Ivy League

Dear readers,

A few weeks ago (3/18/15, A24) the New York Times had a lot of letters responding to Frank Bruni’s excellent piece (3/15 column) on admissions to prestigious colleges. Most were on “my side” and Bruni’s—skeptics about value-added.

I was intrigued by his claim that the children of Fortune 500 company heads were not largely graduates of Ivy league schools. I am glad to hear that is still true. It was 30 years ago I know. That is a good sign that we might pull out of what appears to be a dreary future if we only focused on the right things—not on getting in to Harvard.

But that is mostly because there are not enough Ivies for all the high-earners. Some make it going elsewhere. Does it hurt their futures? Bruni thinks not. Probably some of these rich losers end up at Ivy-league grad schools. In any case they will not be unemployed. And, probably, it is true that for poor kids, and kids of color, the Harvard/Yale/Princeton badge get many more interviews and probably jobs. But the number are small.

So, imagine again. Suppose Harvard started taking in mostly kids of color and those from poor families. Would that soon even up the future earnings and job status of Black and white, rich and poor kids? Especially if all the most prestigious schools—even the top non-Ivies—did the same? Or would it merely create a different pecking order of what constituted a top-notch school?

Or suppose 100% of all students got BAs, does that mean that the statistically significant economic advantage that comes with having a BA would rise, fall, or stay the same? Or if all got MAs? And supposing that it could be demonstrated that they hadn’t lowered “standards” to achieve these results?   Would every additional BA or MA create an additional well paying job? Is that just the way the market place works?


Testing thought experiment

Dear Readers,

Let’s do a “what if” experiment. Supposing that all the poor and Black and Hispanic children surprised us all and got scores more or less equal to (or even better!) than their richer and whiter peers on the spring tests.

If you imagine there would be celebrations galore, think again about why this could not happen. Not just why poverty is a handicap, but why no test could ever prove it is not.

Because every test-maker in the world would know there was something wrong with that test’s pool of items long before scores were reported—during its field testing period—and do whatever’s necessary to make the test “harder”—or, more “accurate.” It doesn’t require even changing the items, but just a few tweaks in the choices of answers will usually do. This is not a guess on my part, it is what some folks who’ve explored the ETS pool of SAT questions have long ago discovered. If an item is “favored” by Black students (or other group that does not normally do well on the test) it is removed as an unreliable.

We are simply more sophisticated at doing what the original IQ designers did a century ago when they tested how “rigorous” an item was by seeing who got it right and wrong based on their occupational status.

I hate to tell you—but us Jews didn’t do too well at first. We weren’t doctors, lawyers and business makers in the early 1900s. And, I suspect, they may never have later selected items on the basis of whether or not the testee was Jewish (as Jewish was probably not one of the boxes to check)—or we would still be scoring in the bottom half.

We are getting crasser at this—with less cover-up. I note that the latest improved model does not promise a normal curve or any particular pre-designed percentiles. It just waits until the results are in and then figures out how to score it so that it sends the right message. Literally.

We even did this with the National Board’s professional teaching test. It seemed appropriate. We decided ahead of time that it had to pass enough people to not seem impossible and yet not so many that it could be accused of being too easy. And it ought to correspond—more or less—with what those who knew them would say if asked. Sampling did the trick and the test did what it wanted to do, although it needed some revising because it passed too few teachers of color, just as the SAT had done years earlier to see that females were getting scores comparable to males—at least on Language Arts tests. Problem identified. Problem fixed.

Hmmm. So, imagine the scenario I started with. Why not? Imagine how it would mess up real estate ads that like to tell prospective buyers what the average SAT or regent’s scores are for the school in their zone. They know—because it matters to them—what they are really measuring: social and economic status, which includes race.

No matter how fast the kids line-up after recess exactly the same number will be first, second, third… and last. And most of us who’ve watched these kids at recess a lot soon know who will be where in the line. It doesn’t usually correlate with SATs however. And, if it did, would we focus on giving running lessons to the slow pokes?

Learning to Read

This is recent talk I gave on a CUNY TV Talk show called EdCast.

[technical difficulties–the wrong video was showing]

Books: Loving Learning and An Empty Seat in Class

I just finished two books that I want everyone to read.  I can’t tell whether they speak “especially” to me, but try them.


Loving Learning is written by Tom Little and Katherine Ellison and was published in 2015.  The dual authorship is probably a reflection of the fact that Tom died in 2013.  One additional reason for my loving it is that Mission Hill and Deborah Meier play a role in it.  It is a story of Tom’s trip across America to visit 43 self-proclaimed and some not proclaimed progressive schools after 27 years as head of an Oakland independent/private school.  He was also one of the founders of the Progressive Education Network (which meets annually–this year in NYC in the fall).


An Empty Seat in Class, by Rick Ayers is about teaching, of course, but the focus is on the impact of a student’s death and other traumas on all those around them.  While that is the focus but actually it isn’t quite the heart of the book.  I also recommend it for its description of what it is like to be fully committed to being a teacher.  (Yes, he’s Bill’s brother—but don’t let that be the reason to read or not read it!).

Laura H. Chapman: Drowning in Standards


Passing this on!

Originally posted on Diane Ravitch's blog:

Laura H. Chapman, a retired teacher and curriculum advisor in the arts, posted this comment:

People who work in the “orphaned subjects” have a long history of playing tag-a-long to subjects deemed to be “core.” There is a persistent hope that writing standards in great detail will some how get you a bit more curriculum time.
Just published standards in Music, Dance, Theater, Visual Art, and Media Studies (new discipline) seem to have been written in the wild hope that all of the standards will be tested with “authentic” assessments.

These standards are grade-specific, starting in Pre-K. The standards come to a screeching halt in high school, with three levels defining studies: Proficient, Accomplished, and Advanced. The writers of the standards wanted a parallel structure for each art form.

I have seen the standards for the visual arts and media arts, Each of these art forms has acquired 234 standards…

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Learning Modalities


My son NIck’s Latest blog

Originally posted on Nicholas Meier:

There is a common belief in education that knowing one’s, or one’s students’, preferred learning modality is important or at least helpful in designing learning strategies for ourselves or them. When I do a search of learning modalities I find dozens of articles in educational journals about how to use this information and why it is important. The interesting thing is that the empirical evidence does not support the claim, despite its popularity. And this lack of support is not for lack of investigation.


First I want to be clear on what learning modalities are and are not. They are basically the receptive modes of taking in the world, of learning—most commonly aural (hearing,), visual (seeing), and kinesthetic (feeling, touching). These are not to be confused with learning styles (of which there are many versions) such as field dependent or independent, liking to work alone or with others, risk-avoidant or…

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Subverting Big Money’s Attack on Public Education

See my article in the most recent issue of Democratic Left.