Later On

A blog written for those whose interests more or less match mine.

Archive for the ‘Education’ Category

Interesting impact of Community Health-Improvement Program (CHIP)

leave a comment »

A two-episode video series from Michael Greger M.D.:


Written by LeisureGuy

20 May 2019 at 3:52 pm

Education and understanding evolution

leave a comment »

A Quora question led me down a rabbit hole, and I ended up creating a spreadsheet that lists by state the percentage who deny the fact of evolution and also the amount spent per pupil on instruction. Obviously, these figures are crude and do not, for example, take into account per-state differences in cost of living and the like.

Still, it did provide two arrays, and so I calculated the linear correlation (Pearson r) between them: -56%. While that’s not a terribly strong correlation, it does indicate that spending more money per pupil on education correlates to a lower incidence of evolution denial. (I imagine Creationists would phrase this as “spending more on propaganda increases the number of persons deluded. 🙂 )

Written by LeisureGuy

2 May 2019 at 10:45 am

Posted in Education, Evolution

How the Chicago School changed the meaning of Adam Smith’s ‘invisible hand’

leave a comment »

Glory Liu writes in the Washington Post:

You don’t have to look very far to find people invoking Adam Smith’s name in U.S. political debate. These days, trade policy with China, the Green New Deal and even energy policy have all led people to rally around his purported legacy: the virtues of free markets, the harmful effects of government intervention in economic affairs.

At the same time, political theorists and historians like me have argued that the Scottish moral philosopher didn’t just stand for free markets and that, in fact, Smith’s invisible hand wasn’t a warning about state intervention but state capture. Rather unlike the caricature of Smith who espouses unchecked economic growth, they’ve also argued that Smith was deeply worried about the moral consequences of growing inequality.

So how did Adam Smith become such a popular icon in the first place? And why did the “invisible hand” become such a powerful political catchphrase?

The Chicago School popularized today’s Adam Smith

In a recent article published in Modern Intellectual History, I suggest that we can trace the popular version of the “free-market Smith” to the “Chicago School” of economics in the 20th century. Today the Chicago School (the economics faculty at the University of Chicago) is simultaneously famous for being one of the most decorated economics departments in the world (it can claim more Nobel Prizes in economics than any other institution) and infamous for its degree of free-market fundamentalism.

The early Chicago School had complicated views of Smith

Chicago economists’ interest in Adam Smith was not purely ideological. They held different views about the nature and scope of economic science in the 20th century and in turn held different views about Adam Smith and his significance, not just for economics but also public policy.

For example, pioneering Chicago economists Frank Knight (1885-1972) and Jacob Viner (1892-1970) read, taught and wrote at a time when many economists seriously questioned whether free markets could adequately self-regulate following the Great Depression. Against this backdrop, they treated Smith as a complex thinker whose ideas could not — and should not — be reduced to the doctrine of “laissez-faire.” They cautioned against thinking of Smith’s works as a “mixture of science and propaganda” or calling “The Wealth of Nations” a “political pamphlet.” Viner — one of the first U.S. economists to insist on reading Smith’s earlier work, “The Theory of Moral Sentiments” (1759), alongside “The Wealth of Nations” (1776) — famously argued that “Adam Smith was not a doctrinaire advocate of laissez faire.” Instead, Smith was an eclectic thinker who was prepared to defend a “wide and elastic range of activity for government” where necessary.

Their heirs took a simpler approach — and made Smith famous

Though they were both students of Knight and Viner, Milton Friedman (1912-2006) and George Stigler (1911-1991) had very different views about the nature and purpose of economics — and hence, of Smith — from their predecessors. For Friedman and Stigler, economics’ scientific power came from its ability to predict outcomes based on two central insights, both of which could be found in “The Wealth of Nations.” The first was self-interest, or what Stigler called the “crown jewel” of “The Wealth of Nations.” According to Stigler, Smith’s idea of self-interest was so powerful that it was “Newtonian in its universality” and had unlimited explanatory power.

The second was, of course, the invisible hand. According to Friedman, Smith’s master metaphor represented “the way in which voluntary acts of millions of individuals each pursuing his own objectives could be coordinated, without central direction, through a price system.” Taken together, self-interest and the invisible hand represented the core axioms of scientific economics. The political implications were clear. Once individual behavior was reduced to utility-maximizing self-interest, promoting Smith’s invisible hand of the market — and restraining the heavy hand of government — was the ultimate goal. Few economists were as successful as Friedman in spreading this interpretation of Smith’s ideas to the public. In numerous op-eds in major news outlets, speeches and public television (where he sometimes sported an Adam Smith tie), Friedman popularized this interpretation of Smith’s invisible hand for an overtly conservative political agenda.

To be sure, there were many other economists who also paid lip service to Smith and the invisible hand. The economist Paul Samuelson, for example, cornered the market in economics textbooks in 1948 with the publication of “Economics.” Now in its 19th edition, one can imagine the millions of students who encountered Smith and the “mystical principle” of the invisible hand in this format. Professional economists today are probably also familiar with the 1971 publication of Frank Hahn and Kenneth Arrow’s landmark “General Competitive Analysis,” which claimed to have discovered a mathematical proof of the invisible hand (under certain special conditions).

What makes the Smith of Milton Friedman and George Stigler so interesting — some people might say problematic — is not that they aligned Smith with a particular political agenda. It’s that they “economized” Smith in a way that obscured if not precluded the relevance of his moral philosophy and political theory. Stigler once famously quipped that “the correct way to read Adam Smith is the correct way to read the forthcoming issues of a professional journal.” In other words, Stigler believed that you had to read Smith as if he were a modern, 20th-century economistnot (as Smith originally was) an 18th-century moral and political thinker. What’s more, the power of Friedman’s version of the invisible hand derived from the seemingly objective scientific authority of its author, the “father of economics,” Adam Smith. It’s clear, however, that impulse to portray economics — even Smith’s version of economics — as an objective science is deeply embedded in the history and politics of the discipline. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

22 April 2019 at 12:36 pm

It Wasn’t ‘Verbal Blackface.’ AOC Was Code-Switching.

leave a comment »

John McWhorter writes in the Atlantic:

Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez has been accused of a lot, but the latest charge is especially piquant. Apparently, the new representative of some of the most multiethnic neighborhoods in the United States has engaged in “verbal blackface.”

The supposed offense occurred when she spoke to the Reverend Al Sharpton’s National Action Network last week and sprinkled some elements of Black English into her speech. “I’m proud to be a bartender. Ain’t nothing wrong with that,” she said, also stretching “wrong” out a bit and intoning in a way sometimes referred to as a “drawl,” but which is also part of the Black English tool kit.

John Cardillo of Newsmax tweeted, “In case you’re wondering, this is what blackface sounds like,” while Ryan Saavedra of The Daily Wire charged that Ocasio-Cortez, in this speech, “speaks in an accent that she never uses.” Lawrence Jones, a Fox News contributor and black American, shared a Twitter hashtag, #WedontTalkLikeThat.

The criticism of these sentences uttered by someone trying to connect with a black audience is evidence of an ignorance about the nature and use of one of the most interesting developments in America’s linguistic history—an endlessly fascinating dialect too often treated as a collection of mistakes, an albatross condemning unlucky people to failure, or some kind of performance. At a time when increasing numbers of serious public figures are going to be using Black English as an element in their oratorical palette, it’s high time we wised up on the likes of “Ain’t nothing wrong with that.”

Ocasio-Cortez was engaging in what linguists call code-switching. Few find code-switching surprising when Latinos do it between English and Spanish, alternating between the two languages within a single conversation or even sentence. The concept perhaps seems less familiar when done between dialects of the same language, but this, too, is extremely common. For example, what an unfortunate number of Americans think of as black people slipping into “errors” when they speak is, in the scientific sense, people code-switching between standard and Black English, the latter of which is an alternative, and not degraded, form of English.

Ocasio-Cortez’s critics seem to assume that since she is not black, her use of Black English must be some kind of act. This, however, is based on a major misreading of the linguistic reality of Latinos in America’s big cities. Since the 1950s, long-term and intense contact between black and Latino people in urban neighborhoods has created a large overlap between Black English and, for example, “Nuyorican” English, the dialect of New York’s Puerto Rican community. To a considerable extent, Latinos now speak “Ebonics” just as black people do, using the same slang and constructions, code-switching between it and standard English (and Spanish!) in the same ways.

This means that Ocasio-Cortez, as a Latina, was not using a dialect foreign to her experience. She grew up around it; it would be surprising if she did not have it in her repertoire to some extent. “I am from the Bronx. I act & talk like it,” she tweeted. Anyone who would riposte that she isn’t from the black Bronx in particular would miss that Black English stopped being a black-exclusive dialect in the Bronx decades ago.

The dustup also reflects another misimpression about Black English: that only uneducated people can be considered “authentic” in using it. This partly reflects a sense that Black English is a mere matter of grammatical flubs, a legacy of inadequate education. That analysis of Black English has been resoundingly refuted by shelves and shelves of research by linguists. Yet even someone who acknowledges that Black English is not broken language might suppose that it is rooted solely in being black and, roughly, poor.

President Barack Obama, for example, came in for much criticism—some from black people—for using some Black English when speaking to black audiences. His critics assumed that, because he was an educated person, Obama’s Black English could not possibly be “authentic” and was therefore condescending.

However, poor black people are by no means the only ones who code-switch into Black English. Worldwide, people code-switch into nonstandard dialects as part of the general palette of human expression: The nonstandard dialect can connote warmth, surprise, anger, flirtation, intimacy. Obama and Ocasio-Cortez are no less authentic in their use of Black English than people such as Cornel West and Keegan-Michael Key, educated black people who code-switch constantly and beautifully. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

9 April 2019 at 9:24 am

The Creeping Capitalist Takeover of Higher Education

leave a comment »

Kevin Carey writes in Huffington Post:

he price of college is breaking America. At a moment when Hollywood celebrities and private equity titans have allegedly been spending hundreds of thousands in bribes to get their children into elite schools, it seems quaint to recall that higher learning is supposed to be an engine of social mobility. Today, the country’s best colleges are an overpriced gated community whose benefits accrue mostly to the wealthy. At 38 colleges, including Yale, Princeton, Brown and Penn, there are more students from the top 1 percent than the bottom 60 percent.

Tuition prices aren’t the only reason for this, but they’re a major one. Public university tuition has doubled in the last two decades, tripled in the last three. Prestige-hungry universities admit large numbers of students who can pay ever-increasing fees and only a relative handful of low-income students. The U.S. now has more student loan debt than credit card debt—upward of $1.5 trillion. [And Betsy DeVos, Trump’s Secretary of Education, is gutting the student-loan forgiveness program. – LG] Nearly 40 percent of borrowers who entered college in the 2003 academic year could default on their loans by 2023, the Brookings Institution predicts.

The colleges would have you believe that none of this is their fault. They would point out that public schools took a huge financial hit during the recession when states slashed their education budgets. This is true, but that hardly explains the size and pace of the price hikes or the fact that tuition at private schools has exploded, too. [1]Average real-dollar private school tuition jumped from $17,000 in the late 1980s to over $35,000 in the most recent academic year.

It also doesn’t explain why colleges have failed to take advantage of the best opportunity to radically drop the price of a good degree that I’ve seen in 15 years of watching and reporting on the industry. This opportunity doesn’t have the daunting price tag of worthy proposals like “free college.” It doesn’t require any action from Congress at all.

The answer is online learning. When online degrees started proliferating 20 years ago, they earned their reputation for being second-rate or just plain scammy. Many were little more than jumped-up correspondence courses offered by for-profit colleges out to make a quick buck, and they were particularly ineffective for low-income students.

But there have been remarkable advances in online learning in the last decade. Nearly every prestigious college and university now offers multiple online degrees taught by skilled professors. And many of the courses are really good—engaging, rigorous, truly interactive. They are also a lot cheaper for universities to run. There are no buildings to maintain, no lawns to mow, no juice bars and lazy rivers to lure new students. While traditional courses are limited by the size of a lecture hall, online courses can accommodate thousands of people at a time.

This is how universities could break the tuition cost curve—by making the price of online degrees proportional to what colleges actually spend to operate the courses. So far, colleges have been more aggressive in launching online graduate programs. But there’s huge potential for undergraduate education, too, including hybrid programs that combine the best of in-person and virtual learning. And yet nearly every academic institution, from the Ivies to state university systems to liberal arts schools, has refused to pass even the tiniest fraction of the savings on to students. They charge online students the same astronomical prices they levy for the on-campus experience.

This is because many colleges don’t actually run online programs themselves. They outsource much of the work to an obscure species of for-profit company that has figured out how to gouge students in new and creative ways. These companies are called online program managers, or OPMs, an acronym that could come right out of “Office Space.” They have goofy, forgettable names like 2U, HotChalk and iDesign. As the founder of 2U puts it, “The more invisible we are, the better.”

But OPMs are transforming both the economics and the practice of higher learning. They help a growing number of America’s most-lauded colleges provide online degrees—including Harvard, Yale, Georgetown, NYU, UC Berkeley, UNC Chapel Hill, Northwestern, Syracuse, Rice and USC, to name just a few. The schools often omit any mention of these companies on their course pages, but OPMs typically take a 60 percent cut of tuition, sometimes more. Trace Urdan, managing director at the investment bank and consulting firm Tyton Partners, estimates that the market for OPMs and related services will be worth nearly $8 billion by 2020.

What this means is that an innovation that should have been used to address inequality is serving to fuel it. Instead of students receiving a reasonably priced, quality online degree, universities are using them as cash cows while corporate middlemen hoover up the greater share of the profits. In a perfect twist, big tech companies are getting the spill-off, in the form of massive sums spent on Facebook and Google ads. It’s a near-perfect encapsulation of the social and structural forces that allow the already-rich to get richer at the expense of everyone else. And it all started with a man named John Katzman, who has come to deeply question what has become of his own creation.

It’s 8:00 a.m. and John Katzman, education entrepreneur, is doing his morning workout while simultaneously explaining how he upended the business of American higher education not once but twice. I had suggested meeting for coffee. But Katzman had just arrived in Washington, D.C., on the red-eye from California and he likes to attack sleeplessness with exercise, which is how I wound up conducting an interview on side-by-side elliptical trainers in the gym at the Ritz-Carlton. Katzman likes to describe himself as “the ghost of unintended consequences”—a man who sees the corruption and inefficiencies at the heart of the education system and leverages them to get very, very rich.

Katzman is now in his late 50s, but you can still see traces of the boyish upstart who founded his first company out of his parents’ apartment on Central Park West in 1981. He got the idea as an undergraduate at Princeton University, when he tutored local high schoolers for the SAT to earn extra cash. Pretty soon he was making so much money he nearly dropped out. He didn’t, but shortly after graduating, he founded a test prep company called The Princeton Review.

There were other test prep companies out there, but no one in the business embodied his customers’ aspirations quite like Katzman—old money, Ivy League degree, cool and a little bit brash, always willing to explain to a reporter that the SAT was a “scam” and “moronic” and that its supposed value as a meritocratic sorting instrument was “bullshit.” In attacking the SAT’s flaws, Katzman only created more demand for a service that could exploit them. Princeton Review was ultimately valued at $300 million—and helped spawn an entire industry of companies that would teach kids to game the test, if their parents could afford to pay. Elite universities became even more swollen with the children of the 1 percent.

Yet Katzman was still only tinkering on the margins of the higher education market, which is worth at least $300 billion. The majority of that money comes, in one way or another, from the government: state funding for public universities and community colleges, federally guaranteed student loans, tax credits, grants for low-income students. For most of the past seven decades, private companies could build thriving businesses on the periphery of higher education—broadcasting football games or selling expensive textbooks. But the big pile of government money was largely off-limits. It remained in the control of public and nonprofit colleges that, whatever their shortcomings, weren’t explicitly designed to put profits ahead of students. That is, until the arrival of the internet.

One of the first companies to locate a loophole was Kaplan, Inc., Katzman’s biggest rival in SAT prep. In 2000, Kaplan bought a chain of vocational schools called Quest Education. Most of the schools were modest storefronts serving a few hundred students. The real value was in the Davenport, Iowa, campus, which had “regional accreditation”—the same stamp of approval given to schools in the Ivy League. [2] There are seven regional accreditors, founded in the late 19th and early 20th century. The Ivies, as well as pretty much every well-known college, are regionally accredited. There are also a handful of “national” accreditors that tend to focus on for-profits.The genius of this move was that 1) any accredited school can be paid for with federal grants and loans and 2) thanks to a 1998 reform intended to encourage distance learning, the Davenport college’s accreditation magically extended to everything Kaplan did online. Instead of charging $500 to prepare students for a college entrance exam, Kaplan could charge $50,000 for college itself, through a new division called Kaplan College. It had found a way into the pile of government money. The University of Phoenix and a dozen other for-profit corporations did the same. At some for-profit schools, almost 90 percent of revenues came from federal funds. The stock market took notice; many investors and executives became very wealthy.

For obvious reasons, Katzman could hardly start selling online degrees from Princeton Review University. Besides, he was no fan of for-profit colleges. “Just about all of them were levels of suck,” he says. “I didn’t want to do that.” So he decided to get Princeton itself, or an equally prestigious institution, to lend its name to online degrees instead. He would focus on graduate schools, where admissions standards are opaque. He would provide all of the upfront capital. He’d do the digital marketing and hire course designers and produce the videos of lectures and the software that allowed students and faculty to interact live online, with worldwide 24/7 support. In return, the colleges had to give him 60 percent of the tuition. This was still a good deal for them, since 40 percent of something was better than 100 percent of the nothing they had before.

In 2008, Katzman left Princeton Review and founded his second startup, eventually named 2U, which was one of the very first OPMs. He likes to joke that the acronym also stands for “other people’s money.” “The key insight was to take the systems from for-profits that were actually good … married to the goodwill and good quality of the best traditional schools,” he says. “That is virgin snow.”

Selecting a college is one of the most high-stakes financial decisions a person will ever make, right up there with buying a house. And yet every year, . . .

Continue reading.

Unbridled capitalism is destroying the US.

Written by LeisureGuy

6 April 2019 at 10:34 am

They Had It Coming: The players in the college-admissions scam

leave a comment »

Caitlin Flanagan has a highly readable article in the Atlantic:

Sweet Christ, vindication!

How long has it been? Years? No, decades. If hope is the thing with feathers, I was a plucked bird. Long ago, I surrendered myself to the fact that the horrible, horrible private-school parents of Los Angeles would get away with their nastiness forever. But even before the molting, never in my wildest imaginings had I dared to dream that the arc of the moral universe could describe a 90-degree angle and smite down mine enemies with such a hammer fist of fire and fury that even I have had a moment of thinking, Could this be a bit too much?

Let’s back up.

Thirty years ago, having tapped out of a Ph.D. program, I moved to Los Angeles (long story) and got hired at the top boys’ school in the city, which would soon become co-educational. For the first four years, I taught English. Best job I’ve ever had. For the next three, I was a college counselor. Worst job I’ve ever had.

When I was a teacher, my job was a source of self-respect; I had joined a great tradition. I was a young woman from a certain kind of good but not moneyed family who could exchange her only salable talents—an abiding love of books and a fondness for teenagers—for a job. Poor, obscure, plain, and little, I would drive though the exotic air of early-morning Los Angeles to the school, which was on a street with a beautiful name, Coldwater Canyon, in a part of the city originally designated the Central Motion Picture District. It sat on a plot of land that in the 1920s composed part of the Hollywood Hills Country Club, an institution that has a Narnia-like aspect, in that not even the California historian Kevin Starr knew whether it ever really existed, or whether it was merely a fiction promoted by real-estate developers trying to entice new homeowners to the Edenic San Fernando Valley. Across from a round tower connecting the upper and lower campuses was Saint Saviour’s, a chapel that the founders of the school built in 1914 as an exact replica of the one built in 1567 for the Rugby School in England, with pews facing the center aisle in the Tudor style. This combination of the possibly imaginary country club and the assumption behind the building of the chapel—get the set right, and you can make the whole production work—seemed to me like something from an Evelyn Waugh novel. But it also meant that—unlike Exeter or Choate—this school was a place where I could belong. There were no traditions, no expectation of familiarity with the Book of Common Prayer. All you needed to have was a piercing love of your subject and a willingness to enter into an apprenticeship with great teachers. I had those things.

This was before cellphones and laptops, and in the chalk-dusted eternity of a 42-minute class period, there was such a thrumming, adolescent need for stimulation that when I opened whatever book we were reading—all of them great, all of them chosen by teachers far more thoughtful and experienced than I—and began reading aloud, the stream of words was the only thing going, and many of the students couldn’t help themselves from slipping into that stream and letting it carry them along.

I met a traveller from an antique land,
Who said—“Two vast and trunkless legs of stone
Stand in the desert …. Near them, on the sand,
Half sunk a shattered visage lies

I did not come from a religious family, but we had a god, and the god was art, specifically literature. Taking a job teaching “Ozymandias” to a new generation was, for me, the equivalent of taking religious orders.

And so when a job opened in the college-counseling office, I should not have taken it. My god was art, not the SAT. In my excitement at this apparent promotion, I did not pause to consider that my beliefs about the new work at hand made me, at best, a heretic. I honestly believed—still believe—that hundreds of very good colleges in the country have reasonable admissions requirements; that if you’ve put in your best effort, a B is a good grade; and that expecting adolescents to do five hours of homework on top of meeting time-consuming athletic demands is, in all but exceptional cases, child abuse. Most of all, I believed that if you had money for college and a good high-school education under your belt, you were on third base headed for home plate with the ball soaring high over the bleachers.

I did not know—even after four years at the institution—that the school’s impressive matriculation list was not the simple by-product of excellent teaching, but was in fact the end result of parental campaigns undertaken with the same level of whimsy with which the Japanese Navy bombed Pearl Harbor.

Every parent assumed that whatever alchemy of good genes and good credit had gotten his child a spot at the prep school was the same one that would land him a spot at a hyper-selective college. It was true that a quarter of the class went to the Ivy League, and another quarter to places such as Stanford, MIT, and Amherst. But that still left half the class, and I was the one who had to tell their parents that they were going to have to be flexible. Before each meeting, I prepared a list of good colleges that the kid had a strong chance of getting into, but these parents didn’t want colleges their kids had a strong chance of getting into; they wanted colleges their kids didn’t have a chance in hell of getting into. A successful first meeting often consisted of walking them back from the crack pipe of Harvard to the Adderall crash of Middlebury and then scheduling a follow-up meeting to douse them with the bong water of Denison.

The new job meant that I had signed myself up to be locked in a small office, appointment after appointment, with hugely powerful parents and their mortified children as I delivered news so grimly received that I began to think of myself less as an administrator than as an oncologist. Along the way they said such crass things, such rude things, such greedy things, and such borderline-racist things that I began to hate them. They, in turn, began to hate me. A college counselor at an elite prep school is supposed to be a combination of cheerleader, concierge, and talent agent, radically on the side of each case and applying steady pressure on the dream college to make it happen. At the very least, the counselor is not supposed to be an adversary.

I just about got an ulcer sitting in that office listening to rich people complaining bitterly about an “unfair” or a “rigged” system. Sometimes they would say things so outlandish that I would just stare at them, trying to beam into their mind the question, Can you hear yourself? That so many of them were (literal) limousine liberals lent the meetings an element of radical chic. They were down for the revolution, but there was no way their kid was going to settle for Lehigh.

Some of the parents—especially, in those days, the fathers—were such powerful professionals, and I (as you recall) was so poor, obscure, plain, and little that it was as if they were cracking open a cream puff with a panzer. This was before crying in the office was a thing, so I had to just sit there and take it. Then the admissions letters arrived from the colleges. If the kid got in, it was because he was a genius; if he didn’t, it was because I screwed up. When a venture capitalist and his ageless wife storm into your boss’s office to get you fired because you failed to get their daughter (conscientious, but no atom splitter) into the prestigious school they wanted, you can really start to question whether it’s worth the 36K.

Sometimes, in anger and frustration, the parents would blame me for the poor return on investment they were getting on their years of tuition payments. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

5 April 2019 at 8:00 pm

A current example of what Alfie Kohn described in “No Contest: The Case Against Competition”

leave a comment »

I seem to be running into books from my “repeatedly recommended” list. Alfie Kohn’s excellent book No Contest: The Case Against Competition describes what happens and predicts the outcomes in Caitlin Gibson’s article in the Washington Post, “When parents are so desperate to get their kids into college that they sabotage other students.” She writes:

The message was stern, no-nonsense, with the sort of tone that an adult might use to rein in a group of misbehaving teenagers. But the message wasn’t directed at teenagers.

“Dear parents of the class of 2019,” began the December email from Patrick Gallagher, director of college counseling at Sidwell Friends School, one of the country’s most prestigious private schools, with campuses in the District and Bethesda, Md. The note that followed, which was obtained by The Washington Post, was restrained and discreet — no names were named, no specific incidents disclosed — but certain transgressions could be inferred from a bulleted list of new policies that would go into effect “immediately.” Among them:

“The College Counseling Office will not answer phone calls from blocked numbers.”

“The College Counseling Office will not open any mail without a recognizable return address.”

“If a parent ever feels the need to inform me or my colleagues regarding the actions of a child that is not their own — I will ask you to leave my office or end the phone conversation.”

The message seemed to confirm the vague rumors that had circulated for weeks — murmurs about parents behaving badly, even going so far as to disparage other students, presumably to give their own teens a leg up in the high-stakes college admissions competition.

The intense pressure surrounding the admissions process — and the corrosive effect it can have on a parent’s tether to reality and morality — has been a hot topic in the aftermath of the recent college admissions scandal that led to indictments against 50 people, including 33 parents, two of them television stars. The alleged multimillion-dollar bribery scheme was said to be aimed at helping less-than-stellar students gain entry to elite colleges and universities.

[Felicity Huffman, Lori Loughlin, other parents charged in admissions scheme to appear in federal court in Boston]

Even among the most affluent and privileged families, such blatantly illegal acts are rare and widely shunned. But that doesn’t necessarily preclude other underhanded tactics, including attempts to sabotage students who are also competing for coveted spaces at the nation’s most selective schools.

“I can tell you that every single parent that I know who has heard about [these rumors] has reacted with shock and horror,” said one Sidwell parent, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss the sensitive subject. “Whoever did this is a really good example of somebody who has lost all perspective and all sense of control, and I don’t think they represent our community, but I do think they represent the extremes that we’re seeing in the news — that absolute loss of any sense of normalcy around a process that shouldn’t be so intense.”

Officials at Sidwell emphasized that the incidents would not be tolerated: “Instances of disrespect are anomalous and often anonymous, but have nevertheless become increasingly intense and inappropriate,” Head of School Bryan Garman wrote in a January email to senior class parents, a message that Sidwell shared with The Post. “The circulation of rumors about students and/or the verbal assault of employees are antithetical to the School’s values.”

This sort of behavior is hardly the norm, school counselors and college prep experts agree — but neither is it as rare as one might hope.

Sue Moller, a high school guidance counselor in Long Island and president of the Nassau Counselors’ Association, remembers feeling skeptical in 2008, when she first heard a mother voice concern that other parents would comb through her son’s social history or tell college admissions officials about his jaywalking citation.

“I said, ‘Why would you think anyone would do that?’ And she said that one of their friends’ kids had been the target of an anonymous, disparaging letter; the admissions office had called them about it,” Moller recalled. “The parent in my office was petrified that someone was going to sabotage her kid, and I was like, ‘Oh, that doesn’t actually happen.’ ”

But she wanted to be sure about that. So she posted a question on the message board for the National Association for College Admission Counseling, asking whether anyone else had heard of this type of behavior. And more than a dozen replies swiftly poured in to assure her that, yes, it does actually happen.

There were accounts of parents who had called admissions offices to spread gossip about another child’s bad behavior, parents who reported long-ago run-ins with law enforcement, parents who sent anonymous tips about potentially compromising posts on students’ Facebook or Twitter pages.

“I couldn’t believe it,” Moller said. But the stories kept coming. Just last year, she said, an admissions officer told her about a mother who demanded that her child receive scholarship money: “This woman said, ‘My nephew got in here, and he got scholarship money, and he’s not even that bright!’ This woman discredited her own nephew.”

Moller laughed incredulously. “You just want to say, ‘Look at what you’re doing! You’re harming another child in this process,’ ” she said. “Is that really what we’ve come to?”

Behind every symptom in the broad spectrum of college admissions madness — from the parents who hire an SAT prep coach for their ninth-grader to the parents who were accused of paying corrupt test administrators to fix their children’s answers — there is a common underlying cause.

“It’s an almost animalistic fear,” said Brennan Barnard, the college admissions program manager for Making Caring Common, a project of the Harvard Graduate School of Education that encourages students to develop a sense of empathy and commitment to the common good. “There is fear that their children will miss out, this fear that they won’t have opportunities because of the rank or selectivity of their college, and it’s just not reasonable. These parents lose all perspective.”

Barnard has spoken to admissions officers who told him of  . . .

Continue reading. There’s much more.

Do read Kohn’s book. And you might read his second book, Punished by Rewards: The Trouble with Gold Stars, Incentive Plans, A’s, Praise, and Other Bribes.

Written by LeisureGuy

4 April 2019 at 4:16 pm

%d bloggers like this: