Here’s an important piece in today’s Wall Street Journal (September 7–8, 2019), The Secret of a Charter School’s Success? Parents.”

Robert Pondiscio’s article is brave because it talks real about what many of us know but dare not say out loud. By focusing on the vital role that parents play, it tracks my own thinking that reform efforts for student success really really need parental (or other mentor — caregiver, grandparent, etc.) support and engagement.

In short, for me, it highlights the nagging concern about the “close the gap” obsession that is driving schools and policy makers these days — that focus on schools without focusing on parents. As I see it, we will not get to success by doing that. We continue to try to solve the wrong problem with the wrong players. Thus, the public and policy makers too often continue the drumbeat of beating up on schools and teachers — and throwing more money and effort on the challenge — yet the gaps remain.

Too often, our public schools are not playing with a full deck. One leg of the three-legged stool is missing! We don’t have all the necessary players on board — students, teachers, parents — all fulfilling their end of the mission. It’s time we focus on that other leg of the puzzle — parents. We need them on board as active participants. With that, we can begin to hope for real success.

This article provides a rather stark example of what public schools can do to get parents on board to educate all students…and even begin to “close those gaps.”

Your thoughts? Here’s that article!

The Secret of a Charter School’s Success? Parents

Low-income families ‘self-select’ for Success Academy’s demanding program, with remarkable results

Ninth grader Elliot Detou at Success Academy High School of the Liberal Arts in March 2017. PHOTO: STEPHEN REMICH FOR THE WALL STREET JOURNAL


Robert Pondiscio

Sept. 6, 2019 9:50 am ET

Charter schools are a boutique phenomenon in American education, educating a mere 6% of U.S. school children. But they attract a disproportionate amount of attention — and controversy — because of their unique place in our education ecosystem. Public, tuition-free schools open to all students, but operated independently of school districts, they offer a Rorschach test revealing how one feels about U.S. public education at large. They can be perceived either as engines of innovation and an indispensable means to rescue children from failing neighborhood schools, or as an existential threat draining away resources — both money and engaged families — from traditional public schools.

Collectively, charter schools educate 3.2 million children in 7,000 schools in 43 states and the District of Columbia. None are more polarizing than New York City’s network of about 50 Success Academy schools, which serve 17,000 students — 94% of whom are from minority backgrounds — under their visionary and lightning-rod leader, Eva Moskowitz. Most are less than a decade old, and all of them are exceptionally high performing. In a city where less than 40% of black and Hispanic children test at proficiency for reading or math, 90% of Success Academy’s students of color passed the most recent state reading test. Virtually all of them — over 98% — did so in math.

Test results should not be the sole measure of school quality, but they’re how we often keep score. By that standard, there’s no such thing as a bad Success Academy school. Its very “worst” campus saw 85% of its students pass last year’s reading test, and in math the worst was 92% — a level of quality and consistency unmatched by any other large charter school network in the U.S.

Success Academy does something else that’s unique and mostly unnoticed, but it creates the conditions that make these results possible. By law, oversubscribed charter schools must admit students by lottery. Success Academy has roughly six applicants for every seat, which gives the appearance of a randomly selected student body. But it exercises unusual influence over which students end up actually enrolling. In the end, the chances of an applicant being offered a seat appear to be closer to 50/50 than one-in-six.

Eva Moskowitz, founder of Success Academy, in August 2017. PHOTO: CELESTE SLOMAN FOR THE WALL STREET JOURNAL

Parents who win the lottery, and even those whose children are only on the wait list, must attend a series of mandatory meetings and complete various administrative steps for their applications to remain “active” between the April lottery and the start of school in August. Those who falter fall away.

At every step, school leaders aggressively preach to prospective parents about their no-nonsense culture and the expectation that parents come with eyes wide open, fully committed to Success Academy’s program and policies, including strict behavior codes, school uniform compliance, supervising homework, reading with children every night and recording what’s read in a log. Parents are warned repeatedly in unsparing language, “Success Academy may not be for you.” Significantly, the schools offer no transportation or after-school programs, a potential deal breaker for working single parents or those without the support network to pick up and drop off their children every day.

This process, whether by happenstance or design, yields a parent body comprised largely of the most motivated parents and those with the organizational skills and resources to meet Success Academy’s high bar for parental engagement. This sets the stage to strive for — and mostly achieve — consistent and high levels of academic achievement “at scale” among low-income children of color, who would otherwise be lost to the dull hum of mediocrity in zoned neighborhood schools.

To deny low-income families of color the ability to self-select into safe and well-run schools with high expectations is to impose mediocrity on them.

This seems unfair — except for the fact that the ability to self-select into a well-run, high-performing school is unremarkable and unquestioned among affluent Americans. When well-off parents pay for their children to attend a private or religious school, or when they move into high-income ZIP codes where inflated home prices and eye-popping property taxes are de facto tuition for excellent “public” schools, they are making the same decision as the low-income parents drawn to Success Academy. Both groups are voting with their feet and committing their own resources — money or time — to ensure that their children go to school with the children of similarly engaged and motivated parents.

To deny low-income families of color the ability to self-select into safe and well-run schools with high expectations is to impose mediocrity on them, ostensibly for the public good. It is a burden that no affluent family is asked or expected to bear. Ms. Moskowitz insists that even if she were allowed to, she would not screen and handpick applicants instead of admitting families by lottery. “I wouldn’t do it,” she told me, “because I don’t think I could tell who they are.” Perhaps not, but she has created a mechanism for those families to identify themselves.

Ms. Moskowitz’s many critics will look at the small but non-trivial hurdles parents must clear as proof that she is not running great schools, merely a sorting mechanism. But this ignores what’s most remarkable about Success Academy: Its schools don’t just match those of affluent suburban districts but easily outperform them. Working with self-selected families under careful conditions, Ms. Moskowitz hasn’t merely closed the achievement gap. She has reversed it.

The politics of education reform require that we be less than candid about all of this self-sorting, but the upshot for rich and poor alike is clear: School culture and parent buy-in matter. The brand of education pioneered by Success Academy may indeed be “not for everyone,” but its schools are well run, not the joyless and militaristic hothouses critics imagine. They serve much the same role as Catholic schools did for previous generations of striving New Yorkers. Success Academy suggests the upper limits of what is possible when a critical mass of active and engaged families of color, who happen to be poor, are given permission to exercise the same degree of choice as affluent families.

But this all must be done sotto voce. One former Success Academy school leader whom I interviewed struck a philosophical tone. “Is it really such a bad thing that this is basically an elite private school that admits by lottery?” he asked. “It’s the first time folks in the inner city have had that chance.”

It’s not a bad thing. The disparity of opportunity afforded to rich and poor Americans is what must change. The privileged are unfettered in their pursuit of an excellent education for their children; the rest get “equity.” Worse, we are forced to be dishonest in arguments both for and against charter schools, resorting to aspirational, politically pleasing narratives about what it takes to improve outcomes for disadvantaged children. It’s time to stop airbrushing parents out of the picture and to acknowledge the sometimes uncomfortable truth that their role is indispensable.

— Mr. Pondiscio is senior fellow at the Thomas B. Fordham Institute and teaches at Democracy Prep Public Schools, a charter school network in New York City. This essay is adapted from his book “How the Other Half Learns: Equity, Excellence and the Battle Over School Choice,” which will be published on Sept. 10 by Avery.

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This was originally posted on Medium

I’m glad to s​​ee the College Board acknowledge its mistake and scrap the “adversity score” it proposed two years ago that has been used as a pilot by some colleges. The CB created this score as a single number to describe a students’ adversity. As I see it, the adversity score was an attempt to try to find those “diamonds in the rough” that colleges seek — children whose lives have had much adversity and yet the overcame them and prevailed.

But, the adversity score created backlash and claims of CB overreach, as well as confusion and misperceptions, as the CB chief executive acknowledged today.

So, the CB is scrapping it. Stay tuned, however, as the CB is now creating something called the “Landscape.” It will provide data points but not a single number for a student. Let’s see where that goes.

In the meantime, while the CB is in a “scrapping” and rebuilding mood, let’s hope it (and the ACT) finally reviews its 2003 decision that allows s some students to have so-called “accommodations” that fundamentally alter the SAT — like extended time — without notifying anyone that the standardized “timed” test no longer is. As I see it, this serious error is partially to blame for the Varsity Blues Scandal. Having extra time on the SAT was a far-too-attractive option that some parents even cheated for.

Let me be very clear. The issue is not whether students can have extra time. They can. That’s not in dispute.

In order to explain what is in dispute, a few definitions may be helpful. Let’s call changes in how a test is administered, “adaptations.” Adaptations are generally provided so students can access a test and demonstrate what they know and can do. Adaptations come in two very different flavors — “accommodations” and “modifications.” Accommodations provide access and don’t fundamentally alter a test; modifications also provide access but they do fundamentally alter a test. Although they are very very different from each other, the press too often lump both types of adaptations together and calls them all “accommodations” — a misleading and confusing lumping.

The use of extended time for the SAT is a modification because it fundamentally changes the test. The SAT is no longer a standardized timed test. On the other hand, the use of large print, Braille, or a quiet room is an accommodation because none of them fundamentally alters the SAT.

My concern is about modifications, not accommodations. This is especially so because, by far, the most often sought after (and provided) modification of the SAT (and ACT) is extended time. That’s the sought-after “prize,” as we have sadly come to learn. No line of parents seeks Braille or a quiet room.

So what’s the problem? As I see it, it’s the College Board’s policy that lacks transparency. It’s not the use of time; it’s the total lack of transparency about that modification. Current policy allows some students more time but does not notify test score recipients (like college admissions officers) of the nonstandard condition under which that test score was obtained. What now do the scores mean? Nobody can know.

Let’s be honest. The SAT is no longer a timed test. Now some 4–5% of scores are obtained with modifications. This is especially troubling because, we know that extra time helps advanced students obtain a higher score. These are the very students competing with others for slots at selective colleges and universities. An extended time test is a different test. And yet nobody knows! Score reports are silent.

While the CB is in rethink mode, let’s hope it finally scraps its old wrong policy. It is misleading. It hurts students. It leads to misuse.

The College Board has many options for maintaining a valid and standardized SAT, while also allowing students who need extra time to have it. For many years, I’ve written about several of these options, including: notify test score users when a test is given under a nonstandard condition, and/or let anyone have extra time without need for a disability diagnosis, with the understanding that there will be a notice of the use of that modification in the score report, or stop timing the SAT for everyone. I urge the College Board to finally “scrap” the current system and create a fair and valid SAT.

This was originally posted on Medium

Go, Teen Vogue!

Here’s an important story in Teen Vogue about how the SAT and ACT are manipulated — and mostly, about how neither company (the College Board’s Educational Testing Service and the ACT)has taken decisive action to guarantee the validity of these tests. Little tweaks will not do it!

This is a good read! You’ll see me quoted toward the end of the piece (in bold), about the flawed accommodations policy of these two companies have implemented since 2003 ( basically, continuing to time these tests (for still unexplained reasons)… but not notifying test score users when extra time is given to some students) and how that has played out in the last 16 years. An unfortunate and sad tale, as I see it.


Why It’s So Easy to Cheat on College Admissions Tests Like the SAT

Schooled is a series that explores the nuances of the American education system by reporter Zach Schermele, an incoming freshman at Columbia University.


When the college admissions scandal was first unveiled by the Justice Department in March, the scintillating story now known as “Operation Varsity Blues” grabbed headlines worldwide. With competition for spots at elite schools growing ever more fierce, federal prosecutors alleged that wealthy parents paid between $15,000 and $75,000 to doctor their children’s standardized test scores. That was just the tip of the iceberg in that particular scandal, which was dramatic enough to get green-lit as a Lifetimemovie.

But to students in the thick of an increasingly cutthroat college admissions game — admission rates at top schools are still dropping to record or near-record lows — the pervasiveness of cheating on standardized tests was never a surprise.

“Going into my first SAT, a kid I knew asked me if he could cheat off me,” Caroline Skoglund, a rising senior at Darien High School in Connecticut, told Teen Vogue. Caroline refused. She had spent over 100 hours studying for the test, often working through dinner and sacrificing going out with her friends. It wasn’t her first encounter with students who wanted to cheat on arguably one of the most important tests in a high schooler’s life.

“I’ve heard kids walk out of the test and brag to their friends about how they copied answers from someone else,” she said. Caroline took the test four times before scoring in the 99th percentile — an achievement she’s proud of. But she also recognizes what she called a “frustrating” truth: “Many people simply cheat.”

Though some predicted Operation Varsity Blues would transform the way testing security is managed by the billion-dollar organizations that administer standardized tests, critics say real, substantive change has not been made in response. They say a lack of transparency from the largest test administrators in the U.S. — the College Board, which decides how the SAT and other tests are administered, as well as ACT — has led to uncertainty about how prevalent cheating really is on their exams.

One college student from California, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, told Teen Vogue that cheating on the SAT four years ago helped her get into a top-40 university. Because the exam was (and still is) administered across the U.S. on the same day, test-takers on the East Coast finished before she did, allowing her to find the answers on her phone during bathroom breaks.

“The East Coast kids are out and will start discussing questions on College Confidential,” she said, referring to an online college admissions forum. The student claimed proctors could neither stop her from using the restroom nor pat her down to feel for a cell phone — “so there was virtually no way [the proctor] could know.” Technology of any form is technically prohibited inside the testing center, and students’ scores can be canceled on any college admissions exam if proctors catch them using devices like cell phones during the test.

Students in different time zones still take College Board–sanctioned exams like the SAT, SAT subject tests, and AP tests within a similar window, meaning the time-zone vulnerabilities she used to cheat are still exploitable. Two different types of AP tests are usually given on the same date, secretly divided into two sets across testing centers, experts told Teen Vogue. According to Brooke Hanson, CEO and founder of SuperTutorTV, in cases with which she’s familiar, “all students nationwide get the same form of the test” on October, March, and May SAT test dates, with some exceptions for the “experimental” questions. Hanson spoke from personal experience and admitted individuals might get different tests if they’ve requested accommodations, and in general, cases involving accommodations, test-takers over the age of 18, and potential “foul play” may result in further scrutiny.

Students can take the ACT anywhere the test is offered in the U.S., and although the College Board would not independently verify similar rules for the SAT, testing experts told Teen Vogue that is still the case.

“Generally students can register for any SAT test given anywhere,” Hanson told Teen Vogue. “I’ve had students at camp in Michigan take the SAT in that state or if they’re out of town in NYC, take it there. I’ve also had international students fly to the U.S. to take the test here during the summer or on dates not offered abroad.”

Only proctors and sometimes test administrators, who are often strangers to students, are responsible for verifying their identities (unless an investigation is opened). In 2011, 20 teenagers involved in an alleged SAT cheating ring in Long Island were accused of criminal impersonation, scheming to defraud, and falsifying business records; many of them took the test outside of their own school district. In 2015, 15 Chinese students were accused of paying impostors to take tests, including the SAT, for them using fake passports at test centers in Pennsylvania. The lead defendant, who allegedly held an organizing role in the ring, later pleaded guilty; several others were deported. It is unclear whether any of the accused in either case were acquitted. But many of the exploitable rules around approved test-taking locations don’t appear to have verifiably changed.

And though high-stakes heists make big news, less sophisticated cases of cheating go virtually unnoticed. Another student, who also wished to remain anonymous, told Teen Vogue the ACT proctors at his school are “teachers who don’t really care enough to stop cheating.” According to the student, who currently attends a large public high school of several thousand students, copying from nearby answer sheets and whispering during the exam are common occurrences.

“AP exams are a joke,” he continued, referring to a test administered by the College Board and ETS. He said students are in a gym or classroom, “where every test form is the same, so cheating off the people near you is easy.”

“Parents are proctors and oblivious,” he said. The student’s school has not yet responded to Teen Vogue’s request for comment.

“The time restrictions on the ACT are way too difficult,” said another student, who told Teen Vogue he cheated on the ACT in June. The student spoke on the condition of anonymity and admitted using extra time during an ungraded portion of the test to flip back in his booklet and answer questions from the English section he hadn’t been able to finish.

“I don’t think time should be such a critical factor in a test like this, so that sort of justified cheating in my head,” he said. He claimed the extra time improved his score significantly.

Both the College Board and ACT do offer extended time to students who can show a medical history of a learning disability. Examples of affluent parents exploiting these “testing accommodations” with fraudulent doctor’s notes were widely cited in the Varsity Blues scandal, and a recent New York Times analysis found that 504 designations, which give test-takers extra time based on physical or mental impairments, are disproportionately common in rich communities. In a 2003 essay titled “Disabling the SAT,” education lawyer Miriam Kurtzig Freedman predicted that accommodations would lead to a phenomenon she called “diagnosis shopping.”

“These savvy parents now know that if they’re looking ahead to Billy or Johnny going to college and having to take the SAT or the ACT in junior year, they better get these [medical plans] in place early,” Freedman told Teen Vogue. “It’s totally dysfunctional, and it’s created by these organizations who are beholden to nobody.”

Freedman has been a vocal critic of the College Board and ACT especially after Operation Varsity Blues, calling them “extremely closed and nontransparent” organizations. Ed Colby, the senior director of media and public relations for ACT, said in a statement to Teen Vogue, “ACT takes test security very seriously, and we are continually working to enhance and enforce our test security measures.”

“We do not provide specific details about those measures for security reasons,” Colby said. A link to ACT’s website (provided by Colby) states, “We conduct extensive, and proactive analyses of our testing data in search of irregularities that could indicate misconduct.” ACT representatives also make unannounced visits to test centers and maintain a testing security hotline, according to the website.

A webpage created by the College Board after the Varsity Blues scandal erupted states the organization has since added personnel to its testing security team, among other measures. In a statement to Teen Vogue, College Board spokeswoman Jaslee Carayol would only specify one example of “an action [College Board] took in response” to Operation Varsity Blues, and added, “For security reasons, we cannot provide specifics about our approach.”

“In all but the rarest circumstances, students will take the test only at their schools or during a weekend session,” she said, referring to accommodation requests (students who do not request extra time on the test can still test anywhere in the U.S., according to testing experts). “If a student must take a test elsewhere, we will carefully confirm their need to test at an alternate location and the security of that location.”

The Educational Testing Service, which is hired by the College Board to develop and administer its exams, did not respond to Teen Vogue’s multiple requests for comment.

Whether many test-taking rules are followed, however, depends entirely on the people who proctor the tests, and while criteria do exist spelling out who can do the job, the College Board and ACT’s proctor requirements do not appear to have changed since one proctor and two test administrators were indicted as part of Operation Varsity Blues, the proctor pleading guilty. They were accused of playing various roles in falsifying students’ scores. The accused test administrators have pleaded not guilty.

“It might be smart for the test-makers to incorporate a stronger vetting process and require training,” Sam Pritchard, the director of College Prep Programs at Kaplan Test Prep, told Teen Vogue. “More oversight seems warranted in that it may prevent more cheating and also restore faith by test-takers and their parents, not to mention colleges who want to know that applicants’ scores are their own.”

Critics say that without testing representatives actively willing or knowledgeable enough to enforce the rules at the ground level, systemic cheating isn’t going to stop anytime soon.

“They certainly haven’t gone to the root cause of what their problem is,” Freedman said. “All they’re trying to do is clean up little messes here and there.”

This was originally posted on Medium

After hearing the last debate and Kamala Harris’ busing story from years ago, here’s my teaching story from those years….

My memorable year teaching as Berkeley integrated its schools
JULY 24, 2019

Who would have thought that my one year teaching in Berkeley more than a half century ago would make me feel like a participant in events that are now the subject of political debates and front page stories?
It brings back powerful memories of an inspiring time in public education.

I was a young social studies teacher at Garfield Junior High School in 1966-67, one mile from the elementary school to which Kamala Harris would be bused three years later through a two-way busing program undertaken by Berkeley’s school board — not a federal mandate. Even before the busing, I remember that my junior high school was already working to make integration work under the leadership of our inspiring Superintendent, Neil Sullivan. He was in the forefront of that effort. Before coming to Berkeley, he helped Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy integrate the Prince Edward County schools in Virginia.

Sullivan got us teachers on board with the mission. At the time, most black and other working class families lived in the flatlands near the San Francisco Bay and most white and other more affluent families lived in the hills, many with spectacular views of the San Francisco Bay. My junior high school was somewhere in the middle — an area we dubbed “the Gaza Strip.”

Though I taught there for only one year before moving away, it was a truly memorable year. I was inspired by Superintendent Sullivan. I think my colleagues were also. There was one meeting when he asked us, the teaching staff, to add 20 minutes to our day to make the plan to integrate the schools work. Without hesitation, and though no extra pay was offered to us, we agreed to do that. I remember just feeling lucky to be part of history in the making.

Several other memories come to the surface. On “Sloppy Day,” many black girls came to school in lovely brightly colored pantsuits while many white students came dressed in pajamas and other raggedy outfits, their hair uncombed. This picture of contrasts is forever etched in my mind. It was already clear that integration would require children to learn from each other in the years to come.

The memory that stands out most is Back to School Night. Parents from the whole city showed up. I taught in an era when junior high school classes were tracked. As it turned out, my classes were either level one or level three. My level one classes were made up of mostly white students while my level three classes were mostly black students.

On Back to School Night, I most vividly remember the parents of my levelthree students. They insisted — very adamantly — that I demand high standards from their children. They cared deeply about challenging their children academically and not making excuses for them. The parents were inspiring. I was grateful for their passion and did my best to do what they asked of me.

Looking back over these 50-plus years, times have changed. Garfield is now the Martin Luther King Middle School. Black students are now mostly referred to as African-American students. Tracking social studies classes in a junior high school is a thing of the past. Yet that year was precious and powerful. We were all together; we were inspired; we had a great leader; we were building community for all of Berkeley. It was heady.

Though I taught in several schools after Berkeley, none was undergoing desegregation efforts. As my experience with that challenge is limited to this one inspiring year, I leave it for others to decide if our work was the cure-all we had imagined.

Looking back, we can see that many schools and classes are still racially divided, gaps in learning persist and while some students benefit greatly, the picture today is mixed. Undoubtedly, there’ll soon be another big “cure-all” idea.

Instead, how about this modest proposal: transformative ideas from legislators and other entities not at the school can only go so far. The work that matters and has lasting value, the work where all learning and teaching takes place, is at the local level, in the classroom. We need to focus our efforts on helping teachers, students and parents to work actively together for what matters: improved learning and opportunity for today’s students.
Miriam Kurtzig Freedman, a former teacher, is an experienced school lawyer and author of Special Education 2.0 — Breaking Taboos to Build a NEW Education Law.

My question:
Who appointed or voted for the College Board to have an “unhealthy power over college admissions,” to quote Ms. Apodaca, and to continue to mess with our public schools? Why do they have all that power? And, why do we continue to allow them such unfettered leeway?

I’m struck by Ms. Apodaca’s statement that [the adversity index] is a desperate, cynical attempt by this company to stay relevant and maintain its unhealthy power over college admissions.

It may well be.

As I see it and as I’ve written many times, in the name of “good, equitable, fair, and maybe even positive ideas,” the powerful College Board has managed to ruin accommodations policies on the SAT and for our schools. What does the score mean if someone takes the same test with twice as much time as others get–and nobody knows! That’s their policy–and it’s powerful. Thus, it’s disheartening for teachers to uphold their honest grading policy when the big guys won’t do that. Second, as I see it, the College Board also has–in too many ways–set the curriculum for our PUBLIC schools–by what they decide to test on any given day. They decide and we sneeze. And third, now this? A flawed attempt to fix a real real world issue of inequality.

Did you vote for them? Did you appoint them? I know that I didn’t.

Here’s George F. Will’s column, June 7, 2019.

I’ve put in BOLD my questions for starters.

1. Who voted for the College Board to be our “earnest improvers?”
2. Who picked them to “shape th world of social inertia?”
3. Who is promoting their latest attempt to keep the SAT relevant–in an increasingly diverse world (where many colleges are now test optional) that has made that test “descreasingly important?”

The College Board’s intrusion into our schools is very concerning. They have already ruined the accommodations policy–so that tests may not even be standardized! They have influenced to a great degree what is taught in our high schools. And now this.

Who voted for them? Who appointed them? I sure didn’t!

The SAT’s new ‘adversity index’ is another step down the path of identity politics

The earnest improvers at the College Board, which administers the SAT, should ponder Abraham Maslow’s law of the instrument. In 1966, Maslow, a psychologist, said essentially this: If the only tool you have is a hammer, every problem looks like a nail. The College Board wants to solve a complex social problem that it and its test are unsuited to solve.

The College Board has embraced a dubious idea that might have the beneficial effect of prompting college admissions officers to think of better ideas for broadening their pool of applicants. The idea is to add to the scores of some test-takers an “environmental context” bonus. Strangely, board president David Coleman told the Wall Street Journal’s Daniel Henninger that this is not, as the media has named it, an “adversity index.” But it is: It purports to measure 15 factors (e.g., poverty or food-stamp eligibility, crime rates, disorderly schools, broken families, families with education deficits, etc.) where these test-takers are situated. Coleman more convincingly says to the New York Times: “This is about finding young people who do a great deal with what they’ve been given.”

Perhaps the board’s evident discomfort with the label “adversity score” is because its more benign-sounding “environmental context” gives a social-science patina to the obverse of a category (and political accusation) currently in vogue, that of “privilege.” By whatever name, however, the SAT’s new metric is another step down the path of identity politics, assigning applicants to groups and categories, and another step away from evaluating individuals individually. But if the adversity metric becomes a substitute for schools emphasizing race, this will be an improvement on explicit racial categories that become implicit quotas.

The SAT was created partly to solve the problem of inequitable standards in college admissions. They too often rewarded nonacademic attributes (e.g., “legacies” — the children of alumni). And they facilitated the intergenerational transmission of inherited privileges. Most importantly, they were used to disfavor certain groups, particularly Jews.

By making an objective — meaning standardized — test one component of schools’ assessments of applicants, it advanced the American ideal of a meritocracy open to all talents. However, it has always been the schools’ prerogative to decide the importance of the SAT component relative to others. And as “diversity” (understood in various ways) becomes an increasing preoccupation of schools, the SAT becomes decreasingly important.

Any adversity index derived from this or that social “context,” however refined, will be an extremely crude instrument for measuring — guessing, actually — the academic prospects of individuals in those contexts. It might, however, be a good gauge of character. Physicists speak of the “escape velocity” of particles circling in an orbit. Perhaps the adversity index can indicate individuals who, by their resilience, have achieved velocity out of challenging social environments.

But the SAT is a flimsy tool for shaping the world of social inertia. Articulate, confident parents from the professions will transmit cultural advantages to their children — advantages that, as the SAT will record them, are apt to dwarf “adversity” bonuses. As Andrew Ferguson, author of the grimly hilarious “Crazy U: One Dad’s Crash Course in Getting His Kid Into College,” says, America’s least diverse classes are SAT-prep classes.

The Chicago Tribune warns, plausibly, that the “secret-sauce” of the SAT’s adversity score — schools will know it, applicants will not — will “breed more public mistrust” of colleges’ admissions processes. But calling, as the Tribune does, for more “transparency” implies that the more admissions’ criteria are made public, the better. However, private deliberations and criteria about applicants protect the applicants’ privacy interests.

Furthermore, asserting a public interest in maximum transparency encourages government supervision of — and the inevitable shrinking of — schools’ discretion in shaping their student bodies and ensuring that some cohorts are not largely excluded.

Unquestionably, such discretion often is employed in unsavory ways to serve academia’s fluctuating diversity obsessions, some of which contravene common understandings of equity and perhaps civil rights laws and norms. Soon a Boston court will render a decision, probably destined for Supreme Court review, in the case concerning Harvard’s “holistic” metrics, beyond “objective” ones (secondary school transcripts, standardized tests), for — it is alleged — the purpose of restricting the admission of Asian Americans. They, like the Jews whose academic proficiency was a “problem” eight decades ago, often come from family cultures that stress academic attainments.

Caution, however, is in order. Further breaking higher education to the saddle of the state is an imprudent (and, which is much the same thing, unconservative) objective.

I read, with great interest, the Education Week Blog by Christina Samuels,

The blog summarizes a report by the National Center for Learning Disabilities and Understood– an advocacy group for students with learning disabilities. The report concludes that most general education teachers feel unprepared to teach students with disabilities and that most of them want more training.

That may be all well and good, BUT to get a full picture of teachers and their needs that can actually help our schools and students, we need to hear directly from general education researchers and advocates about this vital issue–not just from special educaiton players. Do general education teachers want more training? Do they support the inclusion effort? Do they believe that approach is the way to proceed for most or all students? Etc. Many important questions are left on the table when research does not take a wide enough view of the situation.

Who– besides learning disablity groups and their advocates– is doing research about teacher preparedness to teach ALL students— from the most needy (including special education students) to the most advanced and all in between? That research needs to be understood. We need to hear from them.

We need a full picture. Without that, we may again move to solve the wrong questions.

Finally, finally some backlash. Let’s hope it catches on and grows! The parents and students are right.

What they are getting is NOT personalized learning. It is not enriched teacher-student relationship learning. It is not excellence in teaching building excellence in students–one student at a time in a personalized way. Learning should be personal, of course, but it should be part of a rich curriculum with excellent teaching. It’s not what computers can spoon feed to children. How do we know this? Because the tech whizzes that bring us this do so for other people’s children–not their own.

It’s too bad that both teacher-based learning and computer-based learning are called “personalized learning.” They are not the same. The tech companies have latched on to this rich trove. We need a new name for what these computers are doing….maybe “technology-assisted information” or “techonology assisted skill building” or “technology-assisted child management” or ???

Teachers can provide personalized learning. Machines do not. And just like Silicon Valley’s elites, I don’t want my kids or grandkids to become pawns for tech companies.

Then what is the computer in every lap surge? It’s a powerful sales pitch for computers by Silicon Valley–spoonfed to school administrators at fancy conferences and dinners.

A computer in front of every child builds customer loyalty at an early age. It also creates glazed eyes and apparently headaches for some and other health challlenges for other children. And the sad hypocritical underbelly of course, is that the children of Silicon Valley’s elite aren’t allowed to have laptops in their classrooms. Their private schools bar such technology. Take that and think on it!

Laptops are for other people’s children–

Call it what it is. It sure is not personalized learning–something every child deserves to have.

Here’s my recent op-ed in the Palo Alto Weekly. Caution! The loophole is NOT the extra time that some students need in order to demonstrate what they know and can do. The LOOPHOLE IS the fact that the College Board (SAT) and ACT don’t notify colleges and universities when tests are taken with nonstandard conditions. Read the sad tale of what that “attractive loophole” has lead to…

It’s a good tale. I liked the analogy about disability parking spots and was not persuaded by the ACT’s statement that “The system worked.” It certainly highlighted the many stakeholders and competing interests in this sad tale.

But–as with so many of the stories about the current scandal–it focuses on many stakeholders, including the students, disabled or not, parents, advocates, colleges, cheating, and the abuse of extra time to take these tests, etc.

Yet, it does not focus on the tests themselves….and the fact that they are no longer standardized (and are, in reality, different tests). It’s that “extra time to run the 4-minute mile” without a flag problem, even as College Board acknowledged that extra time is a “nonstandard condition.”

I do hope a reporter somewhere picks up this story–about the tests themselves. It’ll explain so much of this mess to good people who are scratching their heads about the extra time loophole. What is the why behind this portion of the scandal? How did we get here? What have these companies have done to their own products–the so-called “standardized” tests? And ultimately, why do we all still pay so dearly in money and anxiety, etc. for them?

I’m waiting for that story.

And you? Are you waiting too?