.) Others say Indiana needs to use value-added data — which is quite complex — to factor out poverty effects.

Eight AP Statistics students at an Indianapolis high school came up with their own A-F rewrite for the high school model, which they presented to three state lawmakers, a representative of the state superintendent and school officials.

Currently, 60 percent of a high school grade comes the percentage of 10th graders who’ve passed end-of -course exams in Algebra I and English 10, with another 30 percent derived from the four-year graduation rate. That leaves 10 percent for a “College and Career Readiness” measure: 25 percent or more of students must earn passing scores on Advanced Placement or International Baccalaureate tests, earn three or more college credits or earn a career certification.

The Ben Davis High School students suggested decreasing the importance of the end-of-course exam pass rate, which correlate strongly with graduation rates. They’d make the readiness metric 30 percent of the school’s grade and include a measure of students’ improvement in high school. They also want to adjust the grades for students’ poverty — somehow.

House Education Committee Chair Bob Behning, R-Indianapolis, suggested looking at the percentage of graduates who need remedial courses in college.

Hispanic grads pass whites in college enrollment

Hispanic high school graduates are now more likely than whites to enroll in college: In the class of 2012, 69 percent of Hispanic graduates and 67 percent of whites enrolled in college that fall. Hispanics are less likely than whites to complete high school, but the gap is closing. However, there’s a large college graduation gap.

Federal programs to help disadvantaged students earn college degrees “show no major effects on college enrollment or completion,” concludes a Brookings study. The U.S. Education Department’s college-prep programs cost more than $1 billion a year.

College dropouts cite costs, poor preparation

Only 46 percent of U.S. students who start college complete a degree, according to the OECD. That’s the lowest rate in the industrialized world. College dropouts blame high costs, poor preparation and the need to balance work and family responsibilities with classes.


Massachusetts will test kindergarteners

Massachusetts will assess kindergarteners to evalute their school readiness.

. . .  teachers would measure students’ early knowledge of literacy and math by carefully observing and questioning them during classroom activities, meticulously documenting their performance against a set of state standards, and including samples of their work. They will also take note of students’ social, cognitive, emotional, and physical development.

Education officials hope the information — how many kids can read? how many don’t know their ABCs? — will help the state “more effectively target money and create new programs for elementary schools with large numbers of students lagging in key skills,” reports the Boston Globe.  In addition, the data will be used to improve preschool programs.

Who's ready for kindergarten?

Who’s Ready for Kindergarten? asks the New York Times‘ Room for Debate. As kindergarteners do more reading and writing, upper-middle-class parents are “red-shirting” younger children, especially boys, to give them time to mature. Some states now require all kindergarteners to turn five before the school year begins.

Children from poor families need “cognitive, social and motor stimulation” in preschool and extended-day kindergarten to prepare for first grade, writes Hermine H. Marshall, professor emerita at San Francisco State.

In other cultures, four-year-olds are gathering firewood, weeding gardens, hauling water and watching younger kids, writes Meredith Small, a Cornell anthropologist. In the U.S., four-year-olds are sitting. They’d be happier doing chores around the house.

Should we put our four-year-olds to work? Ann Althouse, who points out that sitting is as unhealthy as smoking, hosts a lively discussion.

Not every kid is ‘college material’

Not every student is “college material,” writes a veteran teacher, who thinks college should be about academic learning rather than job preparation.

Also on Community College Spotlight:  Beware the “educated unemployed.” Semi-educated in soft subjects, they lack the skills to fulfill their expectations — and they’re mad about it.