Posts by James Harding

Getting into Harvard. The American dream, and other things you need millions for

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You can’t ignore the increasing crossover and interconnectedness of Academics and Economics. The relationship between these two are becoming increasingly publicized as mirror images or exclusively linked, but not in the ways you’d think.

The stronger your financial position, the higher the chances you’ll get into an ‘elite’ education institution. The more ‘elite’ institution, the greater the chance you’ll really achieve wealth/status. Many writers have explored this phenomenon; however, none more influential than Ron Unz’s latest article “The Myth of American Meritocracy.”

The article reveals the incredible extent that socio-economical strength dictates ‘success’ under the facade of elite academics to drive the now perceived illusion of work effect and the American Dream. Ron Unz exposes, however frightfully, that it’s not meritocracy being rewarded by seemingly high levels of education and therefore social success, but simple politics and economics. Admissions into universities is not a race for premier student selection of the brightest, most highly trained, and highly disciplined students on the planet, but rather a hand-picked demographic unbelievably slanted toward finances and political background.

This current covert system and policies only perpetuate and further establish what is a modern day cast system furthering the economic divide and perpetuating the social elitism. Distribution of wealth and its perpetuation links universities to further lope-siding the status quo while hiding behind the idea of a ‘well rounded individual.’

‘The Myth of American Meritocracy’ reveals prejudices in methodology of following trends, mountains, and valleys of the discriminated minorities of their time.

Harvard’s endowment is now over 30 billion dollars and the Admissions Department that gives such huge support to squash, rowing, and legacy members does nothing but perpetuate the ‘education’ of the best to keep investing in their future. The higher the social capital the better!

Private tutoring, entry fees in sports clubs, prep testing, entrance into private boarding schools, and high end resources go a long way in supplying a better advantage for admissions. Unz also says “its nice if your dad plays polo with the Admissions Director.”

I’ve always thought America truly has a university for everyone. But unfortunately it’s also becoming increasingly apparent that each individual should only strive to small measures higher than their current social status.

To me, the article and the American education system has a mix of ‘the death of the American Dream,’ the rise of neo-liberalism, and the illusion of how this all makes sense. Ivy Leagues seemingly deal in capital. Initially, Unz describes that Harvard dealt purely in academic capital but this obviously has drastically shifted. It now reflects less importance on academics and more on human, social, and economic capital than ever. ‘Does wealth dictate education or education dictate wealth?’ It seems that Unz isn’t confused.

A further example of this is seen in Mike Russel’s Massive Open Online Revenue Generating Entities, which talks about how elite colleges prioritize status over economics and as admissions reveal this isn’t done through academics.

Elite colleges are ultimately in the business of maximizing status, not revenue. Spending a lot of money on things that return a lot of status isn’t just feasible for these institutions—it’s their basic operating principle.”

American society has similarly made the dream of achieving these institutions beyond the reach of ‘us’ mere peasants.

Who Stole the American Dream? “Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative reporter Hedrick Smith reveals a series of events and decisions that have contributed to today’s disparity in wealth and political power. The country is divided sharply and extremely by money, by political power, and by ideology. We have enormous, gaping inequalities of income. And along with that, we have exaggerated and unequal political power exercised by corporate America and by the wealthy, particularly between elections, through masses of lobbyists working in Washington.”

–U.S. News.

Myschool’ Website: Short-Sighted Policy on Public Vs Private in Australia

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The public and private school debate has elevated in Australia.

While choice has always been part of Australian schooling, governments of all political hues have been enhancing their commitment to educational choice by increasing funding to the non-government sector (Forsey, Davies, & Walford, 2008).

 The Australian Minister of Higher Education has spearheaded a project spending $3 million on research and creating a website “Myschool” that uses national standardized tests to compare performance of socio-economically and demographically similar schools across the country. Any parent and community member can now search and compare profiles of almost 9,500 Australian schools.

The launch of the website has raised several major issues regarding the private versus public debate in the field of education, questioning sociocultural ideology behind school ‘choice.’

There are several issues not only with school choice but also with how the website goes about comparing such schools. Forsey et al. (2008) note several reasons for why parents find ‘school choice’ so crucial. The first is self-segregation (a trend of a specific population group trying to separate itself for self-interest) – otherwise known as ‘white flight.’ It often results in wealthier families self-segregating themselves in better performing schools. Other reasons include higher level of placement testing (schools with higher average of standardized test scores) and concerted cultivation (parent expectations for structure and child-rearing support through the education system.)

It would appear that the government run website has embraced these facts, stating specifically that its purpose is to “locate statistical and contextual information about schools in your community and compare them with statistically similar schools across the country.”

How does the website compare such schools? This is where more problems arise…

The website compares the socio-economical background with the schools performance in ‘NAPLAN’ testing. The socio-economical status is judged by examining family background information provided to schools directly by families, including parental occupation, and the school education and non-school education levels they achieved. In some cases, where this information is not available, ICSEA uses Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) Census data on family background to determine a set of average family characteristics for the districts where students live. Where as the NAPLAN is based on two subjects (literacy and numeracy) and includes 40 questions. NAPLAN collects data on a national level every two years and it forgoes arts, science, health, music and the ability to function as a part of the community. It thus reflects an extremely narrow conceptualization of the broader purposes of schooling.

Another controversial point is about the use of the data on the school background (ICSEA), i.e. where the school sits on the socio-economic scale. The website shows whether a particular school is doing better, worse or about the same as schools that are statistically similar in their demographic group. In a way, it is directly naming and shaming Australian public schools and specifically singling out those in the lower socio-economic areas.

Another related and highly contested issue is the use of public funds in the private sector. The below numbers, which are taken directly from the website, reveal the funding of one of the most elite private schools in Sydney compared to one of the low-achieving public schools. When looking at the below charts, on the surface, a reader would notice both some discrepancy in the amount of money spent per student and unbelievably different academic results.

Private: Sydney Church of England Grammar School, North Sydney, NSW
  Total Per Child
Federal Funding $2,593,487 $1,644
State Funding $1,747,072 $1,107
School Fees $33,278,400 $21,089
Total (including deductions)                                             $34,134,46 $ 21,631
Public: Chifley College Shalvey Campus, Shalvey NSW
  Total Per Child
Federal Funding $1,235,638 $3,051
State Funding $5,469,505 $13,505
School Fees $81,221 $201
Total (including deductions)                                             $6,843,842 $16,898

 

This can’t be all there is to education. Money in, against scores out.

The short-sightedness of comparing the scores of the wealthy private scores against the low socio-economic means we’ve already given up on the majority of our population in such areas.

But our seemingly poor scoring low socio-economic schools do so much more. Let’s for a second forget that these kids may have less educated parents or less resources at home to help bolster scores. Schools for these students are more than just a place to memorize grammar and mathematical equations. Shalvey School (listed above) offers home cooking skills (whether for the students or their family), fitness classes, healthy cooking classes, getting kids involved with club sports, Smith Family I-track program for 20-30 students being mentored online from business people in the community about goal setting and personal development, University of Western Sydney student mentoring with pathway, Impact club for outdoor, home handy man and film course, learning grounds program for Aboriginal students focusing on number and literacy development, classes for women to make prom dresses while learning about community issues.

The school also offers classes for parents on how to use of computers, help students with homework, use numbers around the house, and improve literacy.

These schools are making communities stronger, they are making communities safer and maybe, just maybe (although not in standardized tests) they are making these communities smarter.

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*Forsey, M., Davies, S. & Walford, G. (2008). The globalization on school choice? An introduction to key issues and concerns. In M. Forsey, S. Davies, & G. Walford (Eds.), The globalization of school choice? (pp. 9-26). Oxford: Symposium Books.


Education: Cost or Quality?

Like most searching for an answer, I started by looking at PISA results and commonalities between high performing nations.

My first search: National Curriculums.

It seemed to work well for Japan and New Zealand but not for the UK and Portugal. Time to look for another explanation.

PISA tries to avoid supporting rote memorization by measuring “How well can students nearing the end of compulsory schooling apply their knowledge to real-life situations?”  So, maybe countries with strong links to high stakes/standardized testing will reveal poor scores.

No dice. Finland and the Republic of Korea (ROK) are at opposing ends of the testing spectrum. Finland has very little standardizing testing and ROK works towards solely standardized testing. PISA shows both countries in the highest echelon on national education. Next.

Maybe countries with the highest spending on education skyrocket the PISA rankings? Nope…another dead end. The USA ranked the fourth highest in public expenditure on primary, secondary and tertiary education per student by the OECD.  Much higher than ALL front runners.

How could this be?

“Currently only 59 cents of every education dollar reaches the classroom. Fewer than half of Washington’s 101,700 public school employees are classroom teachers. Spokane Public Schools employs 3,087 people, one for every nine students, but only 41 percent of them are classroom teachers.”

–Washington Policy Center

So, maybe it’s cultural or political?

“Finnish schools are funded based on a formula guaranteeing equal allocation of resources to each school regardless of location or wealth of its community.

“All children in Finland have, by law, access to childcare, comprehensive health care, and pre-school in their own communities. Every school must have a welfare team to advance child happiness in school.”

“ All education from preschool to university is free of charge for anybody living in Finland. This makes higher education affordable and accessible for all.”

-Washington Post

Now we’re getting somewhere!

One of the most emphasized points in the Finnish system is the social status of teachers and its impact on education.

The OECD states Finnish teachers hold an extremely high social status and one of the most sought after professions.  Teachers are taken from the top 10% of gradates to earn a masters in education before being able to teach in public schools.

Conversely, consider the U.S. stigma of teaching: “Those you can’t do, teach.” “Easy job, short hours with major vacation time” isn’t the reality. Again in OECD comparisons:

-Finnish teachers are paid substantially lower than their American counterparts.

-U.S. teachers put in 1051 hours of direct teaching with Finland, a mere 550.

In Hidden Markets (2007), Patricia Burch shows the further decline of the status of American teachers showing a cultural shift towards online learning. Public state funds are already being used as an alternative to public schools. In some states it is even possible for virtual schools to hire non-certified and non-full time staff.

To me it needs to be a ‘one problem at a time’ approach. The initial focus needs to be on providing an education as opposed to the cost cutting measures limiting it. The Federal and State governments haven’t mastered the application before attempting to sell it off as a commodity and stripping it of the biggest strengths. Teachers.

U.S. teachers are paid a low salary comparative to other college graduates, are readily being replaced by computers and online classrooms, work longer than teachers in other countries, are forced to submit to standardized testing in a very non standardized environment and with society assuming ‘they have it easy.’

Maybe a consultant will suggest we ‘stop trying and fail for free?!?’

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