Thursday, March 14, 2019

On Getting Into College

In the wake of the college admissions cheating scandal, there have been a number of worthy articles.

The story in short via The New Yorker:
As the owner of a college-admissions-consulting business in moneyed Newport Beach, California, Singer provided his clients with proctors and test administrators who helped falsify their usually unsuspecting children’s SAT and ACT scores, and he bribed college officials to recommend that prospective students be admitted to their institutions as athletes, even though they were nothing of the sort. In 2018, Singer became a witness for the government, and agreed to wear a wire; many of the conversations that are documented in the affidavit were recorded with his knowledge, after he was 
The American Way of Education (via the New Yorker):
Explaining why these additional resources would be necessary would in turn require an explanation of how education is funded in this country, how school districts are drawn, how middle-class parents invest in a house in the right neighborhood, where public schools will give their kids a chance at a decent college. The best public primary schools, I would explain, enable graduates to compete with kids who went to expensive private schools. For the socially and economically hopeful, I would explain, raising a child in America is an eighteen-year process of investing in the college-admissions system.
Issues to consider:

- Is this story just the worst of all that goes into today's admissions process?  Some students go to expensive test coaches and/or admissions guides for help.  (That said, there is low-cost test prep available as well as help on essays for low-income students.)  Some students are "legacy" students who get into an institution because their grandparents went there (and gave the university a tidy sum of money).  That's not fair either.

From the New Yorker:
In his book “The Price of Admission,” from 2006, the investigative journalist Daniel Golden reveals the ways in which wealthy parents secure their children’s acceptance to prestigious colleges through hefty donations. In one example, he describes how Charles and Seryl Kushner used a two-and-a-half-million-dollar donation to obtain an admission to Harvard for their son, Jared, who is now the President’s son-in-law. (The Kushners have denied that the gift was related to Jared’s admission.) In an interview with my colleague Isaac Chotiner, on Tuesday, Golden noted that, although participating in allegedly criminal activities, the parents involved in the current scandal were simply pushing an already corrupt system to its logical conclusion. There is no doubt of the continuity between the two types of admission schemes, and that the technically legal one isn’t any more ethical than the other.
From an essay in the NY Times by a recent college grad, Rainesford Stauffer, who sums it up well:
But what about the standardized test prep industry, worth around $840 million, which involves parents forking over up to $200 an hour for Ivy League tutors tasked with increasing their children’s scores. That doesn’t include application essay writers, who coach students on what to write about, edit their writing and, in some cases, write for them. It doesn’t include college coaching firms, which charge up to $40,000 to strategize an applicant’s entire process.
I suddenly felt as though I’d failed a test I didn’t know I was taking. I was even more gobsmacked when I realized how common her experience was. Asking around, I learned that a subset of my peers had been carefully groomed with tools I hadn’t even known existed. I came to realize that my “A” in Literature from my freshman year and a job between classes and on weekends were not going to compete with pedigrees buffed to application perfection thanks to highly compensated college admissions coaches.
- It appears the cheating was all occurring on behalf of students trying to get into private universities. The issue has been raised about USC being in there with Stanford and Yale.  As someone who went to USC briefly, I can only say USC is highly thought of in some circles, especially entertainment circles.

NY Times: 
Yet even the chairman of the university’s(USC) board of trustees, Rick J. Caruso, a Los Angeles real estate developer, emerged with a personal connection: As prosecutors announced that the Hollywood star Lori Loughlin was being charged with bribing her daughter’s way into U.S.C., the daughter was on Mr. Caruso’s yacht, sharing a spring break vacation in the Bahamas with Mr. Caruso’s daughter.
I note that Ms. Loughlin's daughter, an Intagram "influencer" made a video after she got into USC saying she really just wanted to party and go to "game days." 

- One huge issue summed up - what deserving student got cheated out of a seat?
“I’m infuriated by what happened and what she did,” said Tom Walsh, a former U.S.C. track and cross-country coach, who left in 2013 after 19 years at the school, referring to Ms. Heinel. “I felt like our program, we got denied a few people that we thought were going to get into our program, legit track and field international stars. Now, you look back and wonder why they didn’t get in. Did they make space for these phony people?”
And, what about all the students of color/low income who are made to feel they are lucky to get into a good school.  Who get not-so-subtle nudges about getting an easy time of it to get in?  I remember that myself.

- Why are student athletes given such special attention? What occurred in some cases was that some staff person in athletics would get a bribe to give a couple of seats away that were being held for athletes.  Then the enrollment doctor would get to work and make an athlete out of someone who had never played that sport.

- Is there too much hysterics about which school a student gets into or even if students are being pushed too hard to go into college?

A Roundup of Opinions;
Private institutions like Stanford have the right to shape their student bodies based on their own values. No one has a right to a Stanford education. That some have a leg up on elite college admissions because they can afford a tutor doesn’t bother me at all. Rich people also have a leg up on buying Porsches and fancy houses; on paying tuition at elite private high schools. So what? The real scandal is the defunding of state universities. As a society, we should be more concerned with providing a solid, affordable undergraduate education to every willing student. — James Grosser, Washington, D.C. 

I’ve been reading all these columns for days now, watching news coverage, and so far not one word about students wanting to learn or about what education might mean to them, apart from being a kind of weapon with which to scratch and claw over others while climbing some grand pyramid of power and acquisitiveness. Life is more than all that; learning is more than all that. Do your children a favor. Develop some real values. R.R.I., Ocean Beach, Calif.

Almost none of the students appear to know that their parents did this.  While some of them might be glad how hard their parents went to the mat for them, I can only imagine the shame that most feel.  And at least USC is looking to possibly expel some students based on the actions of their parents.


Go Bevo said...

Some public schools were involved (so far: UCLA, University of Texas at Austin).

Melissa Westbrook said...

Thanks, hadn't seen that yet.

Anonymous said...

I disagree with one of the articles. Buying a house in the suburbs to raise your kids so they can go to a "good" school district is obtaining the American dream when you grew up in a Bronx inner city housing project. Your mother was widowed, your friends addicted to heroin and you were involved in gangs because you had no other choice. You went to a high school with one of the worst drop out rates in the country that was eventually closed because the outcomes were so poor. That is the story of my father who despite terrible odds eventually was able to buy a home in a middle class neighborhood. My mother was the child of poor immigrants who also struggled. That was also before we had any of the intervention type programs that we have today.

As their child I am grateful they were finally able to move to a place their kids could have a better future and receive a public education in a middle class school. It was not wealthy, but at least it was a better school.

I also have no guilt whatsoever that my kid, their grandchild, tested through school testing into a program as gifted. His ancestors were also gifted IMO but of course never stood a chance of being identified. Being connected to this history so intimately and personally connects you better to others who come from disadvantaged backgrounds. It helps people of other classes understand and advocate for injustice.

Anonymous said...

The irony is that when the SAT was first created (originally as an IQ test for military recruits) it was used by Harvard who was creating a "new scholarship program for academically gifted boys who did not come from the Eastern boarding schools that were the regular suppliers of Harvard's students...[Harvard President] Conant liked the test because he thought it measured pure intelligence, regardless of the quality of the taker's high school education."


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