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Education | The Atlantic
Education | The Atlantic
What Could Happen if the Coronavirus Closed Schools for Days, Weeks, or Even Months
On Wednesday afternoon, Pete Lewis—the superintendent of the public-school district of the small town of Colville, in the northeast corner of Washington State—was awaiting the test result that would determine whether Colville schools would stay closed for a fourth consecutive day.Over the previous weekend, administrators had received word that a member of the Colville School District community was being tested for the novel coronavirus, which causes the disease known as COVID-19 (for privacy reasons, Lewis did not specify whether it was a student, staff member, or another affiliated person). After consulting with health officials, Lewis and his colleagues decided on Sunday night to close the schools starting Monday, until further notice. Colville schools’ staff and their 1,700 K–12 students stayed home while the schools—as well as administrative buildings, buses, and other vehicles and properties associated with the school district—underwent a two-day deep cleaning.On Wednesday, the cleaning process had been completed, and Lewis was sitting in his recently disinfected office, waiting for the call. “We’re at the mercy of waiting for those results,” he said. In the meantime, he was thinking through the logistics of getting student-athletes back to practice. If negative test results came in soon enough, he reasoned, perhaps some could be back on the field later that afternoon.[Read: The strongest evidence yet that America is botching coronavirus testing]As of Thursday morning, the novel coronavirus had spread to more than 80 countries, and roughly a dozen countries have reported widespread school closures that aim to help contain the spread of the disease. Globally, more than 290 million children between preschool and 12th grade have been dismissed from school due to COVID-19, some for weeks now.Lewis eventually got the result he was hoping for, and schools in Colville reopened on Thursday. But while Colville’s closure was brief, if the virus becomes more widespread in the U.S. it’s likely that many areas will see longer-term closures. This is what is currently happening in Hong Kong, where an abundance of caution has kept schools closed for more than a month already, with no reopening in sight. Gabriel Leung, an infectious-disease epidemiologist and the dean of medicine at the University of Hong Kong, who traveled as part of the World Health Organization delegation to China last month, said that there was still no definitive answer yet on whether closing schools is an effective measure against the spread of the virus, but “we cannot afford to be wrong. If there is any doubt, let us go with the more conservative option to protect children and protect the more general population,” he told reporters in Hong Kong on Friday.Colville’s schools were some of the first in the United States to confront a question that schools in Hong Kong and other high-transmission areas have been grappling with for some time already: What happens—to students, to parents, to a community—when school is canceled indefinitely? We’ll walk through what’s likely to happen in several scenarios—if schools close for days, weeks, months, or even a year.Three days inWhen American schools have closed for a few days due to the coronavirus, logistical hassles have ensued—but, for the most part, educators and administrators have been adequately equipped to handle them. After a few days of canceled classes, the Colville School District was treating its lost days like snow days: Students would not have to make up for lost class time, Lewis explained, unless the school closure lasted long enough that Colville would not meet the state-mandated minimum number of days in the school year. (In that case, the district would plan to push back the last day of school further into the summer.) The start of the spring sports season, however, was delayed as a result of the closures. On Thursday the district’s website announced that the board of directors would be meeting on Friday to approve a special Sunday makeup practice for March 8.Two weeks inAfter two weeks away from school, kids in the United States would be considerably behind schedule in their learning curricula—and many parents in the U.S. would be acutely inconvenienced without the daily meal service and child care that school inherently provides.A response guide for school administrators published by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention advises schools that dismiss students to avoid the spread of COVID-19 to “implement e-learning plans, including digital and distance learning options as feasible and appropriate,” and to “consider ways to distribute food to students” that won’t facilitate too much interpersonal contact—like meal delivery and grab-and-go lunches for pickup. That said, not every school can realistically provide remote learning or meal service during a closure.Becky Droter, the district school nurse for Colville, explained that while Colville schools were closed this week, the duty to continue providing meal service took a back seat to the urgency of stopping the spread of germs. “If we’re going to work on social distancing, we can’t really do meal service, as much as we’d like to,” Droter said. “We understand that breakfast and lunch are essential for many of our families. We have a high percentage of poverty-level families in our district. It just doesn’t work for social distancing.”[Read: Here’s who should be avoiding crowds right now]Schools’ ability to successfully implement online instruction varies widely, and e-learning would present a monumental challenge for Colville. As a school district in a rural part of the state, Lewis said, “broadband is a huge issue for us.” Students who live high on hills or deep in the valleys of northeast Washington can’t always rely on good Wi-Fi signals, and about 30 percent of the student population has no internet at home. “Some of our teachers don’t have internet, so they would [also] struggle to get that information to their kids,” he said. Other families in the district can’t afford the exorbitant price of the data usage it would require to receive assignments and send in homework every day. “It’s just one of those things where we’ve been thinking about, How can we do this if we have to?” Lewis said on Wednesday, before school opened up again. “I don’t have a great solution yet.”The sudden, forced transition to online-based learning in Hong Kong has proved to be a struggle for both teachers and students, Ip Kin-Yuen, a lawmaker who represents Hong Kong’s education sector, said. The city had previous experience with lengthy school closures: In 2003 the territory was badly hit by the outbreak of severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS), nearly 300 people died, and classes were suspended for around six weeks. Seventeen years later, new technology and increased internet connectivity have made things easier, but there still have been many difficulties.Distance teaching greatly limits a teacher’s toolbox. Lesson plans drawn up for the classroom, which may include partner work or hands-on projects, do not necessarily translate well to online teaching. Ip said younger students are generally more engaged, but with older students remote lessons risk becoming “one-way indoctrination,” with teachers lecturing while the students get distracted. One parent, a university professor, said she worried about her young son spending so much time in front of a computer screen. “He no longer knows what outside looks like,” she said.The challenges are more pronounced for low-income families who do not have computers, or who have one computer but multiple children who need to use it. Some students, Ip said, are sensitive about their economic situation and uncomfortable letting their peers or teachers see inside their home lives. As some parents return to work, he worries that the divides between families of different income levels will worsen.One month inAfter a month away from their usual school routines, American students would be even further behind schedule in their yearly curricula—and at this point, their performance on standardized tests and entrance exams for the following year could be in jeopardy. Indeed, now that Hong Kong’s schools have been closed for more than a month, some students have expressed concern over their Diploma of Secondary Education Exams, the tests used to gain entrance to local universities. The tests are scheduled to begin later this month. Two student groups this week urged the Education Bureau to postpone the exams, saying the current arrangements pose “great danger to students’ health.” Officials have said the exams will go ahead on March 27, though certain components, like Chinese speaking and music, will be delayed until May.As of 2015, American students were estimated to take about eight standardized tests every year. Although U.S. schools have reportedly backed off of this kind of testing slightly since the mid-2010s, standardized tests remain a regular part of students’ and educators’ lives, as well as a key ingredient in the assessment of schools’ performance. Obviously, a month away from classes, or an abrupt shift to online learning, could jeopardize students’ performance on these tests.[Read: What you can do right now about the coronavirus]The U.S. Department of Education has not yet issued any COVID-19-specific guidance on how to handle test preparation or testing, and declined to comment on the record about this or any other matters. Lewis said before Colville’s schools reopened that this was “not a radar item yet” because the district’s next standardized test was still a few months away. Precedent exists, however, for exempting students from standardized testing in extraordinary circumstances. In the wake of the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in February 2018, for instance, some students were granted an exemption from standardized tests that May.Two, three, or even six months inIn the United States, little planning is in place at the federal level for the scenario in which coronavirus concerns result in prolonged school closures. The Department of Education reports from this past week suggest that senators have been urging the department to issue more guidance. The situation in Hong Kong, though, could provide a glimpse into what the United States could look like a few months from now.Hong Kong’s school closures will stretch well into next month and possibly beyond. For Justin Fok, 12, and his sister Josie, 11, the weeks spent at home with their father, whose workplace ordered him to work from home, have grown boring. Both said they missed their classmates and friends. Josie’s school launched a new e-learning platform this week, but the virtual classroom filled up quickly; even though she logged on 15 minutes early, Josie didn’t get a spot and planned to try again next week. Adding to the other annoyances, their apartment block is undergoing renovations. Every few minutes, the sound of drilling and hammering echoes through the flat.But there were some upsides. Freed from wearing a school uniform, Justin opted for cartoon-covered pajama pants and hoodie as he edited a video for a project on Friday afternoon. Josie said she was enjoying sleeping in, with a commute of just a few feet from her bedroom to her small desk.When asked if he had any advice for students in other countries who may soon be confined to home, Justin offered a word of caution. Students learned early on that they could shut their cameras off in order to walk away from their computers without their teachers noticing, he said. But recently, teachers had grown wise to these tactics and caught students off guard by springing a surprise attendance check in the middle of class. “Many students were already gone,” Justin said. “The teachers are so smart.”One year inIf school closures extend past the six-month mark, or perhaps even reach a full year, it’s not clear what will happen. State education departments and the U.S. Education Department would almost certainly have to begin developing protocols for how to make up standardized tests or otherwise assess the performances of schools and students. In districts where remote learning has been difficult or impossible, school districts would probably need to develop summer school–like remedial curricula to help students catch up. Some students might have to repeat grades when school recommenced, resulting in entire regional cohorts of students who would be older than their classmates nationally for the rest of their academic lives.At this stage, of course, all one can do is speculate; at present, there is no urgent need for protocols like these to actually be in place stateside. But Hong Kong’s example provides a valuable insight: If American schools close due to the coronavirus, it’s possible, and even likely, that students will be seriously set back by so much time away from the classroom.Rachel Cheung contributed reporting.
2020-03-08 13:00:00
2021-05-08T10:24:54.000000
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theatlantic.com
The College President Who Simply Won’t Raise Tuition
Arinze Stanley“I’ll tell you a funny story,” said Mitch Daniels, the president of Purdue University. It was the day before the first home football game of the season and he was sitting in his corner office, overlooking the postcard-perfect quad.“So the cost of a year of undergraduate college at Purdue University, tuition and fees, is $9,992. I’m proud of that number.“One day I’m looking at one of those college guides, and it said, ‘Tuition and fees: $10,002.’ I called up our people and said, ‘Lookit here, there’s a mistake. You got the wrong number.’ They said, ‘That’s not a mistake.’ I said, ‘Yes, it is. Believe me. I know.’ They went back and checked and they said, ‘No, that’s the right figure.’ “It just bugged me to death. Does Walmart have a special and price it at $10.02? I found out what happened. There’s a second installment on a preexisting gym fee that got tacked on. Ten dollars plus $9,992 equals $10,002.“Next time I’m at the gym, I ask the guy who runs it, ‘How’s it going here?’ He said, ‘Membership’s up; we’re doing well, making a little profit.’ I thought, Okay, that’s all I needed to know. And the next meeting of the board of trustees, they repealed that fee.“So now we’re back to $9,992,” he said. There was both self-deprecation and a note of triumph in his chuckle. “I don’t know why it bugged me so much, but it did.”He may not know why, but I do, and so does everybody who’s followed Daniels in his nearly 20-year public career. He is notoriously tight with a dollar. Friends recall that as a beginning golfer, he played with a garden glove he already had instead of a store-bought, $3 golf glove. His parsimonious nature, when applied to public matters, is one reason he received more votes than any other officeholder in Indiana history in 2008, when he won reelection as governor, and it’s why he and his university—a 150-year-old land-grant school in West Lafayette, Indiana—are objects of curiosity and even wonderment in the world of higher education.Most of the attention centers on that all-important number, 9,992. Not only is that the dollar amount an in-state student will pay Purdue for tuition and fees next year; it is also the amount such a student paid Purdue when Daniels became university president, in 2013. The university has also reduced the price of food services and textbooks. An undergraduate degree from Purdue, in other words, is less expensive today than it was when Daniels arrived.Only when seen against the inflationary helix of American higher education can the singularity of this achievement be fully appreciated. The college-affordability crisis has become a staple of academic chin pulls, news stories, congressional hearings, and popular books written in tones of alarm and commiseration. From 2007 to 2017, the average annual cost of a degree at a four-year public university like Purdue rose from about $15,000 to more than $19,000—a jump of 28 percent after taking inflation into account. Only health care rivals higher education as an economic sector so consumed by irrational inefficiencies and runaway prices.[Read: Why is college in America so expensive?]The consequences are plain. Students and their parents have acquired debt totaling more than $1.5 trillion, more than all credit-card debt held in the U.S., and sufficiently large, according to the Federal Reserve, to be a drag on the economy. Roughly 70 percent of college students take out loans to finance their education. The average undergraduate leaves school more than $25,000 in debt.At Purdue, by contrast, nearly 60 percent of undergrads leave school without any debt at all.So how did Purdue do it?“I always say it’s easier to explain what we didn’t do,” Daniels told me. “We didn’t try to get more money from the state. We didn’t shift from full-time faculty and fill the ranks with cheaper, part-time adjunct faculty. We haven’t driven up our percentage of international or out-of-state students,” who pay more than in-staters. Each of these measures has been taken up by other public universities, even as most have increased their in-state tuition.Proud as he is of his number, Daniels worries that all the attention paid to the tuition freeze scants the improvements that the school says it has simultaneously made in educational quality and financial health.Increased enrollment since the freeze has brought in an extra $100 million, reckons Chris Ruhl, the university’s treasurer and chief financial officer. The benefits of the improved balance sheet can be seen across campus. According to the university’s figures, Purdue’s full-time faculty at all levels has increased, resulting in a student-teacher ratio of 13 to 1, compared with the Big Ten average of more than 15 to 1. Faculty pay is up too. The salary of a full-time professor at Purdue has increased by 12 percent over the past five years, against a conference-average increase of 7 percent.[Read: The scariest student loan number]Meanwhile, a visitor can’t help but notice that large stretches of Purdue’s campus are construction sites: for new research facilities; new residence halls; a learning center the size of a power plant, which is what stood in its place until six years ago. Applications for admission are up 37 percent.Tuition increases were once a fact of life at Purdue. The chair of the board of trustees, Michael Berghoff, recalls his first meeting as a trustee, more than a decade ago, during which the school’s annual tuition hike came up: “Most discussions were about how much, very little about whether it was necessary.”A few years later, the board offered Daniels the presidency—a controversial choice, Berghoff told me, owing to Daniels’s lack of academic experience beyond his Princeton undergraduate degree and law degree from Georgetown. During his eight years as governor, Daniels had become famous for his penny-pinching, as he had in his previous job directing President George W. Bush’s budget office. Bush nicknamed him “The Blade.” On the day when representatives of government agencies came to pick up their copies of the annual federal budget, Daniels played the Rolling Stones’ “You Can’t Always Get What You Want” over the loudspeaker. As governor, in his effort to balance the budget and pile up a surplus, he devised a host of economizing measures, including printing all state documents in the narrowest font he could find to save on paper and ink. “No saving is too small to disregard,” he said then and says now.So Berghoff wasn’t completely surprised when Daniels, at his first trustee meeting, floated the idea of a tuition freeze. “I thought it would be a one-off, just to send a message that we could break this long, long run of increases,” Daniels told me. “It turned out we could do it a second year, then the third. Then it became the thing we’re known for.”[Read: Six-figure price tags are coming to colleges]In Indianapolis, Daniels’s administration was known for selecting successful businesspeople and placing them across state government. He’s done the same at Purdue. Michael B. Cline, the former head of the state’s transportation department, is now running Purdue’s administrative operations, and Ruhl, the former state budget director, is now the university’s CFO and treasurer.What they described to me could be a new model—a change in the culture—of finance in higher education, bringing market pressures to bear on processes that had never faced them before. Savings came, Daniels said, “from a couple of big things, and lots of little things.” Low-hanging fruit was plucked early: The residence halls, which housed young people who all owned cellphones, still used landlines, so they were quickly removed. Payroll, which incredibly was still using paper time sheets, was digitized. Food service was centralized.Daniels also addressed complaints from students and faculty about the price of textbooks. After six months of weighing options, Purdue struck a deal with Amazon to provide textbooks, saving students 30 percent on average and more than $2 million in the first few years, according to the school. The arrangement lapsed recently, but Amazon’s first brick-and-mortar store is still on campus, and textbook costs remain lower than before.And so a virtuous circle was established, according to Purdue and its president. The predictably flat tuition attracted more students, creating a larger student body that brought in increased revenue, which allowed for the hiring of more and higher-quality faculty, whose research the university could profitably license to the private sector, where alumni, delighted at the celebrated achievements of their alma mater, helped increase donations by 136 percent over six years, which in turn has helped keep the freeze in place.While Daniels’s approach wins mostly praise on campus, David Sanders, a biological-sciences professor and frequent critic of Daniels’s policies, told me he hears quiet grumbles. “The freeze is a marvelous admissions marketing tool,” Sanders said. But the surge in enrollment “puts a lot of stresses on the city and the campus.” In his own department of biological sciences, despite the campuswide improvement in the student-teacher ratio, “introductory-class sizes are much larger,” requiring more students to monitor lectures remotely. And as resources get reallocated, “there’s far more competition between faculty and between departments,” he said. “The institution is less collegial.” (Most faculty members contacted for this story declined to comment.)However widely these misgivings are shared, no one denies that the freeze and the other innovations have set Purdue in a new direction, one much more in keeping with Daniels’s brand of populism.“When I got here,” he told me, “there was an effort to become the ‘Stanford of the Midwest,’ an elite institution along those lines,” which would have meant shrinking enrollment, cutting out kids at the low end of the class to skew the average toward the top.[Conor Friedersdorf: Mitch Daniels urges graduates to resist tribalism]Daniels speaks frequently of Purdue’s mission as a land-grant school, chartered under Civil War–era legislation that helped establish colleges devoted to teaching agriculture, engineering, and other practical arts to the children of prairie pioneers. “We were put here to democratize higher education,” he said.The number of domestic undergraduate “underrepresented minorities” at Purdue (URMs, in the acronym-happy world of college admissions) grew from 2,483 in 2012 to 3,461 in 2019. Yet as the student body has also grown, the percentage of URMs among undergraduates has remained about 10 percent—while black and Latino students alone account for 36 percent of the U.S. college-age population.Daniels expresses frustration at the relative lack of progress. A few years ago, he got the idea for the university to sponsor high schools in Indiana’s largest cities. “We realized we had to build our own pipeline if we wanted to recruit minorities and poor kids,” he said. “We couldn’t wait on the public high schools to catch up to us.” The original Purdue Polytechnic High School, in Indianapolis, will graduate its first class, of 115 kids, in 2021. “My dream is that we can slip a Purdue scholarship in with each diploma,” he said.Even so, Daniels hasn’t escaped the controversies that attend diversity issues in higher education. Last November, Purdue’s student newspaper released audio of Daniels discussing faculty hiring with a group of mostly minority students. “At the end of this week,” he told them, “I’ll be recruiting one of the rarest creatures in America—a leading, I mean a really leading, African American scholar.”Social media erupted. The hashtag #IAmNOTACreature took off on Twitter. D’Yan Berry, the president of Purdue’s Black Student Union, wrote that she was “disappointed but not at all surprised by his reference … to Black students as creatures. It afflicts me that this is how he speaks even when ‘boasting’ on students.”After complaining that his figure of speech had been misinterpreted, Daniels took two weeks to issue an apology. “The word in question was ill chosen and imprecise and, in retrospect, too capable of being misunderstood,” Daniels wrote. “I accept accountability for the poor judgment involved.”Beyond the new Purdue-run high schools, the other great populist initiative of Daniels’s tenure—and perhaps the most controversial—is the purchase, for $1, of the for-profit, mostly online Kaplan University, from the Washington, D.C., businessman Donald Graham, in 2017. Overnight, Purdue Global, as it’s now called, brought approximately 30,000 online students, most of them part-time, into Purdue’s orbit and made the school one of the largest online educators in higher ed.Daniels had long thought that online education would be crucial to expanding the school’s mission of accessibility, but the idea of building the infrastructure from scratch was daunting. The purchase of Kaplan U solved the problem. Kaplan—best known for its test-prep service—continues to provide back-end and marketing services for Purdue Global in return for a percentage of revenue.Daniels presented the Kaplan deal to the Purdue community as a fait accompli; the trustees quickly approved it. Reaction ranged from surprise to puzzlement to deep skepticism. Foremost was the worry about commingling the operations of a public university with a for-profit business. “It’s an attempt to inject free-market principles into public education,” says Bill Mullen, an American-studies professor. It’s “a way of blurring the lines between public and private. There’s less of an appreciation for higher education as a public good.”[Read: Purdue University income-share agreements could solve debt crisis]But Daniels appears unfazed by the criticism, and the larger Purdue community seems quite happy with the way the institution has grown in size and reputation. As it happens, Graham visited the campus last September, and we tagged along as Daniels snaked his way through the stadium parking lot, choked with tailgaters fussing over grills the size of Ping-Pong tables. Young and old greeted him like a rock star—a short, balding rock star. No one called him by his title or his last name. Mitch!A grill master in a Purdue apron, Purdue sweatshirt, and Purdue cap saw me scribbling and offered a comment. His name was Chuck, he said. He was from Greencastle, and his two kids had gone to Purdue. “This man here,” he said, pointing at Daniels, who was grinning for an endless line of selfies, “saved me thousands of dollars.”By the time we had crossed the parking lot, half an hour later, Don Graham was beaming from his trip through the delighted scrum of parents and students and alumni.“These people love you, Mitch!”Daniels shrugged but was clearly pleased.“Well,” he said, “they know it’s reciprocated.”This article appears in the April 2020 print edition with the headline “Tight With a Dollar.”
2020-03-05 15:00:00
2021-05-08T10:24:54.000000
1 y
theatlantic.com
Classical Music Has a ‘God Status’ Problem
Sarah Hubbard knew something was off about her interactions with a piano professor at the Berklee College of Music—they had a “haunting and unsettling” quality, she remembers. Hubbard, who studied violin at Berklee until she graduated in 2016, remembers that sometimes when they crossed paths, he seemed to be “deliberately trying to prolong” their interaction, and sometimes the professor, Bruce Thomas, gave her hugs that felt awkward. Sometimes he would show up near where she was, Hubbard says, lingering just at the periphery of her vision and then emailing her that he’d seen her that day but she’d seemed too busy to say hello. He sent her emails late at night, she says, and once when she didn’t respond promptly, he approached her boyfriend on campus to tell him to tell Hubbard to return his email. (Thomas did not respond to requests for comment.)Hubbard frequently worried, as she moved around campus, about surprise encounters with Thomas, who had been teaching at the school for some three decades and occasionally composed music that her student ensemble played. When they were in the same music-department building at the same time, she’d plan escape routes: “Well, I at least can outrun this guy on stairs if I run into him; I can zoom past him. But I can’t do anything in an elevator,” she remembers thinking.It got to the point where Hubbard had trouble focusing on her music—the reason why she’d come to Berklee in the first place. But she worried that things could “blow up in [her] face” if she reported his actions to Berklee’s leadership. “A lot of these encounters, they scream inappropriate, but they don’t scream, like, You’ve broken a rule in our handbook,” Hubbard says. So instead, she mentioned her discomfort to a faculty member she trusted, one of her student ensemble’s advisers, who she believes spoke to Thomas on her behalf—and quietly discouraged Hubbard from auditioning for any solos that, should she be assigned them, would require her to rehearse one-on-one with him.Still, he always seemed to be close by, and Hubbard says he once cornered her in an elevator, demanding that she apologize for speaking up about his behavior.Thomas was fired in 2016, a few months after Hubbard graduated. According to a story in The Boston Globe (for which Thomas also did not comment), another student had come to the administration with similar accounts of late-night emails and unwanted hugs, as well as complaints about inappropriate attention to female students’ attire. According to a representative for Berklee, Thomas then received a verbal warning, and after the administration received a second complaint about Thomas’s conduct, he received a final, written warning. After four other reports were filed together by a group of students, the school opened an investigation in the summer of 2016 that resulted in Thomas’s termination.“When I connected the dots,” Hubbard says, “I was like, ‘So I’m not crazy.’” The school declined to comment, citing student privacy. But since the termination of Thomas and 10 other faculty members because of harassment, Berklee has instituted new measures aimed at preventing harassment and misconduct on campus. These include a policy prohibiting intimate relationships between students and anyone working at the school, and a policy of informing potential future employers of involuntarily terminated Berklee faculty members of the terms of their termination, should prospective employers ask for a reference. The school has also since launched the Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Framework and the Berklee Institute of Jazz and Gender Justice, according to a representative for the school.Sarah Hubbard’s experience is not uncommon in the world of classical-music education. Over the past year, The Atlantic talked to more than four dozen young musicians about their experiences with classical-music education and sexual misconduct. Their accounts reveal a culture built on hierarchy, critique, and reputation, and show how such a culture can facilitate abuse.The world-renowned cellist Yo-Yo Ma first picked up his instrument at the age of 4. Martha Argerich, considered one of the greatest concert pianists of all time, began taking private lessons at the age of 5. The violin virtuosa Hilary Hahn started playing a month before her fourth birthday.It’s not a coincidence that some of the greatest musicians in the world started playing their instruments as children. Like other art forms, classical music—and becoming a world-class classical musician—takes great effort, discipline, sacrifice, mentorship, and talent. For those who succeed, the reward can be boundless. Professional musicians make and interpret music that transcends this world; they tour the globe and perform with the greatest musicians at the greatest concert halls; they move audiences to feel joy at times of great sadness, and sorrow in moments when sorrow can be cathartic.That’s why, each year, thousands of young musicians compete for spots at the nation’s best music conservatories in hopes of making a career out of their passion. As many of them have since they were children, urged on by their parents or guardians, they will toil away in practice rooms for hours every day, learn and memorize the oeuvre of major works for their instrument, survive the critique of weekly lessons with their teachers, commute to and from hours-long rehearsals, prepare for auditions and competitions, and, somehow, through it all, try to salvage a normal childhood.Few of these hopefuls gain admission to a top-ranked conservatory. The acceptance rate at the Curtis Institute of Music, in Philadelphia, for example, is comparable to Harvard: Just 4 percent of applicants for fall 2017 were admitted. And for those who do get in, the competition only intensifies. The students work on the same repertoire as their friends and peers, and get compared with one another during studio classes. Among a crowd of elite musicians, they are vying for the principal seats in their conservatory’s orchestras or the lead roles in their school’s opera productions.Adam Meyer, the director of Juilliard’s music division and deputy dean of the college, says that while the school doesn’t intentionally impose a competitive environment on its students, the industry itself often operates, quite literally, through competition. “Certainly, competitions, in and of themselves, and auditions still play an important role in the music world, and so we have a responsibility to prepare our students for that reality,” Meyer says. But “musicians at this level, artists in general at this level … are very driven and very disciplined and hardworking, so they tend to impose that [competitiveness] on themselves.”Following graduation, young musicians will still find themselves competing against one another: for orchestral or teaching jobs, slots in prestigious master’s programs, and plum solo opportunities. In a 2015 study on career outcomes among music-performance students, just under half of undergraduate music-performance degree holders reported working in music performance in the years and decades after graduation.“Most careers in the arts are not as straightforward as simply searching and applying for employment,” Dana Jessen, the director of conservatory professional development and an associate professor of contemporary music and improvisation at Oberlin College, in Ohio, wrote in an email.To be serious about becoming a professional classical musician is, in other words, to be completely dedicated to honing one’s craft. And in an industry where women hold just 31 percent of the seats in major orchestras and were found to have composed just 1.8 percent of the music that major American orchestras performed in the 2014–15 season, anything that throws a music student off her game, even temporarily, has the potential to derail a career.Sexual misconduct has long been a problem in professional classical music. Last year, for example, the classical violinist Lara St. John told The Philadelphia Inquirer that she had been sexually assaulted by her teacher at the Curtis Institute of Music in the 1980s and that when she reported it at the time, her account had not been taken seriously. (The Curtis Institute opened an investigation in 2013, but recently admitted that it had been hampered by the passing of about three decades.) And according to a 2019 Daily Beast story, Jeffrey Epstein, the now-deceased financier who was charged last summer with the sex trafficking of minors, was a donor to Interlochen Arts Camp in Michigan and paid for the construction of a rental cabin near a girls’ division that he could use for up to two weeks per year; one mother accused him of attempting to groom her 13-year-old daughter at Interlochen in 1994. (Representatives for Interlochen told the Daily Beast that records only showed he’d stayed in the cabin for one week in 2000.) The renowned conductor Charles Dutoit was accused of sexual misconduct, including one allegation of rape, by 10 women. The incidents allegedly took place between 1985 and 2010. (Dutoit denied the allegations.) And in October of 2018, the Cleveland Orchestra, one of the most prestigious orchestras in the world, fired its concertmaster, William Preucil, and its principal trombonist, Massimo La Rosa, after an independent investigation found that the two had sexually harassed and engaged in sexual misconduct with their students and colleagues for years. (According to the orchestra’s report, Preucil admitted to having “sexual contact with three female students,” and La Rosa admitted to having “attempted to kiss” a student during a lesson. Both denied engaging in other forms of misconduct.)With the rise of the #MeToo movement, the classical-music industry has seemed poised for a reckoning. The stories that have emerged thus far have largely documented the conduct of high-profile, powerful artists. Now, though, a new generation of young musicians preparing for careers in classical music is starting to speak out about the problems not just in the industry, but in the selective world of the elite conservatories that prepares performers to enter it.While many of the young musicians we interviewed described sexual harassment and abuse they or their friends had experienced, only a few who’d endured such misconduct officially reported the incidents, because of the fear of professional retaliation. Soyeong Park, a 22-year-old violinist, sees many similarities between Hollywood and the professional classical-music world. Like movie directors and producers, conductors “get to decide who gets to be in what,” Park says. “You hear all these stories about directors [or producers] telling their director friends, Oh, she was a horrible actress to work with; don’t work with her if [an actress] refuses their advances. And then that actress’s career is over.”The same thing can happen with conductors or teachers—people with significant control over a young musician’s career. Park says that many musicians worry about aggressively rebuffing a conductor who makes an advance, because they have everything to lose. “If [the conductor doesn’t] like someone, they get cut. And [the conductor] can act like it was an artistic choice.”Soyeong Park, 22, compares the culture of classical music to the culture of Hollywood: When students rebuff the advances of powerful conductors or musicians, the students can lose career opportunities while the authority figures "can act like it was an artistic choice.” (Sarah Blesener)A student can be particularly vulnerable during lessons, when she is typically alone with her teacher in a room with a closed door and, sometimes, no windows. One violinist, who asked to remain anonymous for fear of professional retribution, says she did not report inappropriate conduct from her former teacher, the violinist Stephen Shipps, because of the power dynamics of their mentor-student relationship and his senior status.Shipps was placed on leave by the University of Michigan in December 2018 after a Michigan Daily investigation detailed allegations of sexual harassment and misconduct from multiple women; the violinist later spoke to administrators as part of their ensuing investigation. In February 2019, he retired from the university. Shipps, through his attorney, declined to comment for this story.“This is the problem when there is a less powerful female who’s trying to make it big in her field. There’s an older teacher who happens to be male, happens to have behavioral issues,” the violinist says. “It’s very difficult for us to monitor anyone’s behavior, let alone your particular mentor, and then to even have to decide about jeopardizing any of that by bringing up something that might be uncomfortable.”In addition, the typically small size of conservatories can mean that a student must repeatedly interact with their abuser in rehearsals or studio classes and will likely see them often, in group rehearsal spaces and in individual practice areas. The toll that harassment and abuse can take on survivors’ mental health can disadvantage them in what’s already a considerably high-stress environment: Learning new music and practicing can be difficult in the wake of a traumatic incident, and seeking treatment or counseling to cope with the feelings of anxiety or distress means more time away from their instrument or even absences from lessons or rehearsals.Furthermore, the small size of conservatories can mean that every one of a given student’s classmates and instructors is a potential networking connection for the future—so reporting a classmate or instructor’s inappropriate behavior could result in the loss of future opportunities that classmate or instructor might have been able to offer. And a student who reports abuse could fall out of favor with the accused person’s colleagues or friends as well, resulting in a sort of snowball effect. As Sarah Hubbard, the former Berklee student who reported her harasser only to a trusted adviser and not to her school’s administration, put it, a lot of young women “feel like we’re about to get blacklisted.”Of course, harassment happens to male students, too. Some male students who have experienced harassment, however, feel that young men still lag behind young women in learning how to recognize or report misconduct.In January of 2019, the Indiana University Office of Student Conduct filed reports with the Indiana University Police Department about complaints it had received from students about David Jang, a graduate student at IU’s Jacobs School of Music who conducted the All-Campus String Orchestra and managed the school’s paid conductors’ orchestra. According to the reports, Jang allegedly unbuttoned a person’s shirt and touched their chest, “committed a forcible fondling,” and “threatened to report [a witness] for slander” after the witness had tried to stop Jang from harassing people. In February of 2019, Jang received a one-year suspension from the IU dean of students. According to a story published in May by the Indiana Daily Student, more than 20 people in total filed complaints with the office about Jang’s behavior. (An Indiana University representative confirmed that Jang is no longer a student or an employee of the university, but would not speak to the allegations themselves and declined to comment on whether Jang would return in February 2020. No charges were filed against him, according to the IUPD. Jang declined to comment for this story, and declined via his faculty adviser to comment for the Daily Student story.) Two men, graduates of the Jacobs School of Music, described similar experiences with Jang to The Atlantic.“Being a guy, I really never expected this [to happen to me]. I didn’t even know how to necessarily recognize it. I didn’t realize until after it had happened what had actually occurred,” one of the men said. “Girls can look for other times that this has happened, and say, Oh, this is what’s happening to me.” (In March, before the Daily Student report made the allegations public, a representative for Indiana University said that school officials were “certainly aware” that, generally speaking, incidents of sexual misconduct had taken place on campus and stated that students who report harassment to campus officials are connected immediately to “confidential victim advocates who [offer] assistance with a variety of supportive measures and can be helpful as an advisor to students if they are pursuing a complaint through the Title IX offices.”)At conservatories and in conversations, young musicians often quietly warn one another about faculty or other personnel with known histories of harassment. Several female musicians interviewed described the existence of “whisper networks,” where they’d hear about another conductor or teacher or artist’s questionable behavior by a friend.“The sad truth is, I think it’s something that has been—was normalized to such an extent that … you tell your friends and roll your eyes at,” the violinist Simone Porter says. When she and her colleagues started hearing about the high-profile #MeToo cases happening in the classical-music world, the reaction tended to be, “Oh, I expected that. Oh, I knew about that,” she says, “which is absolutely awful because … if we all knew about it, in some ways, we’re all complicit.”Reports that detail misconduct and name abusers may cause uproars within a given school, but most don’t seem to draw much attention from the outside world. “It’s so insulated. Basically, the only people that listen to classical music that are under, like, 60 are people who play it,” says Carter Mink, a former Eastman School of Music student who studied double bass. So misconduct that takes place within the nonprofessional world of classical music, especially at the conservatory level, he says, simply gets ignored.For those entrenched in the classical-music world, much of the industry is structured around top talent—people who have reached “god status,” as the oboist Briana Tarby describes it, that can easily be wielded without consequences.Such was the case with the conductor James Levine, who was fired from the Metropolitan Opera in early 2018. After allegations were filed with Illinois police that Levine had sexually abused a man for years, beginning in the mid-1980s, three other men came forward to accuse Levine of sexual abuse. The Met then opened an investigation of its own, and after interviewing more than 70 people, the opera house “uncovered credible evidence that Mr. Levine engaged in sexually abusive and harassing conduct towards vulnerable artists in the early stages of their careers, over whom Mr. Levine had authority.” Later, five additional men came forward with new accusations. (Levine did not face criminal charges in Illinois, and denied the allegations.)Though the Met had been aware of such allegations a year before The New York Times first reported on them, Met officials told the Times that the opera company had kept Levine in his position at the time because management was waiting to see what police found and because Levine had denied the claims. (The opera house has also stated that “any claims or rumors that members of the Met’s management or its Board of Directors engaged in a cover-up of information relating to these issues are completely unsubstantiated.”)Perhaps the most telling explanation of why Levine was unscathed for so long can be found back in 2011, when the opera company was considering how to address its needs without firing its venerable, but ailing, maestro. “He is no ordinary music director,” David Gockley, the general director of the San Francisco Opera, told the Times. “He’s a god. And gods get to make their own decisions on their own time.”Because of this “god status,” some students believe the power structures in place at music institutions are so heavily skewed in favor of star soloists, teachers, and conductors that reporting an incident is a futile endeavor from the start.“If you’re a piano professor at [a top music school], there will be people who just call you ‘Maestro.’ You’re on an elevated status,” Carter Mink says. “A lot of older professors are probably just not going to believe these things if they hear them.” And similarly, Mink adds, summer-music-festival organizers have close relationships with—or at least deep admiration for—many of the conductors and musicians they hire to lead and mentor students. So students can get the impression, Mink says, that “they’re all friends, and they’ll let stuff slide.”A musician, who asked to remain anonymous for fear of professional retribution, says she did not report inappropriate conduct from a former mentor because of the power dynamics of their relationship. (Brittany Greeson)In many ways, summer music festivals can mimic college party culture (alcohol, drugs, sex) for young musicians who haven’t had a traditional university experience. But at these festivals, where famous guest artists or rising stars perform and interact with students, the boundary between mentor and student can be “blurred,” according to Mink, who participated in the Round Top Festival Institute and Music Academy of the West summer programs. “There’s still a hierarchy, but there’s a lot more interaction.”Part of accruing social and professional capital as a musician means that knowing a famous musician or rising artist on a personal level can act like a signifier of one’s talent and status in the music world. In other words, if a talented, successful artist knows you by name and wants to collaborate with or mentor or just hang out with you, passing up the opportunity could hurt your career prospects.However, Simone Porter, who attended the Aspen Music Festival and School as a student for seven years and now has a solo career, says she noticed some artists taking advantage of their social capital in ways that were “manipulative” of young musicians. “The things that I saw time and time again [were] just women basically going into things with the best possible intentions and being confronted with … people who had a sense of entitlement about them and their bodies.”When Erika Gray, a violist, was 18 years old, she experienced that phenomenon firsthand: A musician about twice her age pressured her to stay with him in a hotel room—all because he had driven her from the airport to a summer music festival she was attending in Europe. When she refused, Gray said he became angry and questioned why she wouldn’t “repay” him for the ride, for which he had driven several hours out of his way.“It can be difficult to tell whether you’re basically being admitted into the social ranks above you or if you’re there for a purpose and someone wants to use you in that way,” Porter says. “Is this flattery? Do they genuinely want to know me as a person? Am I being allowed to see the interactions and mechanisms of this level, or am I just here because someone wants something from me?”While many of the existing policies on how to adjudicate sexual misconduct at conservatories and music schools have been mandated through Title IX and other state and federal legislation, some institutions have made additional changes of their own volition in recent years to address and prevent misconduct.At the University of Michigan, sexual-misconduct-prevention training is offered for all new students and is now mandatory for faculty and staff. Starting in 2015, Indiana University and by extension the Jacobs School of Music implemented a new online training system on sexual-harassment prevention for employees. The University of Rochester, home of the Eastman School of Music, created new guides and training programs for sexual-misconduct reporting, and also appointed advisers to work specifically with complaints made by staff members, faculty, and students.The University of Michigan, Eastman, the Berklee College of Music, and Johns Hopkins University (the parent institution of the Peabody Institute) strengthened or expanded their restrictions on relationships between students and faculty.Though effective teaching often requires music teachers to physically demonstrate for their students what a specific technique looks and feels like by moving their arms, touching their shoulders, or adjusting their hand positions, some students say they’ve noticed a change in behavior from their teachers in light of recent reports unearthing sexual misconduct by music faculty. April Kim, a double bassist at Peabody, says she knows of professors who have intentionally tried to stay in front of studio windows while they teach lessons so that outsiders can observe their behavior. Kathryn Stewart, a double bassist and Juilliard graduate, says that one of her former teachers would ask permission to touch his students before demonstrating a technique—something that used to “seem awkward” and elicit some giggles, but is in fact an official policy of Juilliard’s.With the rise of the #MeToo movement, Stewart says, seemingly small things like that shouldn’t be out of the ordinary. At the same time, she worries that the heightened awareness of interactions between faculty and students could limit or compromise their education. Erika Gray agrees: While she believes that some restrictions on faculty conduct are appropriate, “I don’t want my teachers to have to censor themselves if it helps my learning or anything like that,” she says.Like any other industry rife with power dynamics, competition, and institutional power, a true reckoning for the classical-music world and its training grounds—one that doesn’t just topple the big names, but changes a culture that perpetuates and supports abuse—will not happen quickly. Young musicians interviewed said that because more of their colleagues are starting to talk about their #MeToo experiences in classical music, they too feel empowered to speak up and confront the status quo. But that status quo, one predicated on silence, closed doors, and institutional inaction, is a powerful one.“Everyone is speaking about it more. I guess I’m really wary about more speech being taken for actual change,” Porter says. “People talk about it, but what is actually happening? Is the inequality actually being addressed?” She pauses before answering her own question: “I don’t know.”
2020-01-31 15:00:00
2021-05-08T10:24:54.000000
1 y
theatlantic.com
The Questions Sex-Ed Students Always Ask
Editor’s Note: In the next five years, most of America’s most experienced teachers will retire. The Baby Boomers are leaving behind a nation of more novice educators. In 1988, a teacher most commonly had 15 years of experience. Less than three decades later, that number had fallen to just three years leading a classroom. The Atlantic’s “On Teaching” project is crisscrossing the country to talk to veteran educators. This story is the eleventh in our series. About 25 years ago, a public school in the Baltimore suburbs invited Deborah Roffman to teach a class on puberty to fifth graders. Roffman, who was known as the “Sex Lady” at the private Park School of Baltimore, where she had been teaching for two decades, was flattered. But she was troubled by the restrictions that the public school’s vice principal had given her: She couldn’t use the words fertilization, intercourse, or sex. And she couldn’t answer any student questions related to those subjects. That wasn’t going to work for the Sex Lady.Eventually, Roffman reached a compromise with the public school: Students would get parental permission to attend her talk, and Roffman could answer any question they asked, even if it meant using the S-word.Roffman’s title of human-sexuality educator has not changed since she arrived at the Park School in 1975, but the dimensions of her role there have steadily grown. So, too, has her outside work in consulting and teacher training: Over the years, she has advised at nearly 400 schools, most of them private.Initially, Roffman taught elective classes in sexuality to the juniors and seniors at Park, but within two years, she had expanded to seventh and eighth graders. In the 1980s, she added fourth and fifth graders to her roster. She also meets annually with the parents of students as young as kindergartners, to coach them on how to talk with their children about sexuality, and she leads summer training for the Park’s elementary-school teachers on incorporating sexuality instruction into their classrooms. “There is this knowledge that we keep in a box about sexuality, waiting until kids are ‘old enough,’” Roffman told me. “My job is to change that.”During her 45 years of teaching, Roffman has witnessed the evolution of the nation’s attitude toward sex education and, as her experience at the public school shows, how uneven that education can be.Perhaps more than any other subject, sex education highlights the country’s fierce loyalty to local control of schools. Twenty-nine states require public schools to stress abstinence if they teach about sex, according to the latest count by the Guttmacher Institute, a think tank based in Washington, D.C., and New York that promotes reproductive rights. Some of the more outrageous abstinence lessons employ troubling metaphors, such as comparing sexually active, unmarried women to an old piece of tape: useless and unable to bond. Only 17 states require sex education to be medically accurate.Most research has found that sex education for adolescents in the United States has declined in the past 20 years. Like art and music, the subject is typically not included on state standardized exams and, as the saying goes, “what gets tested gets taught.” In the case of sex education, waning fear about the spread of HIV and AIDS among heterosexual youths has contributed to the decline in instruction, says John Santelli, a professor at Columbia’s Mailman School of Public Health.But some bright spots do exist, says Jennifer Driver, the vice president of policy and strategic partnerships at the Sexuality Information and Education Council of the United States. For example, in some parts of Mississippi and Texas, there has been a shift away from "abstinence only" to "abstinence plus" curricula, with the latter permitting at least some information about contraception.Roffman remembers her own sex education while growing up in Baltimore as being limited to a short film in fifth grade about periods and puberty. She began working in sex ed in 1971—when access to birth control was rapidly expanding amid the sexual revolution—helping Planned Parenthood train health-care professionals who were setting up family-planning clinics in the region, and doing broader community outreach.Four years later, she followed her Planned Parenthood supervisor to the progressive Park School, where students often address teachers by their first name and current tuition runs about $30,000 a year. When she arrived that spring, she heard that the senior-class adviser had recently rushed into the upper-school principal’s office, exclaiming that something had to be done before the seniors’ graduation, because “we forgot to talk to them about sex.”[Read: The case for comprehensive sex ed]During the next several years, Roffman not only made sure the school remembered to talk to students about sex but steadily built up the curriculum. At Park, students learn about standard fare like birth control and sexually transmitted diseases but also delve into issues such as the history of abortion rights, changing conceptions of gender roles, and how to build respectful, intimate relationships.Students start by learning about the reproductive systems, the importance of open communication, and the fundamentals of puberty in their first classes with Roffman, in the fourth and fifth grades. In seventh grade, they take a deep-dive course on human sexuality, covering everything from pornography to the use of sex in advertising to gender identity and sexual orientation. They see her again for a shorter, related course in eighth grade. During the 2016 presidential campaign, Roffman’s seventh graders spent most of a semester researching the candidates’ differing views on sex, gender, and reproduction. “In the process of doing that, I got to teach about every topic I wanted to teach about,” she said.In high school, students take a required sexuality-studies seminar. The specific content varies year to year, but it’s always based on what Roffman calls the “eight characteristics of a sexually healthy adult,” which include staying healthy, enjoying pleasure, and relating to others in caring, nonexploitative ways.The through line of her approach, at any age, is letting students’ queries guide her instruction. So she asks her students to submit anonymous questions at the start of the semester, and makes sure that she answers them as the course progresses.Regardless of whether they grew up in the ’80s or the aughts, kids of certain ages always ask versions of the same questions, Roffman has found. For instance, middle-school students, she said, want to know if their bodies and behaviors are “normal.” Many older students ask her at what age it’s normal to start masturbating.High schoolers routinely ask about romantic communication, relationships, and the right time for intimacy: “Who makes the first move?” “How do you know if you or the other person is ready for the ‘next level’?” “How can you let someone down easy when you want to break up?” But some contemporary questions, Roffman said, are very different from those she heard earlier in her career. Sometimes the questions change when the news does. (More than 30 years ago, Roffman started reading two newspapers a day to keep up with the rapid pace of news about HIV and AIDS; she’s maintained the habit since.)She said she received a flood of questions about sexual harassment after the Senate confirmation hearings for Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, in the early 1990s. The same decade ended with a spike in student interest in oral sex and behaviors that had previously been considered more taboo, such as anal sex.Sometimes changing student questions signal broader cultural shifts, like the recent surge in student queries about gender identities. “There would have been questions 20 years ago about sexual orientation, but not about gender diversity,” Roffman said. But one recent eighth-grade cohort submitted questions like “How many genders are there?” “What does ‘gender roles’ mean?” “What is the plus sign for in LGBTQIA+?” and “Why is ‘gay’ called ‘gay’?” She finds a way to answer them all.[Read: What schools should teach kids about sex]Roffman’s students appreciate her blunt and holistic approach. As a sixth grader at a charter school several years ago, Maeve Thistel took a brief unit in sex education. The teacher seemed uncomfortable and nervous, she remembers. The condoms the teacher brought for a demonstration were expired, and split when she took them out of the package. Thistel came away from the class with the impression that sex was both “icky and disturbing.”Thistel, now a college freshman, transferred to Park for high school, where she found that Roffman presented some of the same material quite differently: Her very first step in the lesson on condoms was to point out that all of them have an expiration date that should be noted and heeded.Under Roffman’s guidance, sexuality at Park has come to be treated as something closer to social studies, science, or other core subjects. Sex ed is “just another part of the curriculum, not carved out as its own special thing,” says David Sachs, a 1988 graduate who studied with Roffman and whose son, Sebastian, is now in 11th grade at the school and has her as a teacher as well.Like all Park students, Sebastian Sachs had to complete an eighth-grade project wherein he examined the root cause of a social-justice issue. His team picked sexual assault and, with Roffman as their adviser, focused on consent education and how to introduce it in the youngest grades. Sachs and his teammates created a curriculum for preschoolers that, among other things, encourages them to ask permission before hugging a classmate, borrowing a pencil, or swooping in for a high five.In Roffman’s ideal world, the school would implement lessons like these, and other age-appropriate sex and relationship education, from the earliest grades. Several of her co-workers agree. “Fourth grade might be too late for us” to begin this kind of education, says Alejandro Hurtado, Park’s Spanish teacher for the lower grades. Last summer, Hurtado participated in a voluntary two-week workshop led by Roffman that aimed to create a sexuality-education curriculum for Park’s elementary-age kids. “It will be subtly woven in,” he says, noting that he plans to talk more explicitly about traditional gender roles and expectations in some Latino cultures as part of his own class.In her teacher training, Roffman encourages colleagues to be scientifically accurate and use age-appropriate language when answering even the youngest children’s questions. Four-year-olds are beginning to understand place and geography, so they will frequently ask where they came from. “The proper answer is that there’s a place inside a female body called the uterus, and that’s where they grew,” Roffman said.Sarah Shelton, a Park third-grade teacher who also participated in the summer workshop, says Roffman inspired her to not dodge students’ questions about bodies and sex. In the past she’s deflected sex-related inquiries, such as when a student asked about birth control last year.“I told her, ‘Great question. Ask your parents,’” Shelton recalls. “If that were to occur again, I would say something like ‘When reproduction happens in the body, there is medication that you can take to stop it so you can have sexual intercourse without creating a baby.’”Sarah Huss, the director of human development and parent education at the private Campbell Hall school in Los Angeles, says Roffman helped her rethink her school’s sexuality education. Huss reached out to Roffman after reading her book Talk to Me First: Everything You Need to Know to Become Your Kids’ “Go-To” Person About Sex. The ensuing dialogue prompted Campbell Hall to begin sexuality education in third grade and to significantly shore up its middle-school programming. Prior to meeting Roffman, “I had taught sex education as ‘Don’t get hurt, don’t get pregnant, don’t get a disease,’” Huss says. “That wasn’t a hopeful message for the kids.”Huss admires her colleague’s patient tenacity. “She’s walking into schools where there is so much emotional baggage around a subject,” Huss says. “To suggest doing it differently, you have to confront years and years and years of thinking that talking with young kids about sex is dangerous.”After decades of striving for change both within and beyond Park’s walls, Roffman is optimistic about the future of sexuality education at progressive private schools like Campbell Hall and Park. “I’ve always believed that independent schools have the responsibility to give back to the larger educational community,” she told me. “It’s up to us to demonstrate that, yes, this can be done well and successfully.”By contrast, “I see very limited movement in the public sector,” she said. And in a country where only a minority of states require medically accurate sex-education classes, her dream of seamlessly integrating the subject from kindergarten up may be a long way off. But Roffman has lived through one sexual revolution, and she holds out hope for a second, in education.This article is part of our project "On Teaching," which is supported by grants from the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation, the Spencer Foundation, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, and the Panta Rhea Foundation.
2020-01-13 19:46:00
2021-05-08T10:24:54.000000
1 y
theatlantic.com
What School Could Be If It Were Designed for Kids With Autism
Editor’s Note: In the next five years, most of America’s most experienced teachers will retire. The Baby Boomers are leaving behind a nation of more novice educators. In 1988, a teacher most commonly had 15 years of experience. Less than three decades later, that number had fallen to just three years leading a classroom. The Atlantic’s “On Teaching” project is crisscrossing the country to talk to veteran educators. This story is the tenth in our series. A charming, bright 5-year-old stands out in his classroom at Maurice Wollin elementary school, on Staten Island, as an extremely social, kind, and curious child. He remembers more about his peers—names, significant events, likes and dislikes—than almost any other kindergartner at his school does.But despite his genuine interest in his classmates and their well-being, he often struggles with interpreting their feelings and intentions—he has been diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder (ASD). (This 5-year-old and the other students mentioned in this article have been granted anonymity to protect their privacy.) One morning last month, in the middle of a math lesson, a soft-spoken classmate accidentally bumped into his shoulder, and quickly apologized with a big, friendly smile. But the sociable child concluded that his classmate was being mean, and punched him in the shoulder, then dropped to the floor, crying, his arms flailing and his voice growing louder.In many classrooms, a teacher’s aide might have pulled him aside, attempted to help him calm down, and encouraged him to be quiet. If he didn’t comply, and continued to disrupt other students’ learning, he might have been sent to a counselor’s office or the principal’s office, or have been sent home for the day. (Across the nation, students with disabilities are suspended at twice the rate of students without them.)Instead, within seconds of his dropping to the floor, his teacher, Tracy Murray, raised a laminated sign with an image of her classroom’s “clubhouse,” a special stress-relief area where kids who feel emotionally overwhelmed can take a break and use relaxation techniques that their teachers and therapists have recommended for them personally. There, he sank into a black beanbag chair and started slowly squeezing a pink ball in order to soothe himself.Once he looked more relaxed, Murray, a 26-year veteran of special education, sat down next to him while her co-teacher, Elizabeth Garber, continued with the lesson. Because many children with autism learn better with visual aids, Murray drew a simple comic strip—with stick figures and dialogue balloons—to represent what had happened with the student and his classmate. Once he saw that the encounter was an accident and that he could make “smart guesses” about his peers’ intentions in the future by observing their facial expressions and listening to what they say, he calmed down and returned to the math lesson.The scene in Murray’s classroom unfolded as it did because the kindergartner is part of a program called ASD Nest, which places students like him alongside neurotypical students in classrooms led by specially trained teachers. ASD Nest, which is named after its goal of giving kids with ASD a nurturing place to learn and grow, is a collaboration between the New York City Department of Education and NYU. It launched in 2003 with four teachers and has since expanded to 54 elementary, middle, and high schools in New York City.[Read: How to keep teachers from leaving the profession]Nationwide, more than half of students with autism ages 6 to 21 spend more than 40 percent of their school day in a majority-neurotypical classroom, with about two-thirds of this group spending 80 percent of their day in one. In general, the rest spend most of their school day in a special-education class or at a school where all students have one or more disabilities.When a student on the spectrum is present, majority-neurotypical classrooms typically have one certified teacher—many without special-education training—and one or more teacher’s aides, who help students with special needs follow teachers’ directions and complete academic tasks. ASD Nest, meanwhile, places two certified and specially trained teachers in each participating classroom, which allows one of them to provide one-on-one social, emotional, or academic support whenever the need arises, without disrupting the lesson or pulling a student out of the classroom. On top of that, each classroom’s two co-teachers meet weekly with occupational, speech, and physical therapists to discuss each student’s progress and share observations about what’s working and what isn’t.Murray, who was one of the inaugural Nest teachers, thinks that the program is effective because of its focus on collaboration among the ASD Nest teachers, school therapists, and university researchers, which results in frequent adjustments in the classroom activities and strategies tailored to every student. “We don’t expect students to learn the way we teach—we teach them the way they learn,” Murray told me at her school, sitting next to bookshelves covered by curtains in order to minimize visual stimulation, which can overwhelm some of her students on the spectrum, much like clutter, bright lights, and loud noises can.Throughout the day, Murray and other teachers in the Nest program provide explicit guidance about emotional cues and social norms—information that can be elusive and invisible to children with autism. By the age of 5, many children can deduce that a smiling, friendly classmate is not looking to start a physical fight. Children with autism can struggle to reach that conclusion, but many special-education teachers, including Murray, believe that the ability to pick up on social cues can be taught in a classroom setting. ASD Nest is one of the few academic programs in the country that implements this approach in the classroom.Last year, before the student Murray sat with in the clubhouse was enrolled in the program, he frequently struggled to make sense of social interactions and often stormed out of his preschool classroom in a panic, unable to return to class and missing out on learning. Two months into kindergarten, he hadn’t excused himself from his classroom once.“We have a permission to prioritize social goals over academic lessons if we see an opportunity,” Murray said. That contrasts with the traditional approach to integrating students on the spectrum into majority-neurotypical classes, which prioritizes academic development, often without addressing the social and emotional challenges that can make classroom engagement difficult. The Nest approach, in the long run, can help give kids on the spectrum skills that they need in order to live with some degree of independence as adults.Each Nest kindergarten class typically includes four students with autism and eight neurotypical students, and Murray maintains that the Nest approach benefits all students, not just those with developmental disorders. “Learning how to perceive the intentions and feelings of others and manage your own emotions is good for all students, not just autistic children,” she said.Stephen Shore, a special-education professor at Adelphi University who has autism, thinks that Nest is effective because it focuses on addressing students’ strengths rather than their weaknesses. Too often, he says, programs for students on the spectrum dwell on their deficits, such as their inability to pay attention for long periods of time. Nest teachers, meanwhile, get to know the strengths and interests of each student, and then extend them to the academic domain.For instance, one pink-cheeked, shy student at Maurice Wollin excels in reading but recently failed a math test. Teachers noticed that many of the books he read were about dinosaurs, so they changed some of the math questions to include dinosaurs. His engagement and confidence soared.ASD Nest represents a big philosophical shift for Murray, who grew up in the 1970s attending schools that made few accommodations for students with diverse needs. She remembers when, in fifth grade at her Catholic school, a teacher reacted harshly to a friend of hers who she now guesses was on the spectrum. After the student asked for help multiple times, Murray recalled, the teacher slapped his textbook out of his hands and yelled, “How dare you keep interrupting while others are thinking!” The student returned to his desk in tears and, overwhelmed, threw his chair against the wall. (Murray long ago lost touch with him, and never learned his backstory.)When, as a child, Murray would ask her mother what she could do to help her struggling friend at school, her mother would tell her that she could become a teacher. Eventually, she did. After graduating from college in the early ’90s with a degree in general and special education (and after a brief stint at a Catholic kindergarten that she disliked because she found it too similar to her own schooling experiences), Murray began working for the Guild for Exceptional Children, a nonprofit school and day-care center for children and adults with developmental disabilities based in Brooklyn. Seven years later, she enrolled in a special-education master’s program and then accepted an invitation from a mentor to teach for ASD Nest.Murray said that in the 16 years since she joined the program, she has come to focus less on exclusively academic goals and more on her students’ needs and desires, including their wishes to form relationships and be recognized for their individual strengths and contributions. “I’m not trying to change my students, eradicate their intense interests, or teach them compliance,” she said. “I’m helping them become the most successful they can be in ways that are meaningful to them.”The shift in her thinking mirrors a larger, society-wide one. The animal-behavior professor and author Temple Grandin’s 1995 memoir, Thinking in Pictures, has been credited as the first narrative of autism by a person on the spectrum. It helped establish the idea that autism, as Steve Silberman put it in NeuroTribes: The Legacy of Autism and the Future of Neurodiversity, is “both a disability and a gift.” The contributions of Grandin and other public figures on the spectrum—including the actor and writer Dan Aykroyd and the climate activist Greta Thunberg—have promoted the notion that autism isn’t something to be “cured” or eradicated, and that it is the result of natural variations in human genes.ASD Nest was formed in the early days of this neurodiversity movement, and since the beginning, it has focused on helping students become more independent. One recent morning, a counselor brought a student back to Murray’s kindergarten class from a speech-therapy session. He scores well on tests, but panics when faced with anything unexpected, such as a slightly different daily schedule or a stranger entering a classroom. His therapist has been working with him on detecting visual markers in the classroom so that he can make inferences about what’s going on. Today, instead of having a meltdown upon returning to class in the middle of a lesson, he scans the room and quietly walks to his seat, pulling out his school supplies.Every day, Nest students with autism also attend “social clubs,” which are intended to help demystify unstated norms, such as whispering in libraries and not talking to strangers in bathroom stalls. In social clubs, students read fiction, look at photographs, watch movie clips, and play games, trying to glean what the characters in the films and books, as well as their peers in the group, are feeling and thinking based on their facial expressions, body language, and tone of voice.This all has been working well for the student who was practicing making inferences based on what he saw in the classroom. Last year, when he went to preschool each day, his mother had to fight with him to get him on the school bus. “This year has been such a change,” she told me. “Every day, he is talking about teachers, his friends, what he is learning.” He even teaches his family members about the appropriate voice levels in different settings and about notions of private space—information he learned in his social club this year. He has two friends he can name—a major milestone for him. It’s one of many that ASD Nest has helped him and other students reach.This article is part of our project "On Teaching," which is supported by grants from the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation, the Spencer Foundation, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, and the Panta Rhea Foundation.
2019-12-30 20:39:46
2021-05-08T10:24:54.000000
1 y
theatlantic.com
When Schools Try to Tweak Winter Break, Families Fight Back
New York City’s families started thinking about the winter holidays early this year, but they weren’t exactly jolly about it. In May, just as classrooms were preparing to close for the summer, the city released its proposed K–12 calendar for the 2019–20 school year. The calendar included a tweak to the winter-break schedule that would delay its start by a day—classes would continue through December 23.This did not sit well with many of those affected. “Educationally, it's completely unsound because the kids won't be into it at all,” one New York City parent—a retired schoolteacher—told the outlet NY1 at the time. “The teachers don’t want it. The principals don’t want it. The parents don’t want it."Critics pointed out that many families use December 23 for travel—especially in years such as this one, when the date falls on a Monday. Kids accused the district of depriving them of holiday time. Tyler Leung, then a student and the class president at an elementary school in Queens, told NY1 in May: "I think it's kind of weird, because I think we all deserve to go somewhere, like a vacation off to maybe, like, Disney World for Christmas.”So, New York City’s Department of Education walked back its plans, giving students December 23 off after all.Other winter-recess controversies have erupted elsewhere in the country in recent years—from Chicago to Buffalo, New York; Brevard County, Florida, to Orange County, California. Chicago Public Schools’ proposal in November to shave two days off the end of its original 2019–20 winter-recess schedule received immediate pushback from community members. There, critics argued that attendance would be low on those days no matter what, since families had likely already planned their travel. The local teachers’ union opposed the move as well; educators would be penalized, it argued, because the district holds them accountable for attendance. Social-media posts and commentary cited in news articles indicate that logistical headaches are a common denominator in such debates.Winter-break controversies may seem like small potatoes compared with bigger debates over school calendars, such as the one over “summer slide”—the theory that kids regress in their learning over the long vacation, particularly those who are low-income. But the practical frustrations of the end-of-year school schedule are compounded by emotions.For many people, winter break is important family time, and not just because of the holidays contained therein. The several days leading up to Christmas—and often those immediately following New Year’s—are their own de facto holiday for those in the K–12 world. Some parents may associate those days with rituals—a last-minute Christmas-shopping trip or quality time with extended relatives. Others may plan on the extra days off from school for holiday travel. Americans “have had [the traditional school] calendar for long enough that they’ve become invested in it,” says Paul von Hippel, an education-policy professor and school-schedule researcher at the University of Texas at Austin.Most states require schools to provide kids at least 180 days of instructional time a year, and anecdotal evidence suggests that around the country, winter break fairly consistently comprises about two weeks around Christmas and New Year’s. But districts may dip into the winter recess when they need to compensate for unforeseen closures. (Chicago was looking to make up for lost classroom time due to the city’s teachers’ strikes in October.)[Read: As the strike approached in Chicago, teachers taught labor]And such changes—compounded by larger issues surrounding the duration itself—can have huge implications for parents who can’t afford child care, for kids with divorced parents who have multiple holiday celebrations, and for overworked teachers who rely on the time off to plan lessons and get doctor appointments out of the way (not to mention see their own families).“The school calendar isn’t designed in a way that supports modern families, working parents, single parents,” says Jennifer Davis, an education researcher at Harvard. Some families may wish that winter break were shorter so that they didn’t have to worry about child care. And kids with a hard home life may not look forward to the time off. Teachers often find themselves caught in the middle, having to navigate their own needs for a long break with those of the students they’re charged with supporting.Trevor Muir, a former teacher who now leads workshops on project-based learning, recalls noticing early in his career that some of his students would act differently around the holidays—acting out or shutting down. “As a young teacher, I would ask my students, ‘What are you excited about for Christmas break?’” he says, and he’d notice some kids squirm. When he asked one of those students the question, the boy responded, “Man, I hate Christmas.”Sometimes it’s a school’s fault that its students’ break is not restful. Some schools assign homework during the winter recess as a means of ensuring that kids stay on track academically; such obligations, however, can prevent them from taking their mind off of school and cut into family time.Ultimately, no winter-break schedule would make everyone happy. And in the absence of consensus, it seems that schools tend to stick with what they’ve always done. Opponents to high-profile holiday-break changes have tended to emerge victorious, with districts often reneging on their plans. “Everyone seems to say they want change—but, when we’ve tried, it hasn’t worked,” wrote Thomas Ward, a high-school journalist in West Virginia, in a recent article for the Charleston Gazette-Mail’s teen section, about local legislators’ failed effort to implement year-round calendars. “It’s another instance of something we see a lot—not being able to get away from traditions, no matter how much sense it makes.”
2019-12-18 17:02:58
2021-05-08T10:24:54.000000
1 y
theatlantic.com
How to Save a Dying Language
Editor’s Note: In the next five years, most of America’s most experienced teachers will retire. The Baby Boomers are leaving behind a nation of more novice educators. In 1988, a teacher most commonly had 15 years of experience. Less than three decades later, that number had fallen to just three years leading a classroom. The Atlantic’s “On Teaching” project is crisscrossing the country to talk to veteran educators. This story is the ninth in our series. The orphan was surveying the sea from atop a lava-rock shrine when he saw them—omens that looked just as his uncle, a kahuna, had foretold. There was a flock of airborne stingrays amid a series of towers, all hovering over a forest floating above the surface.The orphan sounded the alarm as soon as the apparition materialized, just as the kahuna had instructed. But then the boy’s curiosity got the best of him. He ran down to the shore and immediately began swimming. And as he swam he realized: It wasn’t divine intervention—at least, not directly. Rather, what he saw as an omen was a massive, man-made object. And inside that object were actual men, who saw the boy in the water and called to him, inviting him aboard.The boy found himself among American sailors on a commercial seafaring expedition, one that eventually took him thousands of miles away, to Connecticut. That’s where the boy stayed until he died from typhus a decade later, in 1818, just as he was preparing to finally return to his island home.Kaipo‘i Kelling, a longtime educator who teaches fifth and sixth graders at one of Hawaii’s several dozen Hawaiian-language immersion schools, told me this mo‘olelo—“story,” “legend,” “history”—because he wanted to make a point. Hawaii is still witnessing the ripple effects of this fateful moment two centuries ago. The merchant seamen from the United States whom the boy encountered, coupled with the wave of American missionaries who followed that ship, fundamentally altered the Hawaiian way of life, nearly destroying the Hawaiian language along the way. In fact, it’s a miracle the language survived at all after what happened in Honolulu in 1893.In January of that year, a group of businessmen backed by the American ambassador overthrew Hawaii’s monarchy, laying the groundwork for annexation to the United States. The territorial government established English as the only official language. From then on, people caught speaking Hawaiian faced severe social ostracism.The English-only law had an immediate chilling effect that prevented subsequent generations of Native Hawaiians from learning their linguistic ancestry. Preannexation, Native Hawaiians were some of the world’s most gifted communicators, with centuries of history and culture bound to an oral tradition. The arrival of missionaries had by the mid-1800s brought the printed word, and led to the creation of a slew of Hawaiian-language newspapers—or nūpepa. According to a write-up by Kamehameha Schools, by 1834, more than nine in 10 Hawaiians were literate, up from close to zero percent just a dozen years prior.[Read: De-stigmatizing Hawaii’s creole language]But as literacy rose, other aspects of Hawaiian culture receded—including the kapu system of governance, which enforced strict social rules; the low-fat, nutrient-rich diet; the kapa-bark clothing; and the hula as a sacred form of cultural and spiritual expression. This was not the first time Hawaiians had experienced loss at this scale. A century before the overthrow, British explorers brought diseases that decimated the Native Hawaiian population. By the time Hawaii became a state, in 1959, the Hawaiian language had lost a critical mass of native speakers. According to one study, fewer than 30 students were studying Hawaiian at the University of Hawai‘i’s flagship campus during the school year that began in 1960. Other indigenous languages were undergoing their own protracted deaths—roughly 230 of them went extinct at some point between 1950 and 2010. In the ’60s, estimates suggest that fewer than 2,000 people could speak Hawaiian fluently, and just a few dozen of them were children.But then something remarkable happened. An unlikely Hawaiian renaissance blossomed in the ’60s and into the ’70s, initially driven by artists who sought to reclaim traditional music and dance. Ironically, the rise of Hawaii’s tourism industry, spurred by advances in aviation, helped support this renaissance, because visitors wanted to experience Hawaiian culture. Tiki bars and commercialized luaus were a poor substitute for what was lost in the overthrow, but the appropriation of Hawaiianness allowed the authentic aspects of Hawaiian life to creep back in. Then, in 1978, the state of Hawaii held a constitutional convention, prompted in part by questions about land rights and a return of Native Hawaiian sovereignty. Among other measures aimed at improving natives’ well-being, the convention made Hawaiian an official language for the first time since the kingdom had fallen.An immersion student writes an assignment in Hawaiian about Kamehameha III, who became king in 1825 at the age of 10 and helped advance Hawaii’s literacy movement. (Courtesy of Kaipo’i Kelling)This move enabled the beginnings of the modern-day Hawaiian-immersion movement—the one Kelling, the educator, is now striving to advance. Activists “knew that raising children in an environment where Hawaiian was the ordinary language of interaction was central to the survival of the language,” reads a historical overview of ‘Aha Pūnana Leo, a leading Hawaiian-immersion organization that founded its first early-education program on Kaua‘i in the mid-’80s. Later, Pūnana Leo launched a preschool out of downtown Honolulu’s historic schoolhouse and church—whose surrounding graveyard memorializes missionaries and plantation tycoons, and where Kelling began his teaching career in the early ’90s. Today, Pūnana Leo—whose name translates into “nest of voices”—comprises 12 programs across the state.Once the Pūnana Leo movement took off, a network of activists set its sights on rescinding the Hawaiian-language prohibition in public schools, which remained codified in the constitution (even if it wasn’t enforced in practice). “The most significant language initiative has been the development of Hawaiian immersion preschool and K-12 education,” two UH scholars wrote in a 1997 analysis, because “this is potentially a way of reversing the decline of fluent young speakers.” Today, roughly two dozen of Hawaii’s public schools teach exclusively in Hawaiian, about a third of them charters.The number of Hawaiian speakers in the state is now 18,000, roughly half of them fluent.“So what’s the forest?” Kelling asked me, returning to the mo‘olelo about the orphan. We were leaning on a table in his classroom at Ke Kula ‘o Samuel M. Kamakau, a Hawaiian-immersion charter school on O‘ahu whose campus is tucked amid wetlands and ancient fishponds in a region separated from Honolulu by a prehistoric volcano’s sprawling remains. The 48-year-old teacher, wearing a backwards hat and rubber slippers (known outside of Hawaii as the more onomatopoeic “flip-flops”), reached to a table nearby. He grabbed some drawings his students recently made, sliding them in front of me. “What are the stingrays?”If it wasn’t already obvious, the kids’ waxy, vibrant illustrations made the answer undeniable. “It’s the haole people coming,” I responded. Haole, as in “outsider” or “foreigner.”A drawing by one of Kelling’s students portraying the haole people’s arrival. (Courtesy of Kaipo‘i Kelling)In New Haven, Connecticut, 5,000 miles from Hawaii, the boy found his way to a stairwell at Yale University and started to cry, Kelling said, grieving his island home. Other versions of the mo‘olelo suggest that the boy was also mourning something else—his inability to receive an education like the one being offered to the students around him.I realized I didn’t even know who the boy was, so I asked.Kelling’s smirk stretched into a grin. He’d been anticipating this question. “Hold on,” he responded. “We’re getting to him.”Turns out, this was the point in the mo‘olelo at which his students, too, had wrapped up their most recent lesson in class. “The kids don’t know it yet,” Kelling continued, “but this is the boy that’s gonna put their language into letters.”Kelling taps into traditional Hawaiian techniques of instruction by incorporating mo‘olelo into virtually every one of his fifth- and sixth-grade lessons for an array of subjects, from social studies to science. Furthermore, he typically shares these mo‘olelo orally, often spreading a story’s plot over several days or even weeks of instruction. And after describing the designated scene, Kelling usually has each of his students draw it—however he or she interprets it.This approach, Kelling told me, has all kinds of benefits. For one, it reclaims customs that Western assimilation sought to phase out. Mo‘olelo, traditionally, were told aloud; repeating this process, for Kelling, creates a visceral appreciation for that history in students who may otherwise be detached from it, humanizing the stakes. “Language is the soul of the people,” Kelling said—it’s not just for communicating, but also for understanding and feeling and remembering.Experiential-learning techniques such as these have been found to promote memory and motivation. Kelling focuses on students’ cultural identity, leveraging his personal experience of growing up in a school system that downplayed the Hawaiian language and failed to engage him in his education.A drawing by one of Kelling’s students depicting the mo‘olelo about the boy. (Courtesy of Kaipo‘i Kelling)The reliance on storytelling bolsters his teaching, too. “We come to understand sorrow or love or joy or indecision in particularly rich ways through the characters and incidents we become familiar with in novels or plays,” wrote Kathy Carter, a University of Arizona education scholar who studies teaching and language, in a 1993 paper for Educational Researcher. “This richness and nuance cannot be expressed in definitions, statements of fact, or abstract propositions. It can only be demonstrated or evoked through story.” Studies also show that culture-based education can increase students’ self-confidence, self-esteem, and resiliency—skills that may have pronounced value for indigenous youth. Native Hawaiians are disproportionately poor: Roughly 14 percent of Hawaii residents who identify as Native Hawaiian live in poverty, according to 2017 data, compared with less than 10 percent for the state population as a whole. They also experience higher than average rates of teen pregnancy, substance abuse, and suicide.Ultimately, it’s hard to compare the educational merits of Hawaiian-immersion schools with those of their traditional K–12 counterparts. Too many factors are at play. One of the big issues, several of the people whom I interviewed for this story told me, is the failure of conventional academic standards to acknowledge indigenous worldviews. But for Kelling and other immersion advocates, that doesn’t matter. In just a few decades, immersion schools have helped Native Hawaiians to reclaim their language.Kelling's students display their science projects. The black poster board alludes to Mauna Kea’s controversial Thirty Meter Telescope. (Courtesy of Kaipo‘i Kelling)Kelling didn’t appreciate the language until relatively late in life. Raised in a working-class neighborhood near Pearl Harbor, Kelling liked “climbing trees and stuff” as a kid and was obsessed with surfing as a teen. He didn’t speak a lick of Hawaiian. Perhaps thanks to the constitutional ban, which was lifted just as Kelling was making his way through adolescence, he would’ve struggled to learn it even if he tried. After enrolling at the University of Hawai‘i, he eventually decided to major in Hawaiian. It was through this degree program that he started teaching at Pūnana Leo’s downtown Honolulu preschool. These early teaching experiences exposed Kelling firsthand to the consequences of linguistic and cultural erasure; he was overwhelmed with a sense of urgency.The late Edward Ka’anana, a native Hawaiian speaker whose "language was something I wanted to emulate," Kelling says. (Courtesy of Kaipo‘i Kelling)And it was largely through mo‘olelo that he came to this revelation. Mo‘o refers to the small green lizards found throughout the islands, but according to some analyses it also means “succession,” “trajectory”—an allusion to the lizard’s skeleton, the way the vertebrae connect piece by piece. ʻŌlelo means “language,” “speech.” Mo‘olelo, then, is the succession of talk or language, and it’s how Native Hawaiians communicated and spread knowledge before the islands were infiltrated by the outsiders who would eventually destroy their kingdom.In his classroom, Kelling motioned toward a patchwork of faces in the middle of the back wall. Each of the people displayed on this board represents a major development in the Hawaiian language’s trajectory, he told me. “Everything we talk about in this literacy nation—this legacy—it all begins with the boy,” he said, gesturing to the artifacts that symbolize Hawaii’s printing press and its powerful monarchy. “I didn’t tell them his name yet—and that’s on purpose. I want them to know the story and then the name.”The boy’s name was Henry ‘Ōpūkahaʻia. He spent his early days in New Haven sleeping in the horse stables and working odd jobs, observing the scholars around him. Finally, ‘Ōpūkahaʻia’s curiosity caught the attention of Yale’s president, who provided the boy with a tutor (and later made him the first student at a nearby private school aimed at evangelizing young, indigenous men). Through the Bible, ‘Ōpūkahaʻia learned how to read and write, becoming one of the first known Native Hawaiians to convert to Christianity. He rose in prominence among local Protestant leaders, and by the time he turned 26, he’d been asked to join their 1818 mission to the islands and help proselytize his new faith. [Read: Madame Pele’s grip on Hawaii]Of course, ‘Ōpūkahaʻia would never go back to the Pacific. He died on the eve of his long-awaited homecoming, so close to his scheduled departure that his booklet with the Hawaiian alphabet—one he’d created himself, extrapolating from English—was already packed up, sitting on the docks. But others shared his vision of bringing the written word to Hawaii’s people. While ‘Ōpūkahaʻia was in Connecticut, King Kamehameha II, who’d already learned the English alphabet, was on a mission to infuse the kingdom with literacy—to empower it with a robust network of schools and a prolific printing press. He let the missionaries stay in exchange for their commitment to teaching the Hawaiian people how to read and write. And there’s a good chance Ōpūkahaʻia’s orthography did in fact find its way to Hawaii—by way of the missionaries who knew him.They spread the Gospel some, but mostly they helped enable the king’s literacy crusade. A mass-produced spelling book was first published in 1822, and within a few months thousands of copies had been printed; by 1829, the number had soared to 120,000. The number of schoolhouses soared, too—to roughly 1,000 by the end of that decade. “Our kūpuna [elders] sunk their teeth into reading and writing like a tiger shark,” notes a post by Kamehameha Schools, “and would not let go.”Nearly two centuries later, the remarkable rise of Hawaii’s immersion schools is a testament to that fortitude—onipa‘a, as a Hawaiian queen once put it. That queen, Lydia Liliʻuokalani, was her sovereign nation’s last leader. “E ‘onipa‘a i ka ‘imi na‘auao,” she proclaimed as she watched her kingdom dissolve. “Be steadfast in the seeking of knowledge.”This article is part of our project “On Teaching,” which is supported by grants from the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation, the Spencer Foundation, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, and the Panta Rhea Foundation.
2019-12-09 19:47:12
2021-05-08T10:24:54.000000
1 y
theatlantic.com
What’s Lost When Black Children Are Socialized Into a White World
Jessica Black is a Pittsburg, California, mother of two black teenagers, both of whom have been disciplined multiple times at their middle and high schools. Her daughter has been suspended more than once, and teachers often deem her son’s behavior out of line, reprimanding him for not taking off his hoodie in class and for raising his voice.In observing her own family and others, Black has noticed a pattern: Behaviors that many black parents might consider annoying but developmentally appropriate, such as an ill-timed joke or talking back to an adult, are treated by school staff as cause for suspension. From there, students are pushed out of classrooms, lose learning time, and can end up in the school-to-prison pipeline. “It’s a totally different environment, a totally different culture,” Black said when we spoke in July 2018.Black knows that her kids are not alone in their struggles at school. She works with the Black Organizing Project nearby in Oakland, where she offers peer-to-peer support to other black parents whose children are going through disciplinary proceedings. Black told me that many parents say their children behave as all children do, but wind up targeted by school officials because educators misinterpret these students’ actions, assuming the worst. Glaring, making noise, and violating the school dress code can all lead to suspension. The consequences are significant: When students are excluded from the classroom, they’re more likely to do worse academically, become truant, drop out, and eventually come into contact with the juvenile-justice system.I heard similar concerns about the gap between home and school cultures when I interviewed dozens of black mothers for my book, We Live for the We: The Political Power of Black Motherhood. Many of us know about the disparities: Black students are more than three times as likely as their white peers to be expelled or suspended. Less frequently discussed are the strategies black parents use to prepare their children for schools where they might be perceived as threats or expendable misfits who aren’t core members of the community.[Read: How school suspensions push black students behind]The mothers I spoke with were concerned about these disciplinary patterns. They were also worried about subtler ways black students are told they don’t belong in classrooms where the dominant culture, with its emphasis on obedience and hierarchy, is unlike the culture at home. These mothers talked about their efforts to encourage their children to question authority, speak freely, and express opinions—all things they valued—only to then watch as their children were reprimanded or even criminalized for doing so at school. They shared how nonblack peers would unexpectedly touch their children’s hair, making them feel violated and objectified. Some had placed their black children in predominantly white, suburban schools that offered strong academic programs, but that were limited by their own insularity and thus were unable to prepare black kids for the more racially and economically heterogeneous real world. Others felt that teachers had treated their children coldly, and were unable to see them simply as children.I had many of those conversations around the time that I started taking my toddler—my first child—to a library story circle, a weekly sing-along, and other enrichment programs that were our earliest experiences of school-like environments. We were often the only family of color or one of few, and I began to think about the socialization that comes with schooling for black families of school-age children. The verb socialize means “to make suitable for society.” The word is typically understood as benign, but I wondered: What does it mean to encourage a child to become suitable for a society that isn’t really suitable for her?Through my research, I learned that helping children survive and have positive experiences at school is another way in which mothering is different in black families. I came across a 1992 book titled Raising Black Children, co-authored by the psychiatrists Alvin Poussaint and James Comer. Poussaint consulted on The Cosby Show and was known as a kind of Dr. Spock within black communities in the 1980s and 1990s. In the book, the authors write, “Many black parents question and have mixed feelings about passing on the values and ways of a society that says in so many ways, ‘We do not value black men and women, boys and girls, as much as we do whites …’ The need to preserve our culture and community springs from a desire to maintain a real and psychological place, where we are accepted, respected and protected. For this reason we are concerned about whether ‘white psychology and child-rearing approaches’ will change us, hurt us, destroy our culture.”For many white parents, the process of socializing their children is an unalloyed good, an uncomplicated part of child-rearing that poses no real threat. For the mothers I spoke with, immersing their children in a school’s culture meant hoping they’d get what they needed academically without sustaining too much damage to their sense of self.As both an academic and a mother, Jacqueline Roebuck Sakho knows this balance well. She is a professor of educational leadership at Lewis & Clark College and has written extensively on school discipline; she also has six children, all of them black. Roebuck Sakho told me that she chose to send her children to public schools, even though she knew they would create challenges for her family. Her children are there to learn and participate, but they’re also there to question and transform negative aspects of their schooling. Roebuck Sakho’s children accept this as part of their work as student-activists, she said. When they come home with stories about factually questionable content in a lesson or a teacher’s dismissive behavior, the family has a conversation about how best to respond. Roebuck Sakho said she doesn’t want her children to absorb all the cultural norms introduced by educators. “I’m sending them to school to get a part of education,” she told me.But conversations like those in Roebuck Sakho’s home aren’t happening everywhere. Parents of color are about three times as likely to discuss race with their children as are white parents, according to a 2007 study of kindergartners and their families in the Journal of Marriage and Family. Three out of four white parents in that study avoided talking about race entirely, according to Po Bronson and Ashley Merryman, whose 2009 book, NurtureShock, highlighted the research. White parents often believe that talking about race is itself somehow racist, and so communicate to their children that skin color doesn’t matter and that everyone is equal, Bronson and Merryman found. But even toddlers, with their brief experience of the world, can see that’s not true. When white parents leave kids to make sense of these contradictions on their own, without historical context or guidance on how to think about difference, classrooms are bound to become fraught spaces for black children.Many parents I spoke with emphasized the role of peers in establishing and maintaining norms at school. When I interviewed Monifa Bandele, a Brooklyn-based community organizer and a senior vice president of the advocacy organization MomsRising.org, in 2018, her daughters were 16 and 19. The girls attended a Quaker school that in many ways aligned with the values the family embraced at home. But her daughters still had to learn to navigate what Bandele described as white-liberal racism, which tends to be practiced by progressives in denial of their own white-supremacist beliefs. Bandele and her husband were raised in families that organized against apartheid and created African-centered schools, so their children’s thinking around issues of race and power is well developed and generations in the making.Bandele worries that her daughters’ sharp perception has at times left them exhausted from dealing with racism both outright and more subtle, but she’s also seen them take it in stride. “I can check you on this; then we can still work on the science project together,” she told me, giving an example of how one daughter has responded. “You shouldn’t touch her hair, and let’s get these projects done.”Not all children so gracefully develop survival strategies that allow them to participate in predominantly white schools while also resisting and even transforming the culture. Aya de Leon directs Poetry for the People, an arts and activism program that’s part of UC Berkeley’s African American Studies Department. She said her students carry different types of burdens, depending on the type of high school they attended. “If you’re in a hood school, the harms are clear, and you know when they’re happening that you’re being harmed,” she said, and pointed to physical fights and subpar academic offerings as among the problems. “In these white environments, you’re being harmed, and you don’t even know it because you think there is something wrong with you. [You think] if only you could get these white people to like you,” then everything would be okay.In her own journey as a parent, de Leon has chosen schools where her daughter can be surrounded by other black and brown children. De Leon was one of several mothers I interviewed who talked about the importance of curating and nurturing friend groups that provide their children with allies and positive reflections of themselves. “Going into the tween years, the beauty stuff is gonna hit hard,” she told me. “And when it does, I just need her to have brown girls around her.” Other families enroll their kids in after-school or community-based youth-development programs that provide lessons on the history of the African diaspora, trips to historically black colleges and universities, and other forms of cultural enrichment that their predominantly white schools do not.My own daughter has just started preschool. I’m excited and feel I’ve done my due diligence in choosing a place that will value and support her. But I’ve also tucked away tips parents shared with me that may come in handy as she gets older. Maybe one day I, too, will need to tell my child to take pictures of her assignments before she turns them in, a safeguard against some teacher “losing” her work as a provocation or punishment. Maybe I’ll need to remind her that I’m always just a phone call away, and that she should never be the only child in a room of adults asking her questions that make her feel scared, embarrassed, or confused. Like generations of black mothers before me, I’ll think up ways to help my daughter feel safe and confident as she learns about this society and how to survive in it.
2019-11-21 14:00:00
2021-05-08T10:24:54.000000
1 y
theatlantic.com
What’s the Difference Between a College and a University?
A small, private higher-education institution in Massachusetts long known as Lasell College recently underwent a subtle but significant transformation: It changed its name. Now the school goes by Lasell University. Its longtime president, Michael B. Alexander, described the new name as “aspirational.” He thinks it better reflects the breadth of the school’s offerings, and hopes the university designation will make it seem more appealing, particularly to international students.Many colleges—often obscure ones of middling selectivity—have converted to universities in recent years, seemingly in the hopes of raising their profiles. But whether there’s a material distinction between a college and a university depends on whom you ask—and many people don’t know the difference.[Read: The surreal end of an American college]For those who work in higher education, a college and a university are by definition different things. Technically, colleges are institutions that focus on undergraduate education and tend to be small (no more than a few thousand students); universities are larger and grant graduate degrees. According to the College Board, which administers the SAT, “most universities contain several smaller colleges, such as colleges of liberal arts, engineering or health sciences.”The Chronicle of Higher Education, a news outlet, is a stickler for this semantic nuance when referring to individual schools: “A college is obviously not a university, so if a story is about, say, Oberlin, we wouldn’t call it a university,” Heidi Landecker, the publication’s deputy managing editor and copy-desk supervisor, told me in an email. But when talking about higher education in general, even the Chronicle will fudge the distinction a little. Its house dictionary defines college as “an institution of higher education that grants degrees,” Landecker noted, “so we can and do use ‘college’ to mean ‘university.’”The traditional definitions also have many exceptions. Plenty of schools with college in their name, for example, have graduate programs—such as Dartmouth and William & Mary. And some universities are relatively small—such as Clark and, well, Lasell. Against this backdrop, it makes sense why some dismiss the distinction as hairsplitting, and why many people view the terms as interchangeable.I conducted an informal survey of roughly 230 individuals asking whether they believe the terms are distinct and, if so, whether that distinction is important. (Higher-education professionals or high-school counselors accounted for about half my sample, and about one in five respondents was a student.) Fifty-five percent of the respondents said they acknowledge there’s a difference but tend to use the terms interchangeably, while roughly 15 percent either don’t understand the difference or don’t think there is one. A little less than a third of the respondents said there is a distinction and that they don’t use the terms interchangeably. (Higher-education professionals were more likely than other people to emphasize the distinction’s importance.)But their qualitative responses—along with direct feedback I got from more than a dozen experts—indicate that the extent of the distinction can vary depending on whom you ask. Victoria Tillson Evans, the founder and president of Maryland-based Distinctive College Consulting, for example, sees four main differences: educational level, size, research agenda, and style of education—that is, liberal-arts versus preprofessional education. Stacey Cunitz, the director of college counseling at a Philadelphia private school, said in an email that she focuses on one: “What I tell my students is that in general a university is a collection of colleges.”In many other countries, the difference between the terms is more obvious. In the United Kingdom, for instance, a university—such as the universities of Oxford and London—is a corporation authorized by the government to grant degrees. Meanwhile, a college is a residential learning community within a university—such as University College Oxford and King’s College London. (College comes from the Latin word for “partnership”—col means “together with”—which may explain why in countries where secondary education has traditionally entailed boarding, the term college often refers to secondary schools.)Colonial Americans disregarded that distinction when establishing the United States’ first postsecondary institutions: They were designated as colleges rather than universities, in part because of limited resources and because they didn’t need the King to authorize them to grant degrees, according to Johann Neem, a professor at Western Washington University who studies the history of American education. The terms blurred further with the creation of research universities during World War II, many of which, like colleges, focused on a liberal-arts education.[Read: The triumph of America’s research university]The confusion that exists in the U.S. today was, in other words, baked in from the beginning. While educators may fuss over the exact criteria, many counselors and higher-education administrators who reached out to me stressed that few students give much thought to the distinction between a college and a university. Notably, a spokesman for the ACT told me in an email that while the organization understands there’s a difference between a college and a university, that difference “isn’t really something that [the ACT] focuses on.” After all, “ACT scores are used for admissions … by both types of institutions.”Yet even if they don’t know the technical difference, many people, if only subconsciously, do think of a university as somehow higher caliber than a college. “There’s prestige associated with that more formal-sounding name,” says Teresa Valerio Parrot, a communications professional who works with higher-education institutions. And so the branding matters a great deal to schools. According to Valerio Parrot, most U.S. higher-education institutions have a style guide with rules on how to refer to themselves. (Depending on the school’s image, university might not be a desirable label: Schools that want to promote a liberal-arts identity may prefer the connotations of college.)A name change like Lasell’s, though “not inexpensive,” according to Alexander, is a marketing investment. It has “promotional value,” he said. The school hired consultants to help with the marketing rollout, including a new logo and tagline; created new university gear and stationery; and is in the process of replacing all the campus’s signs.This investment, according to Alexander, is already producing results. Many alumni (read: prospective donors) have since requested updated diplomas—and its website “experienced its highest organic-search months ever this past September and October,” according to a spokesperson. The university announced the name change in mid-August.Yet the changes at Lasell and elsewhere will likely fly under the radar of everyday Americans. After all, many journalists like me who cover education (the Chronicle notwithstanding) tend to treat college and university as synonyms, at least when referring to higher education writ large. And for what it’s worth, The Atlantic’s copy editors approve: “We use them interchangeably, often just for word variation,” Janice Wolly, our copy chief, told me.
2019-11-19 17:42:56
2021-05-08T10:24:54.000000
1 y
theatlantic.com
Why Colleges Are Betting Big on Video Games
The varsity dormitory at Harrisburg University is still under construction. A pile of cardboard debris twists around the base of the stairs; the hallway lights beam an industrial, apricot glow; and when 22-year-old Alex Carrell meets me at the entrance and leads me to his room, we have to dodge the contractors installing carpet on their hands and knees. The wooden doors flanking the hallway are each marked with a nameplate listing the inhabitants inside, punctuated by an angry-looking crimson cyclone holding lightning bolts in its Mickey Mouse–gloved hands—Harrisburg’s mascot, the Storm. On his sign, Carrell has written “Saltman”—the alias he uses to compete in a video game called Hearthstone.Carrell’s bedroom is cluttered with boy paraphernalia—an electric guitar submerged in laundry, a snowboard, a plastic tub of whey protein, a wide selection of “G Fuel” (read: Gamer Fuel) products, a closet full of Harrisburg-branded gear. He’s tall, with a black beanie pulled tight around cursive brown hair and a sanguine letterman confidence that matches the jersey on his back. If this were any other school, he could probably pass for an athlete. And, broadly speaking, he is. E-sports, the business of competing in video games professionally, is projected to top $1 billion in revenue by the end of this year. Carrell is one of the students building the industry’s corresponding collegiate scene—playing Hearthstone in Harrisburg colors, with all the fanfare of March Madness’s Elite Eight. He and his teammates are the only student athletes on campus.Carrell arrived at Harrisburg last year after being poached from his previous school, Central Washington University. He had already two years there, but when he saw a Reddit post from a new school offering full-ride scholarships for e-sports players, the opportunity seemed too good to pass up.The application was unlike any other Carrell had written. First, he had to provide proof that he wasn’t faking his high-ranking results in Hearthstone, a digital one-on-one card game similar to Magic: The Gathering, published by the gaming mega-corp Blizzard Entertainment. That was followed by an online tournament tryout, which led to Harrisburg flying Carrell to Pennsylvania for an interview and in-person scrimmage. The school valued Carrell’s skills in the low six figures—he was offered a spot on the Storm roster, single-handedly eliminating all his future debt in the name of video games.Carrell had been taking out loans before. “I was taking out $24,000 to $25,000 a year,” he told me. “By the time I graduated, I’d be over $100,000 in debt.”Alex Carrell (Laurel Golio)Today, Carrell owes only the $40,000 or so leftover from his time at Central Washington. The rest of his tuition, and his room and board, are covered, so long as he proudly wears the Harrisburg red and yellow in official collegiate Hearthstone competitions. Harrisburg is one of the 128 colleges that fund a varsity e-sports program, and within that, Carrell is one of the very few recipients of a full athletic scholarship for competitive gaming, which is something he says he didn’t know existed until he had one of his own. Carrell doesn’t chalk up his success to blood, sweat, or tears. As far as he’s concerned, he was just in the right place at the right time—a particularly talented gamer, who happened to come of age during the first moment in history when a college might reward that ability with a free degree.“I saw it and I jumped on it,” he says. “I was like, ‘This isn’t anything that’s happened before.’”The day after we meet, Carrell and his teammates will compete at the Harrisburg University Esports Invitational—a massive, multi-day collegiate gaming tournament organized by the college—against teams fielded by rivals such as Penn State and Georgia Tech. Compared with those institutions, Harrisburg is almost imperceptibly tiny. The total student population is about 750, the school opened in 2001, and the e-sports program was founded in 2018. But the Storm, and Carrell, entered the weekend as one of the favorites. In the spring, Harrisburg went 33–0 in the Overwatch varsity league en route to capturing the National Championship, streamed live on ESPN. It was their first season together as a team.The Harrisburg Storm team jersey (Laurel Golio)Harrisburg University doesn’t have a campus. The school is consolidated in a single gray building in the heart of the city’s modest, ambiently colonial downtown area. It calls itself a STEM college—offering a limited suite of degrees in computer programming, data science, and biology—and walking through its giant glass doors feels a lot more like going to work than going to school. The fanatical e-sports endeavor is, by far, the most noteworthy thing the university has ever done.Currently, 26 student athletes are enrolled at Harrisburg, playing League of Legends, Overwatch, and Hearthstone. They have full scholarships, and were recruited from all over the world. The program keeps a high-profile coaching staff full of former competitive players, at the top of which is a de facto athletic director, Chad Smeltz, a Harrisburg native who made his name as a League of Legends e-sports personality and coach. Before he was a famous gamer, Smeltz was a high-school history teacher, and regards his return to academia, and to Pennsylvania, as a homecoming. “Usually people go from collegiate to the pros; I’m going from the pros to collegiate,” he says. “The pro scene is a lot about winning and competition, but there’s a lot more I can do in collegiate because there’s a lot more outreach, for building jobs in the e-sports industry, for building educational programs around e-sports … Very few schools have anything close to that.”E-sports scholarships are still rare, but the idea is quickly becoming normalized in American higher education. Major universities with considerable overhead have started devoting a corner of their scholastic budget to competitive gaming, as a way to both juice scholastic recruitment and future-proof their sports programs for a world where more people are watching Twitch than CNN or MSNBC. Today, the average salary for a League of Legends professional is about $300,000, and professionals in Counter-Strike play for $1 million prize pools several times a year. High-profile colleges are vying to compete, with lucrative incentive packages. The University of Utah hands out $1,000 a year to each of the players participating in its e-sports curriculum. UC Irvine distributes up to $6,000 to its varsity rosters, and $1,000 to its junior-varsity rosters. New York University partnered with the fighting-game-tournament organizer Evo to pay the entire tuition of a lucky fan who wants to transmute his or her e-sports knowledge into a game-design career.But schools like Harrisburg are playing an entirely different game: They’re willing to treat college e-sports like Alabama treats college football. The hope is that the scholarship money the institution invests will elevate the campus as a dominant force in a still-nascent community. To the school’s brass, that’s a better use of resources than any advertising blitz. “We’re a tiny school. Nobody knew who we were as of a year ago,” Smeltz explains. “The fact that we’ve been able to do all this in e-sports—we’ve been on ESPN’s main channel, for example. How many marketing dollars would that cost?”The stage at Harrisburg University’s Esports invitational (Laurel Golio)One of Harrisburg’s rivals is St. Louis’s Maryville University, also tiny, which holds the honor of being one of the six founding members of the National Association of Collegiate Esports. The traditional logic of college athletics dictates that gigantic campuses, with their long traditions and devoted fans, have a perennial advantage over smaller players. In e-sports, at least for now, that logic is flipped. Harrisburg University has taken the throne, primarily because it doesn’t have much to lose.“We don’t have anything splitting our attention,” says Eric Darr, the president of Harrisburg University. “Thousands of people go to those bigger schools for football. If someone wanders into the president’s office and says, ‘Hey, I got an idea: e-sports,’ they’d say, ‘What are you, crazy? We’re on national TV this week.’”The night before the invitational, members of the League of Legends and Overwatch teams are sitting at the rows of PCs that seem to stretch out in every direction in the Storm’s practice facility, logging a few more scrimmages before while they can. The Overwatch National Championship trophy sits on a black table in the middle of the room, amid the arcade cabinets, snack food, stickers, Lego creations, and controllers. In the corner is a banner for the Philadelphia Fusion, a professional Overwatch team based in Pennsylvania, and co-owned by the 76ers.Titus Bang, a diminutive 22-year-old League of Legends player with rectangular glasses that seem to take up more than half of his face, says his academic schedule is divided into “scrim blocks”—mandated practice—meaning that he’s in this facility every weekday, playing at least three games of League with his teammates. In a past life, Bang was a musical-theater major at the University of Central Florida, but like Carrell, he was seduced by Harrisburg’s promise of free tuition and the chance to play e-sports competitively. In particular, Bang has followed Chad Smeltz’s career since he was in middle school, so the opportunity to play for him in an amateur capacity was a dream come true. “I said, ‘Mom, Dad, what if I got a full ride to play League?’” he remembers. “They said, ‘Get it first, and then we’ll talk.’”Bang moved to Harrisburg last fall, which effectively erased all the work he had previously committed to his scholastic career. “I’m starting over as a freshman,” he says. “The only credits I had were in ballet, singing, and acting. Those don’t transfer.” Bang tells me that a pivot to something more professionally sturdy, like science or math, was something he had considered for a while after the economic anxiety of being an art major settled in. Collegiate e-sports was the exact miracle he needed.Bang has been a great League of Legends player for most of his life. In high school, he routinely hit Masters ranks, which is similar to being a Double-A baseball player. So it is at least a little curious that he decided to take his talents to Harrisburg. E-sports does not have the same structure as traditional sports. There is no college draft to participate in the League of Legends Championship Series, the North American club system for full-time League of Legends pros. In fact, the minimum age to join a roster is only 17, and some of the best players in the world get their start in the amateur competitive scene much earlier than that. If Bang wanted, he could drop out of school now and direct his efforts and talents toward the pursuit of a professional contract.Titus Bang (Laurel Golio)This is something that Bang thinks about a lot. E-sports offers the long odds of any professional athletic career, sieved through the potential for risk and poor management inherent to an upstart industry. Last year, the professional league for the video game H1Z1 was canceled halfway through its first season. The players involved spent months trying to track down the paystubs they were owed. Heroes of the Storm was similarly nurtured, with a fully funded league since 2016—until its publisher suddenly abandoned ship, leaving an entire conference of players out of work and twisting in the wind.The market for players of the games that Harrisburg sponsors—League of Legends, Hearthstone, and Overwatch—is relatively healthy, but it’s still an unstable profession. Kevin “Hauntzer” Yarnell is one of the greatest American League of Legends players of all time, and yet he’s played on six different teams in his six-year career due to constant roster shake-ups. The best-case scenario for a pro gamer still involves a lot of entropy, so for now, Bang intends to keep his options open. A marriage to e-sports is at its happiest and healthiest with a prenuptial agreement.“A hundred people try [to go pro] every year, and only one or two make it,” he explains. “If you’re an amateur, what happens is you’ll do that for a year. You do it again. Or you’ll make it as a pro, and you’re dropped back down to amateur. You have nothing to show for it. I feel like here, [at Harrisburg] it’s a lot more stable. I feel like I can improve on my game, while earning a degree.”Bang isn’t ruling out a run at the professional scene. He says he will be cordial to any team that may approach him after his time at Harrisburg is complete. But more important, he has the “peace of mind” that wherever gaming takes him, a civilian life will still be within reach. “Even if it doesn’t work out for me, I'll have things that I love,” he says. “[A degree] gives me so much agency in my life.” For now, Bang is appreciating the perks of being a college athlete. Harrisburg has equipped him with a personal trainer and a diet plan to keep his mind sharp during long practice hours. The varsity dormitory is warm and perpetually unlocked, a nice place for a hopeful e-sports star to spend his time savoring the one moment in life he’s guaranteed to enjoy being a competitive gamer without worrying about how that vocation intends to pay him back.“Yesterday I was in one of the Overwatch player’s rooms, just watching him play all night,” says Bang. “I never thought [I’d be a varsity athlete] in my life. I never thought that. It’s a bit surreal.”In total, 30 schools make the trip to Southern Pennsylvania for the Harrisburg Invitational—an odd blend of academic and athletic imperiums like Penn State and Ohio State, and teensy private no-names like Aquinas College, Lackawanna University, and Averett University. Harrisburg, as the flag-bearer for the event and one of the gilded establishment powers of amateur e-sports, is fielding two teams in Overwatch, and two teams in League of Legends. The bracket is structured in a way that could lead to a Harrisburg vs. Harrisburg final, which would be about as exhilarating for the school as it would be disheartening for the collegiate e-sports confederacy as a whole. Today is the group stages; varsity teams are seeded against one another to determine who will play in the marquee knockout round, which will be broadcasted live on Twitch.For now, though, group play is consolidated in a series of lecture halls outfitted with series of obsidian computer rigs, back-to-back, linked together by a LAN cable. The walls are coated with whiteboards on which event officials have written the day’s schedule, in the same way a professor might scribble down chemistry notation. The 12th floor holds a banquet table stocked with aluminum-tray catering and pallets of Coca-Cola. This is where the student athletes marinate between matches.Overwatch players at the HUE invitational (Laurel Golio)The mood in the building feels more like a collegiate track meet than a pageant for competitive gaming. Unlike many other e-sports tournaments, which are built for spectators, the invitational is not a consumer-friendly event. The League of Legends room contains a few chairs, with a pair of TV monitors broadcasting a portion of the action on a delay. There’s nowhere to sit in the Overwatch room, which forces viewers to watch the matches over the players’ shoulders. Hearthstone gets the rawest deal of all: The players are sequestered in an alcove deep down a lonely hallway.There are no commentators or announcers anywhere, nor is there a centralized itinerary to keep track of the schedule. All you hear is the sound of machine-gun keyboard tapping, and the rapid-fire gamer jargon of teammates warning one another about ambushes, misdirections, and opening gambits. Winners and losers can be identified by the relative glumness on the competitors’ faces, and the only citizen spectators seem to be either well-meaning parents who have made the trip, or the rare diehard superfan. (One person was hoisting a Ragin’ Cajuns flag behind the University of Louisiana at Lafayette’s Overwatch team.)Players sleep between games at the HUE invitational (Laurel Golio)If the University of Harrisburg’s administrators intend to convince nonbelievers of the promise of college e-sports, they are doing so by ditching the fireworks in order to treat the tournament as seriously as possible. This took me by surprise. E-sports, for much of its short life in the public eye, has been a business about excess. DJ Khaled played a bizarre set at the 2018 Overwatch World Championship. The International, the championship series for the video game Dota 2, handed out a $30 million prize pool in August. The Fortnite mega-streamer Tyler “Ninja” Blevins and the masked DJ Marshmello paired to win the Fortnite Celebrity Pro-Am in a Los Angeles stadium last summer. It often feels like the investors behind the e-sports boom are shoveling ludicrous capital into the industry to ensure that it’s too big to fail, but there is little of that comic overkill in Harrisburg. The invitational is built with one directive in mind: college kids competing against one another in video games. Nothing more, and nothing less, presented with the subdued fanfare of a minor PGA Tour stop.Harrisburg is performing well. I wander into the League room and take a seat among the seasoned players. Next to me is the team from Miami University (in Ohio), and I start talking with Nathan “Lucent” LaMantia, a 19-year-old from Cleveland who’s majoring in marketing and media. Miami Ohio offers a couple of partial scholarships for e-sports, but nothing close to the full rides at Harrisburg. As LaMantia tells it, he often feels like the fix is in.“It feels good to beat the scholarship teams. You can buy players in [college] e-sports. These are typically smaller universities, small private universities especially. Big universities aren't throwing all their resources at e-sports like Maryville or Harrisburg would,” he tells me. “It’s hard to compete if you don’t have any form of recruitment, or if you don’t have scholarships. All of us came to Miami for the education it provided,” he says; it so happened to all be good at League.For generations, Power Five schools have emptied their coffers to attract the best amateur athletes in the country to their campuses with full-ride scholarships, stacking the deck against smaller institutions that don’t have the same resources. The same argument about athletic purity has started to make its way to collegiate e-sports, in a slightly different way. LaMantia and his teammates are one model for what amateur e-sports could look like. Harrisburg is another.“I have respect for the amount of work [schools like Harrisburg] have put in. All of the players, all of the staff, they've put in an extraordinary amount of effort into” their game, LaMantia says. “But in terms of competitiveness? It does start to sway the balance at an event like this.” He notes this isn’t restricted to e-sports. LaMelo Ball famously committed to play basketball for UCLA at the age of 13. But LaMantia says that because so few schools are offering significant scholarships in e-sports, the skills gap on the LAN cable is more pronounced. “It’s very top heavy,” he adds.LaMantia recognized an ennui I felt the entire time I was in southern Pennsylvania. Here was a dominant collegiate competitive-gaming program, operating in almost total isolation from a scholastic culture, and the town it represents. Harrisburg’s administration saw how remarkably easy it could be to conquer amateur e-sports, and it did so in the simplest way possible—by making offers that nobody could refuse. It worked, but there’s a strange coldness to the program that becomes more apparent the longer you spend in the building. Not once did I meet a self-described Harrisburg fan or alumnus. Perhaps that’s a symptom of the relative youth of the program, but it also served as a reminder that Harrisburg University remains a single nondescript tower across the street from a liquor store. It’s hard to create a sports culture in an arena like that, even with some of the best players in the country.A Harrisburg Overwatch player is shown on a screen at the invitational. (Laurel Golio)Follow e-sports long enough, and you start to see the ways that the sector’s speculatory dreams and financial reality blend together. Billionaire investors such as Stan Kroenke have dumped untold capital into competitive gaming with the typical capriciousness of Wall Street hedging. It can be both euphoric and existentially terrifying to consider how quickly that money can disappear. Competitive League of Legends has yet to become profitable for the game’s publisher, which lumps it in with Uber, and Twitter, and dozens of other towering corporations that are both profoundly ubiquitous and perpetually bleeding money. A school deciding to become a collegiate powerhouse, practically overnight, is perhaps the sharpest articulation of that hubris. On the second morning of the tournament, I catch up with Titus Bang in the practice facility. His League of Legends team had made it through the gauntlet, and Maryville waited in the semifinals. I ask him plainly whether he feels any school spirit—if the investments handed down by the college administration have resonated as part of his identity. He says yes, emphatically. To Bang, Harrisburg offers a total commitment to his talents, one that was willing to pay his rent, buy his food, and construct a training arena in his honor. Here, school spirit isn’t about tradition. There is no tradition. Not yet. Instead, it’s about creating a world where his scholarship isn’t an outlier. Everyone at Harrisburg talks about the future, but Bang is proud to represent the present. There is no greater accomplishment than being one of the first to legitimize the hopes of kids just like him.“That’s why I want to win the invitational,” he says. “Because it proves that we’re doing so much more.” Only in college e-sports can you be the odds-on favorite, and still a bit of an underdog.Unlike the lecture hall, Harrisburg’s Whitaker Center is more than capable of hosting an e-sports event. Two sets of computers are mounted onstage beneath an enormous HD display, promising the attendees that they won’t need to invade any personal space to enjoy the games this time around. Harrisburg has hired live broadcasters for Overwatch and League of Legends, and hooked them up to a booming sound system to better contextualize the action for the audience. A simple plastic trophy rests on the stage floor in front of the teams.Storm players in the finals and semi-finals (Laurel Golio)Bang isn’t onstage—his team ended up losing to Maryville—but Harrisburg’s other League of Legends team made it through its end of the bracket, so the school still has a chance to win the title. Carrell’s Hearthstone team lost too, due to, in his words, a combination of bad luck and bad play. But he’s still wearing his Storm jersey. In three days, I scarcely see him dressed in anything else.Around him are the students from other teams who don’t have anywhere else to go after getting eviscerated by the power schools. A countdown on the screen ticks down to zero. The players ready their headsets and triple-check their game plans. And for the first time of the weekend, I hear the Harrisburg faithful cheer their team on.A few hours later, it’s over. Harrisburg has lost both championship matches, in League of Legends and Overwatch. The Maryville Saints pose for pictures with the trophy, as the rest of the school filters out onto the quiet sidewalk. It’s one of Harrisburg's first tastes of tribal defeat, the sort of drubbing that’s particularly debilitating when it comes at home, at the hands of a rival. But gut-punch losses have a bewitching quality. Perhaps with a few more of those, Harrisburg will muster the spiritual zeal necessary to give its e-sports program the mysticism it needs. They’re already really good. But in college e-sports, that’s the easiest part of the equation.
2019-11-13 20:59:15
2021-05-08T10:24:54.000000
1 y
theatlantic.com
The College Campuses That Moonlight as Wedding Venues
The chapel at Keuka College, in upstate New York, is a campus landmark. Its Douglas-fir trusses, Italian-glass chandeliers, and custom-made pipe organ are so charming that many alumni choose to get married there. So do many non-alumni: About half of the roughly 18 weddings that take place at Keuka College in a given year are for couples without ties to the school.Keuka, which sits on the shores of one of New York’s Finger Lakes, alongside the region’s vineyards, is just one of scores of American colleges that, recognizing the untapped value of their picturesque facilities, host weddings. Keuka College charges roughly $800 to rent out its chapel for a wedding ceremony, with a discount for those affiliated with the school. It’s not a ton of money, but it helps offset some expenses for students, says Karen Mann, who oversees special events at the school.At a time when many higher-education institutions are struggling to stay afloat, every dollar counts. Colleges—especially those without big endowments—find themselves facing the dual financial challenges of reduced public funding for education and projected declines in enrollment. Alternative revenue sources that require minimal investment are an especially attractive strategy for defending against these trends, says Richard Staisloff, who founded and serves as a principal of the higher-education consultancy Rpk Group.[Read: The future of college looks like the future of retail]According to the latest annual survey of recently married couples by The Knot, a wedding-planning website, the average price paid for a wedding-ceremony venue is about $2,400 (though The Knot’s estimates probably run high). A review of 30 or so schools that publish their rates online or provided them to me suggest that by comparison, renting a venue on a college campus can be a pretty good deal. On the low end, $300 covers a one-day rental of the chapel at Wells College—another private, liberal-arts school in the Finger Lakes region—or a two-hour ceremony in the Baughman Center, the University of Florida’s “stunning, elegant contemplation space,” during the off-season. But prices can clear $3,000 at venues such as Columbia University’s Faculty House, which overlooks Manhattan’s Morningside Park, and UCLA’s “simple and elegant” Janss Terrace.Yet price isn’t necessarily the main factor. For many couples, a school might hold personal significance if they met in their college days. Amanda Shaver, a wedding planner in Virginia, told me that the chapel at the University of Virginia is in such high demand that it uses a lottery to whittle down its waiting list and, during peak season, frequently hosts several ceremonies on a single weekend day. Alumni are charged $350 for a two-hour ceremony, and non-alums pay more than twice that.For those who are unaffiliated with a school and choose to get married there, the reasoning is a little more conventional. Perhaps it’s simply a beautiful local venue that’s near or in a major city—such as Lewis and Clark College’s Estate Gardens in Portland, Oregon, and Endicott College’s Misselwood Estate on Massachusetts’s North Shore.Whatever brings a couple to campus, colleges are generally happy to host them. A year’s worth of ceremonies is apparently lucrative enough for schools to create stand-alone websites advertising their venues, detailing their wedding packages and referring to members of their all-purpose special-events staff as “wedding specialists.” Lots of schools offer on-site staff such as sound technicians and security personnel, too. All of this indicates that hosting wedding ceremonies benefits colleges in some way.That said, campus weddings aren’t exactly big moneymakers. The college representatives I reached out to declined to share financial specifics, but the available data indicate that the revenues from hosting weddings don’t make much of a difference in an institution’s operating budget. The country’s nonprofit colleges and universities typically spend tens of thousands of dollars annually on each full-time student to cover expenses ranging from instruction and research to housing and medical care; according to Education Department data, the average was close to $59,000 at private, nonprofit four-year schools in the 2016–17 academic year.Still, extra money never hurts. “It’s marginal revenues that add up here and there,” says Kaitlyn Maloney, a consultant with the education-research firm EAB. Hosting weddings is just one of many noneducational “auxiliary” services that schools make money off of. Most conventionally, colleges collect fees from dining halls, bookstores, and parking facilities, among other things.But there’s money to be made elsewhere. Research conducted by the Rpk Group suggests that campus spaces are used only for about a third of the time they’re available, and it’s not uncommon for colleges to rent them out for, say, concerts, conferences, bar and bat mitzvahs, and, yes, weddings. Many schools have even offered up vacant dorm rooms to visitors, Airbnb-style, mostly over the summer, but sometimes during the academic year, too. Others have gone as far as building campus-run hotels or retirement communities whose elderly residents can pay to audit courses.[Read: Six-figure price tags are coming to colleges]Pine Manor College, a private liberal-arts school outside Boston that has struggled financially, exemplifies this sort of creative thinking: In addition to hosting private weddings and other events at its well-appointed Dane Estate, Pine Manor rents out parking spaces to members of the nearby cricket club and contracts with movie studios that want to film scenes on its 50-acre wooded campus. Thanks in part to revenue sources such as these, “financially, we’re headed back up,” said Bill Blanchfield, who oversees special events for the college, when I visited the campus a few months ago.In a survey of hundreds of colleges’ business officers earlier this year, four in 10 identified facilities rentals as an especially promising alternative source of revenue. The money generated from auxiliary services (including the modest proceeds from wedding-venue rentals) accounted for much of the uptick in revenue at research and graduate-degree-granting universities in the decade leading up to 2013, according to an analysis from the American Institutes for Research, a nonpartisan think tank.Even if putting on wedding ceremonies doesn’t bring in a ton of money, it does give colleges some free PR, by luring attendees—some of whom may be unfamiliar with the school—to campus. And when alumni are the ones getting married, Maloney says hosting ceremonies is a way for a college to strengthen their affinity to the school, which might help with fundraising. Relatedly, in casual conversations, several students who’ve witnessed weddings taking place on campus told me those fleeting encounters reminded them how special their college was.As colleges think about how to maximally monetize their land, resources, and facilities, there is, of course, a risk that they will lose sight of their central goal of serving students. This may be a risk with some entrepreneurial initiatives—for example, investing in a college-run media enterprise or “research park” that fails to produce the expected revenue and thus takes away from the funds that schools could otherwise spend on students. But weddings on campus seem to be a simple, harmless, and wholesome way to give both parties what they want: Colleges get a little money, and couples get a pleasant venue.
2019-11-13 12:45:00
2021-05-08T10:24:54.000000
1 y
theatlantic.com
Six-Figure Price Tags Are Coming to Colleges
It took a little more than a decade for the University of Chicago to reinvent itself, going from a well-regarded but largely regional school to an extremely selective university with national prestige. In 2006, the Hyde Park university admitted more than a third of its freshman applicants. That rate has plummeted so drastically in the years since—to a record-low 5.9 percent in the most recent application cycle—that the school is now more selective than many members of the Ivy League.As admission rates have dropped, the cost of attendance has increased—a correlation seen at many highly selective schools. By 2025, the University of Chicago’s sticker price is predicted to pass the $100,000 mark, which would make it the first U.S. college where attendance costs six figures, according to a new analysis by The Hechinger Report, an education-news outlet. The analysis suggests at least a handful of other U.S. colleges will follow suit soon after Chicago hits that milestone, including California’s Harvey Mudd College, New York City’s Columbia University, and Texas’s Southern Methodist University.And after that, given the way American higher education has been going, it likely won’t be long before six-figure prices are common among selective colleges and universities. “The [colleges] that are expensive are the ones that students want to apply to,” explains the Seton Hall University professor Robert Kelchen, who studies higher-education finance. “Being expensive is seen as being good—if one [elite] college is 20 percent cheaper than another [elite] college, students are going to wonder what’s wrong with it.”[Read: College-admissions hysteria is not the norm]To make his predictions, Pete D’Amato, The Hechinger Report’s data-visualization developer, analyzed annual sticker- and net-price increases at each of the country’s higher-education institutions over the decade starting in 2008. (The sticker price, or total cost of attendance, includes expenses such as tuition and fees, supplies such as books, and lodging. The net price refers to the total cost minus average financial aid, as determined by household income.)The University of Chicago’s sticker price is currently roughly $80,300. But as is the case across higher education, most of its students in reality pay far less than the sticker price. Students with a family income below $75,000 are paying roughly $5,200 on average to attend the university this year, The Hechinger Report’s analysis indicates (official data aren’t yet available). Even the wealthiest families—those that make at least $110,000—on average are paying just about half of the total attendance cost. Fewer than half—42 percent—of the university’s 6,300 or so undergraduates paid the sticker price in the 2016–17 school year, according to the most recent available net-cost data.In a comment to the University of Chicago student paper The Chicago Maroon in July, a university spokesman said the school guarantees students whose families make less than $125,000 tuition-free attendance, meaning they’re on the hook just for nonacademic expenses. And starting with the current freshman class, the spokesman noted, the University of Chicago is also covering the fees, room, and board for students with a household income below $60,000.The gap between sticker and net price is growing at colleges across the country. Data published by the College Board suggest that a typical student at a private, nonprofit, bachelor-granting institution in the United States pays roughly $10,000 less than the average sticker price, which was about $37,000 in the past school year. Much of the sticker-net gap is a result of tuition discounts: The average first-year student at a private, nonprofit college got more than half off her tuition, according to a recent analysis of 2017–18 data. The average discount rate was less than 40 percent a decade prior.The sticker price keeps growing because of increases to colleges’ operational costs. Elite colleges are spending more and more in their pursuit of prestige. “The University of Chicago may be the first to cross the $100,000 line, but it is inevitable that other schools will follow,” says Caitlin Zaloom, an NYU professor of social and cultural analysis whose book Indebted explores higher education’s financial pressures on middle-class families. “Even though most families will not pay [the sticker price], it is a signal about what a full membership in that college costs … It is information to students about who should apply and who can participate fully in the university.”The tuition discounts help disadvantaged students attend otherwise cost-prohibitive schools and stabilize enrollment numbers at a time when many schools are struggling to fill their classrooms. But experts say the cuts can eat away at those schools’ bottom lines and force them into a vicious circle of financial triage. That these students are getting so much financial aid, says Michelle Asha Cooper, the president of the Institute for Higher Education Policy, “is good news—but the not-so-good news is that the rising discounts are very tricky and not sustainable.” The average cost of educating each student at public four-year colleges grew by 14 percent from 2011 to 2016, according to an analysis of federal data by the higher-education consulting firm rpk Group.While the rising demand for fancy amenities could explain some of the increasing costs, personnel spending is, as The Atlantic contributor Amanda Ripley has reported, the biggest expenditure for many schools. That could be fueling the University of Chicago’s march toward a six-figure sticker price. Its president is one of the highest-paid university executives in the country, earning more than $2 million during the 2017–18 fiscal year. Plus, it boasts an “extraordinary” number of Nobel-laureate alumni and scholars. Esteemed professors are one asset that helps schools appeal to prospective students and climb in the rankings, as do smaller class sizes, extracurricular opportunities, and new buildings. Money spent on these things helps schools secure prestige, but it also raises costs.[Read: Why college became so expensive]What often ends up happening is that wealthy students whose families can afford the sticker price help subsidize costs for their less privileged peers. The problem is that, with colleges now more dependent than ever on tuition for revenue, schools such as the University of Chicago enroll a relatively limited number of students from the lowest income brackets. Federal data show that Pell Grant recipients accounted for just 11 percent of Chicago’s students during the 2017–18 academic year, and as of fall 2018, just 5 percent of them were African American. The university also doesn’t enroll any part-time students. All in all, more than three dozen colleges and universities in the U.S. enroll more students from the top 1 percent of the income scale than from the bottom 60 percent, according to a study by a team of researchers, including the economist Raj Chetty.Those divides underscore why sticker prices matter—even for the students whose attendance would be subsidized. Just seeing six figures attached to a school’s name could deter lower-income students from applying. Plus, all the information is extremely confusing—in a survey of students and parents, roughly three out of four respondents said they struggled to make sense of all the numbers included in financial-aid offer letters and online.Nationally, surging sticker prices have “already gotten out of control,” Cooper says, pointing to numerous colleges that have had to shut down in recent years because of financial difficulties. And as long as colleges remain in an arms race to retain or gain prestige, many more schools are bound to tack another digit onto their sticker prices.
2019-11-08 13:00:00
2021-05-08T10:24:54.000000
1 y
theatlantic.com
The Power of a Wealthy PTA
Parent-teacher associations, or PTAs, are generally considered quaint and charming at best, and innocuous at worst. Run by volunteers, they are known for organizing bake sales and holiday parties, and buying gifts for Teacher Appreciation Day.But PTAs, despite their wholesome reputation, can also wield significant financial power, helping determine which programs a school can afford to offer. A PTA at a well-off school might raise a million dollars or more to pay for additional teachers’ salaries, band or orchestra instruments, a new library, iPads for classrooms, field trips, or other initiatives.Other PTAs can’t afford things like that, which can give different schools, even those close to one another, vastly different resources. When I toured pre-K schools for my son in New York City, I was surprised by how different the offerings were at sought-after schools in our area. Some had free violin lessons, yearly camping trips, and coding classes, in addition to art, science, and music teachers. My son ended up at a school that was close to where we live and felt friendly to us, though it didn’t have many “enrichments” beyond what regular classroom teachers provide.I later learned that most of the shiny extras (and even some full-time aides and specialty subject teachers) at the other schools were funded by PTAs with budgets in the six and seven figures. Our school’s PTA had less than a thousand dollars in the bank. New York City’s public schools get funding for their core services mostly on a per-student basis (schools where 40 percent or more of students are from low-income households get additional money under a federal provision called Title 1), but PTAs account for many differences in funding for auxiliary programs.[Read: How marginalized families are pushed out of PTAs]Other things are also responsible for disparities between many schools in the United States—notably, in some communities, higher property-tax revenues in affluent neighborhoods can mean bigger school budgets—but PTAs, and the money they funnel into schools, play a role too. A 2017 report from the left-leaning Center for American Progress found that of the roughly $425 million that America’s PTAs collectively raise each year, about a tenth is spent at schools attended by just one-tenth of 1 percent of the country’s students. Different districts have different rules about PTAs’ activities and financial reporting, but few districts put caps on the amount of money that can be raised, strictly regulate how PTAs spend their money, or mandate that funds be spread around equally within a district.Linn Posey-Maddox, an associate professor of educational policy studies at the University of Wisconsin at Madison and the author of When Middle-Class Parents Choose Urban Schools, told me that she believes it shouldn’t fall to parents to directly pay for a school’s art or music program, let alone necessities such as classroom materials. She’d like to see more funding for education overall, but as long as PTAs are left to account for the current shortfalls and thus help determine schools’ offerings, Posey-Maddox told me she sees a need for policies that mandate “deliberation around resource allocation”—the larger point being that students’ access to a good education shouldn’t be linked to their parents’ fundraising capabilities.Some districts try to account for how parents’ fundraising creates a tiered system of public schools. For instance, in Seattle, some well-funded schools now voluntarily share a small portion (typically about 5 percent) of their PTA funds with nearby schools that have less money. Vivian Van Gelder, a former PTA president of a well-resourced public elementary school, was one of the parents who helped add a fund-sharing initiative to her school’s yearly PTA budget a few years ago. She said the change was initially met with some pushback from parents who were adamant that their donations stay at their children’s school, and noted that the original budget item passed by only a small margin last year. Van Gelder calls this arrangement “a start”—she’d like to see the system for educational funding overhauled more broadly.Portland, Oregon, implemented a similar system, which has been around for a lot longer. In the mid-’90s, during a budgetary crisis, parents at many better-funded schools complemented PTAs by establishing school-specific fundraising foundations that could pay for additional staffing. Recognizing how this could lead to inequity, the Portland school district required that a central foundation serving under-resourced schools be created and that when the school-specific foundations spent money, they’d give an additional amount—roughly a third of whatever they spent—to that central foundation.But Helen Shum, a parent of two children at a school in Portland, pointed out the limits of this system. First, if an expenditure falls outside the purview of the foundation—for instance, if money is spent on buying school supplies or building a science lab—no extra money needs to be set aside for other schools. And second, parents’ contributions to schools don’t just come in the form of financial resources, but money is all that this policy addresses. “The scope of parent volunteerism [at these schools] is next-level—it’s like a second level of staff,” she told me. For instance, her daughter had been tutored for years by an engineer turned stay-at-home dad. While underfunded schools may also have parents who are willing to help, those parents’ involvement can be limited by less predictable work schedules and the different relationships they might have with public institutions.Further, even if PTAs’ resources weren’t spread out so unevenly, their overall approach to helping schools doesn’t resonate with all parents. D. L. Mayfield, whose child goes to a school in Portland where 94 percent of students qualify for free or reduced-price lunch, said that she and other parents feel “cast aside” by the “dominant cultur[al] model” of PTAs; they generally aren’t inspired to organize fundraising efforts to support a system that they don’t consider to be fair. “I think parent groups should focus less on raising money and more on advocating for systemic change,” she told me.[Read: Why Rhode Island’s governor is taking over Providence’s public schools]One of the more promising models for making PTAs a more equalizing force tries to account for the attitudes of parents at both well-funded and underfunded schools. It’s called the PTA Equity Project, and it’s run by two parents named Suni Kartha and Elisabeth Lindsay-Ryan in Evanston, Illinois, outside Chicago.Three years ago, out of a shared concern about uneven PTA fundraising—Kartha’s children went to an under-resourced school, Lindsay-Ryan’s to a more affluent one—they gathered data on PTA funding at their district’s 18 elementary schools. They found that per-student parent-raised funding across their district ranged from $0 a student at some schools to almost $300 a student at others, and to remedy these imbalances, they began presenting some well-funded PTAs with their data and a suggested percentage that they could voluntarily divert to schools with smaller budgets.In general, these suggestions have been received well, which likely has to do with their approach: “The start of the conversation is saying, ‘No one wants to punish anyone. No one is doing anything wrong,’” Kartha said. “Our goal is to help people broaden their lens and think about the district as a whole.” Kartha and Lindsay-Ryan noted that some parents from under-resourced schools said they felt heard as well, as they were able to share their perspective with other PTAs and ask for help advocating for reforms at the district level, as opposed to just having an opportunity to request financial support.Of course, Evanston’s parents might be particularly amenable to a program like this one, given the city’s progressive leanings; the same model might not work elsewhere. And while a handful of districts around the country are experimenting with ways to make funding more equitable, many are not. The challenge, as Posey-Maddox sees it, is that most parents are reluctant to have “hard conversations” about the extent to which “the system enable[s] their child to hoard opportunities.” Ultimately, though, she favors fixes that would take the onus off individual parents to correct for an unfair system themselves. This is why she thinks it would be helpful to have more robust government funding of education overall.When parents choose a well-funded school or write a check to their school’s PTA, it can be hard for them to see all the schools that aren’t receiving any of their money. New York City is trying to make these differences between schools a bit more visible: About a year ago, it passed a measure that will require schools to publish how much money PTAs raise, alongside demographic data about the race, ethnicity, and English-learner status of students at each school, by the end of this year. Of course, what parents will choose to do with this information remains to be seen. “Unfettered, middle- and upper-class parents will create policies to benefit their kids,” Posey-Maddox warns. New York’s improved PTA transparency and other districts’ like-minded efforts might make schools a bit more equitably funded, but realistically, a few parents’ altruistic efforts won’t be enough to fill big gaps in the American education system.
2019-11-05 20:13:15
2021-05-08T10:24:54.000000
2 y
theatlantic.com
Stop Trying to Raise Successful Kids
Na KimAs anyone who has been called out for hypocrisy by a small child knows, kids are exquisitely attuned to gaps between what grown-ups say and what grown-ups do. If you survey American parents about what they want for their kids, more than 90 percent say one of their top priorities is that their children be caring. This makes sense: Kindness and concern for others are held as moral virtues in nearly every society and every major religion. But when you ask children what their parents want for them, 81 percent say their parents value achievement and happiness over caring.Kids learn what’s important to adults not by listening to what we say, but by noticing what gets our attention. And in many developed societies, parents now pay more attention to individual achievement and happiness than anything else. However much we praise kindness and caring, we’re not actually showing our kids that we value these traits.Perhaps we shouldn’t be surprised, then, that kindness appears to be in decline. A rigorous analysis of annual surveys of American college students showed a substantial drop from 1979 to 2009 in empathy and in imagining the perspectives of others. Over this period, students grew less likely to feel concern for people less fortunate than themselves—and less bothered by seeing others treated unfairly.It’s not just that people care less; they seem to be helping less, too. In one experiment, a sociologist scattered thousands of what appeared to be lost letters in dozens of American cities in 2001, and again in 2011. From the first round to the second one, the proportion of letters that was picked up by helpful passersby and put in a mailbox declined by 10 percent. (When the same experiment was conducted in Canada, helpfulness didn’t diminish.) Psychologists find that kids born after 1995 are just as likely as their predecessors to believe that other people experiencing difficulty should be helped—but they feel less personal responsibility to take action themselves. For example, they are less likely to donate to charity, or even to express an interest in doing so.If society is fractured today, if we truly care less about one another, some of the blame lies with the values parents have elevated. In our own lives, we’ve observed many fellow parents becoming so focused on achievement that they fail to nurture kindness. They seem to regard their children’s accolades as a personal badge of honor—and their children’s failures as a negative reflection on their own parenting.Other parents subtly discourage kindness, seeing it as a source of weakness in a fiercely competitive world. In some parenting circles, for example, there’s a movement against intervening when preschoolers are selfish in their play. These parents worry that stepping in might prevent kids from learning to stick up for themselves, and say that they’re less worried about the prospect of raising an adult who doesn’t share than one who struggles to say no. But there’s no reason parents can’t teach their kids to care about others and themselves—to be both generous and self-respecting. If you encourage children to consider the needs and feelings of others, sometimes they will and sometimes they won’t. But they’ll soon learn the norm of reciprocity: If you don’t treat others considerately, they may not be considerate toward you. And those around you will be less likely to be considerate of one another, too.Parents’ emphasis on toughness is partly an unintended consequence of the admirable desire to treat boys and girls more equally. Historically, families and schools encouraged girls to be kind and caring, and boys to be strong and ambitious. Today, parents and teachers are rightly investing more time and energy in nurturing confidence and leadership in girls. Unfortunately, there isn’t the same momentum around developing generosity and helpfulness in boys. The result is less attention to caring across the board.Kids, with their sensitive antennae, pick up on all this. They see their peers being celebrated primarily for the grades they get and the goals they score, not for the generosity they show. They see adults marking their achievements without paying as much attention to their character. Parents are supposed to leave a legacy for the next generation, but we are at risk of failing to pass down the key virtue of kindness. How can we do better?When our own kids started school, we noticed that many of our questions at the end of the day were about accomplishments. Did your team win? How did the test go?To demonstrate that caring is a core value, we realized that we needed to give it comparable attention. We started by changing our questions. At our family dinners, we now ask our children what they did to help others. At first, “I forget” was the default reply. But after a while, they started giving more thoughtful answers. “I shared my snack with a friend who didn’t have one,” for example, or “I helped a classmate understand a question she got wrong on a quiz.” They had begun actively looking for opportunities to be helpful, and acting upon them.As parents, we’ve also tried to share our own experiences with helping—and to make a point of including the moments when we’ve failed. Telling your kids about how you regret not standing up for a child who was bullied might motivate them to step up one day. Recalling a time when you quit a team and left your teammates in the lurch might prompt your kids to think more carefully about their responsibilities to others.The point is not to badger kids into kindness, or dangle carrots for caring, but to show that these qualities are noticed and valued. Children are naturally helpful—even the smallest ones appear to show an innate understanding of others’ needs. By the time they are a year and a half old, many children are eager to help set the table, sweep the floor, and clean up games; by the time they turn two and a half, many will give up their own blanket for someone else who is cold.But too many kids come to see kindness as a chore rather than a choice. We can change that. Experiments show that when kids are given the choice to share instead of being forced to, they’re roughly twice as likely to be generous later. And when kids are praised and recognized for helping, they are more likely to help again.We can also advise our children to be mindful of the friends they make. Psychologists distinguish between two paths to popularity: status (which derives from being dominant and commanding attention) and likability (which comes from being friendly and kind). Adolescents are often drawn to status, flocking to cool kids who seem superior, even if they’re not particularly nice. (Every parent can relate to the experience of thinking, I can’t believe that kid’s behavior. He’s never coming over again!) Children are similarly quick to admire peers on the basis of their accomplishments—the fastest runner on the team, say, or the winner of the talent show. We don’t think parents should police friendships, but we do think it’s important to nudge kids to notice classmates who are kind and compassionate. We can ask how those children treat others, and how they make others feel. That’s a starting point for developing friendships with children who have compatible values—not ones who stomp all over them. We tell our own children that they shouldn’t hang out with the popular kids who sneer and laugh when a classmate trips in the cafeteria. They should get to know the kids who help pick up her tray.As we’ve seen, overemphasizing individual achievement may cause a deficit of caring. But we don’t actually have to choose between the two. In fact, teaching children to care about others might be the best way to prepare them for a successful and fulfilling life.Quite a bit of evidence suggests that children who help others end up achieving more than those who don’t. Boys who are rated as helpful by their kindergarten teacher earn more money 30 years later. Middle-school students who help, cooperate, and share with their peers also excel—compared with unhelpful classmates, they get better grades and standardized-test scores. The eighth graders with the greatest academic achievement, moreover, are not the ones who got the best marks five years earlier; they’re the ones who were rated most helpful by their third-grade classmates and teachers. And middle schoolers who believe their parents value being helpful, respectful, and kind over excelling academically, attending a good college, and having a successful career perform better in school and are less likely to break rules.In part, that’s because concern for other people promotes supportive relationships and helps prevent depression. Students who care about others also tend to see their education as preparation for contributing to society—an outlook that inspires them to persist even when studying is dull. In adulthood, generous people earn higher incomes, better performance reviews, and more promotions than their less generous peers. This may be because the meaning they find in helping others leads to broader learning and deeper relationships, and ultimately to greater creativity and productivity.But kindness can also make kids happy in the here and now. In one experiment, toddlers received Goldfish or graham crackers for themselves, then were invited to give some of the food to a puppet who “ate” them and said “yum.” Researchers rated the children’s facial expressions, and found that sharing the treats appeared to generate significantly more happiness than receiving them. And the toddlers were happiest of all when the treats they gave came from their own bowl, rather than from somewhere else.Psychologists call this the helper’s high. Economists refer to it as the warm glow of giving. Neuroscientists find that generosity activates reward centers in our brains. And evolutionary biologists observe that we’re wired to help others. A tribe of people who “were always ready to aid one another,” Darwin wrote, “would be victorious over most other tribes; and this would be natural selection.”Of course, we should encourage children to do their best and to take pride and joy in their accomplishments—but kindness doesn’t require sacrificing those things. The real test of parenting is not what your children achieve, but who they become and how they treat others. If you teach them to be kind, you’re not only setting your kids up for success. You’re setting up the kids around them, too.
2019-11-03 16:00:00
2021-05-08T10:24:54.000000
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theatlantic.com
Should Britain Abolish Private Schools?
WINDSOR, England—Nestled in a historic town across the river Thames from Windsor Castle, Eton College resembles a small city-state more than a high-school campus. It boasts hundreds of buildings, half a dozen museums and galleries, and a reputation for cultivating the who’s who of the British elite.Current and former prime ministers, lawmakers and judges, and countless others who make up this country’s ruling class have walked through its doors. After all, to have graduated from Eton, or any of the other handful of Britain’s top, tuition-charging private educational establishments, is to be guaranteed lifelong membership in an exclusive echelon of a country where the school a person attends—even as early as the age of 13—correlates with wealth, power, and opportunity achieved in the years and decades after.The privileges these schools afford aren’t cheap: It costs £42,501 ($51,504) to send a child to study and board at Eton each year—a price well above Britain’s average annual wage of £28,677. Though there are merit and needs-based scholarships, made possible by the school’s 400-million-pound endowment, only around 7 percent of the 1,300 boys who attend (Eton, like many other private boarding schools, is not coeducational) each year do so for free.*Accessibility to schools such as Eton has long been an issue of concern, not least because of the dominance that private-school alumni tend to have over Britain’s top jobs. But the ascendancy of Boris Johnson as the country’s prime minister—the 20th from Eton alone—has brought the issue back to the fore. While some view these schools as training grounds for the next generation of leaders and thinkers, critics regard them as bastions of entitlement and privilege. That more than a quarter of British lawmakers, including the majority of Johnson’s cabinet, were privately educated—a rate four times that of the general population—has only furthered that perception. It has even prompted a national debate about whether these institutions should exist at all.In an era when social mobility has virtually stagnated in Britain—when those who succeed are largely born to parents who did the same—many have begun to question whether private education is part of the solution or part of the problem. In a period when entrenched inequality has led to the rise of populist sentiment around the world, can private schooling help quell political extremes—or fuel them further?Comprehensive schools (the equivalent of American public schools) are the primary providers of education in Britain, serving 88 percent of the country’s school-age population. Of those who opt out of comprehensive education, 5 percent attend grammar schools, which are selective, state-funded institutions that admit pupils over the age of 11 by examination. The remaining 7 percent attend private schools.Though most private schools are confined to London and the south of England, the impact of these institutions, and the people who attend them, can be felt across the country. The prime minister, his cabinet, and a significant chunk of Britain’s diplomats and judges attended private schools. Even beyond the governing sphere, across the media, the arts, and sports, those who were privately educated are overrepresented compared with those who were not.It’s a discrepancy that Britain’s Labour Party has vowed to end. At its annual conference in September, the opposition party pledged to oversee the phased abolition of private schools here—a commitment it will take directly to voters in next month’s snap general election. If elected, Labour would strip private schools of the charitable status that entitles them to significant tax breaks and would impose quotas on the number of students that universities can admit from private schools (though it’s unclear what impact such policies would have if private schools are dismantled), as well as establish a new social-justice commission that would be tasked with integrating private schools, and their assets, into the state sector. (Corbyn has since hinted that Labour would prioritize ending private-school tax breaks first, telling reporters at the party’s campaign launch yesterday that their manifesto is still being decided.)“Private schools don’t need to exist,” John McDonnell, Labour’s treasury spokesperson, said ahead of the conference, “and should not exist.”Labour’s policy was unsurprisingly met with pushback from the private-school sector, which dubbed the plan damaging and a “vote-loser.” Johnson criticized the Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn (who, like 13 percent of Labour members of Parliament, was privately educated) of “unbelievable hypocrisy” and said the move would cost the government £7 billion ($8.6 billion) to educate students from the private sector. Others have since argued that it would needlessly strip parents of their right to choose how their child is educated. The plan, if enacted, is expected to be challenged in the courts. (A spokesperson for the government told me it has no plans to change the tax status of independent schools.)But Labour isn’t alone in its criticisms of the current education system in the country. Robert Verkaik, the author of Posh Boys: How English Public Schools Ruin Britain, told me the discrepancy between those who have access to private schools and those who don’t has created an “apartheid education system” in Britain, “where a small portion of the population are allowed to buy the best jobs or the most powerful position.” Michael Wilshaw, the U.K.’s former chief inspector of schools, has called for stripping private schools of their charitable status unless they commit to supporting their state-run counterparts—an argument that was echoed, though never acted on, by former Prime Minister Theresa May (who attended grammar and comprehensive schools). Michael Gove, a former education secretary who is now a member of Johnson’s government, and was educated in both state and private schools, has said he would like to see the end of private education altogether.In some ways, the fight over private education represents a very British problem. After all, few countries rival this country’s fixation on a person’s educational background—a factor that helps fuel its enduring class system. But issues of education inequality aren’t unique to Britain. In the United States, the quality of public schools is largely contingent on the wealth of the areas surrounding them, and private schools are largely reserved for those who can afford the high-priced fees. Just as privately educated students disproportionately win admission to top British universities such as Oxford and Cambridge, American students from privileged backgrounds are overrepresented in leading U.S. universities. These students often go on to hold some of the top jobs in the nation. Indeed, the past five American presidents (including Donald Trump) have been Ivy League graduates. Of the current class of lawmakers in Congress, Harvard University is the most common alma mater.This discrepancy in accessibility goes beyond education. An increasing lack of social mobility, coupled with the belief that only a privileged few have access to the highest echelons of society, has helped entrench inequality at a time when populist sentiment around the world has grown. This is particularly true in Britain, where a 2018 report by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, a Paris-based intergovernmental organization, found that it would take at least five generations, or 150 years, for a British child from a poor background to earn an income on a par with the national average, compared with two and three generations in Denmark and Sweden, respectively.[Read: Education isn’t the key to a good income]Lee Elliot Major, a professor of social mobility at the University of Exeter and the author of Social Mobility and Its Enemies, told me this stagnant social mobility has led to “a disconnect between the elites and the rest of the country,” which some regard as having helped fuel the deep divisions in Britain over its membership in the European Union. “For me,” Major said, “the whole Brexit issue was partly down to this disconnect between a very Etonian … cabinet and swaths of the population who are fed up with being, in their mind, dominated by a self-serving, liberal, southeast metropolitan elite.”Eton may be the most famous of Britain’s private schools—which are colloquially (and, for your American author, confusingly) known here as “public schools”—but it’s certainly not alone. Across the country, there are more than 1,000 tuition-charging independent schools (excluding approximately 165 grammar schools). Embedded within this group is an even smaller group of historic private schools known as the Clarendon Schools—Eton is one—which count among their alumni lawmakers, journalists, celebrities, and Nobel laureates.While some of these schools are designed to prepare students ages 13 to 18 for admission into Britain’s top universities, others are geared toward even younger pupils. “These schools all have their feeder prep schools, and the parents know this at a very early age,” Verkaik said. “Once you’ve got them on that escalator, you’ve pretty much guaranteed that your child will leapfrog the other children from the same community.”Etonians react during the Eton Wall Game at Eton College in 2012. (Eddie Keogh / Reuters)Private schooling wasn’t always this way. When King Henry VI founded Eton College in 1440, it was to provide a free education to 70 underprivileged boys and prepare them for admission to another school: King’s College, Cambridge, which the monarch founded the following year. It’s from these philanthropic beginnings that schools such as Eton were dubbed “public schools,” in recognition of their public benefit. It’s also how they earned their charitable status.Modern-day British private schools have changed drastically from their forebears. For one, they are no longer free: On average, it costs as much as £15,000 ($18,400) to privately educate a child for a year, and £33,000 ($40,500) if the child is boarding. Though these schools give students millions of pounds in financial assistance each year, not all aid is granted on the basis of need. Most pupils come from families who can afford to pay most, if not all, of the tuition fees.James Wood, a New Yorker staff writer who attended Eton on a partial scholarship, described the system as “an infinite regression of privilege,” in which those who can afford the luxuries of a private education often have parents and grandparents who did the same. “There were probably hundreds of boys whose family wealth stretched so far back, into the nineteenth and eighteenth centuries,” Wood wrote of his classmates, “that, for all intents and purposes, the origin of their prosperity was invisible, wallpapered over in layers and layers of luck.”This isn’t a reality unique to Eton. Across Britain, “being born privileged ... means that you are likely to remain privileged,” the British government’s Social Mobility Commission concluded in its State of the Nation report this year. “Being born disadvantaged, however, means that you will have to overcome a series of barriers to ensure that you and your children are not stuck in the same trap.”Private schools are also more competitive than they used to be. Eton, for example, requires its prospective students to undergo an entrance exam (including an interview) and submit references in order to be considered for admission. Of those who apply, less than a quarter get a place. Sam Friedman, a sociologist at the London School of Economics and a co-author of The Class Ceiling: Why It Pays to Be Privileged, told me this pivot toward more selective enrollment enabled private schools to bill themselves “not as upholders of ascribed social advantage … but as sites of meritocracy.”Meritocracy, that is, with a price tag—though not without a return on investment. Privately educated students are 94 times as likely to be listed in Who’s Who, an annual publication that recognizes people of influence in British public life, as someone who went to any other type of school, according to Friedman’s research. “But the idea that [private schools] are 94 times better than their average state schools is ludicrous,” he added.[Read: How life became an endless, terrible competition]It’s not just Who’s Who that these students have to look forward to. Privately educated pupils are seven times as likely to gain admission to Oxford and Cambridge as their state-educated peers, according to a 2019 joint report by the Social Mobility Commission and the educational charity Sutton Trust. It’s a trend that mirrors itself in the workforce, too: Those who are privately educated are overrepresented in some of the country’s top professions, making up 65 percent of senior judges, 52 percent of diplomats, and 29 percent of lawmakers. Eton counts among its graduates 20 prime ministers; Oxford claims 28. The current holder of the office, Johnson, is an alumnus of both.Part of this discrepancy comes down to a resource gap: Though only 7 percent of students attend private schools, one in every six pounds spent on education in Britain goes into the private sector, according to Francis Green, a professor of work and education at University College London and a co-author of Engines of Privilege: Britain’s Private School Problem. As a result, private schools not only have the means to hire more teachers (Green said one in every seven teachers works in the private sector), but are also able to invest in better facilities, including theaters, arts and athletics centers, and, in the case of Eton, an island.For many in the private-school system, however, schools such as Eton are the exception, not the rule. “Eton really is a thing apart,” John Claughton, a former teacher at Eton and former headmaster of King Edward’s School, a Birmingham-based private school, told me, explaining that most institutions don’t charge anywhere near the kind of fees seen at the Clarendon schools. (King Edward’s, for example, charges annual tuition of £13,692, or $16,733.) Most don’t benefit from the same endowment or philanthropic resources either.Yet while Claughton does not believe private schools should be abolished altogether, he is among those who believe they can and should do more to bridge the accessibility gap in private education by offering forms of means-tested financial assistance and contextual admissions (which take into account the socioeconomic circumstances of each applicant), as well as partnering with state schools. “Those who are asking the independent sector whether they could or should be doing more are asking entirely valid questions,” he said. “More could be done.”According to the Social Mobility Commission, more is being done—just not on a grand scale. “There are some examples of schools where they are really progressive in terms of the bursaries they offer and in terms of contextual admissions,” Ali Jaffer, head of policy and innovation at the Social Mobility Commission, told me. “There are others where it’s a bit more token, and it’s really only tinkering at the margins, and there are others where it doesn’t feature in their agenda at all.”Pupils gather at Eton College in 1929. (Hulton Archive / Getty)When Simon Henderson became the latest, and youngest, headmaster of Eton College in 2015, some predicted he would usher the school into a new era—one that would include a more diverse intake of students and more scholarships for underprivileged pupils. And in some ways, he has: In 2015, Eton spent £6.5 million ($7.9 million) on full scholarships and partial scholarships for 70 and 277 students, respectively—the equivalent of 6 percent and 21 percent of the student body. By 2018, it was spending the same amount of money, but the number of students receiving full scholarships had increased to 82, and the number of partial scholarships had dropped to 254.“The independent sector can be—and in many cases already is—part of the solution rather than the source of the problem,” Henderson wrote last month in the aftermath of Labour’s pledge to abolish private schools, pointing out that the number of students attending the school for free has risen to 90.Like Claughton, Henderson endorsed the idea of private institutions doing more to support their state-funded counterparts, citing Eton’s sponsorship of Holyport College, a free boarding school. But he rejected the notion that private institutions such as his fuel inequality, noting that while education in Britain “is far from perfect … confiscating and redistributing the assets of some of the best schools in the world will not improve the life chances of young people left behind by our education system.”[Read: Why are more poor kids going to college in the U.K.?]Despite these moderate increases in the number of students attending the school tuition-free, Verkaik said the number of needs-based scholarships given out aren’t reflective of Eton’s means, including its £436 million endowment. “It’s window dressing,” he said. “It’s a very small, negligible number of kids.”A 2014 poll by the British firm YouGov suggests a majority of the British public would support a new government approach to private schools. While 33 percent of respondents said private schools’ charitable status should be contingent on supporting state-funded schools, a further 41 percent said private institutions should lose their charitable status regardless.Jaffer said solutions such as removing charitable status have been under consideration, though the Social Mobility Commission itself “doesn’t have a policy position on this yet.” The goal, he said, is to find a balanced way of addressing the issue without alienating private schools—while still giving them an incentive to change.“You need reasons for people to act,” he said. “Moral purpose is nice, but not everybody has it.”The last time Britain seriously considered radical reforms to address its education-inequality problem, it was 1965. The then-Labour government had announced the establishment of a new commission tasked with finding “the best way of integrating the public schools into the state system of education.” The private sector was faced with the prospect of termination and, in the case of Eton, even considered relocating to Ireland.Of course, it never came to that. The Labour Party, itself divided over the issue, lost interest in the reforms, and private schools carried on largely unaffected. “History has proven that these schools are extraordinarily resilient,” Verkaik said, arguing that even though recent discussion of reform has prompted some, including Eton’s headmaster, to address the inequalities within the country’s education system, it “may not be enough” to effect actual change.Nor will the abolition of private schools necessarily guarantee the desired effect of leveling the playing field between students with means and those without. Jaffer said that even if private schools didn’t exist, access to private tutoring or high-performing state schools in affluent areas still would. “Those schools, if you think about it, are just fee-paying in another way,” he said. “Parents have to pay to live in those areas. And they tend to get better results.”Still, there is reason to suggest that today’s efforts to change Britain’s school system could be more successful than those of 1965. “Since the 1960s, we haven’t questioned the right of families to send their children to private schools or the right of private schools to exist,” Verkaik said. “Now we have, in the media, right-wing newspapers talking about the role of public schools to exist … This isn’t just a think tank arguing a radical position. This is now a mainstream discussion.”* This article originally misstated the proportion of students who attend Eton for free. It is around 7 percent, not less than 1 percent.
2019-11-01 08:00:00
2021-05-08T10:24:54.000000
2 y
theatlantic.com
Why Rhode Island’s Governor Is Taking Over Providence’s Public Schools
Public schools in Rhode Island are a mess. The situation in the state is considered so extreme by activists, elected officials, students, and parents that last year they filed a class-action lawsuit claiming that Rhode Island had deprived the students of the literacy skills necessary to participate in a democracy. Things in Providence are particularly dire. When Johns Hopkins released a report about the state capital’s public schools this summer, each line was more damning than the last. Teachers felt demoralized and unsupported. The English learning programs were in violation of the Equal Education Opportunities Act. Parents felt isolated from their children’s education. The report went so far as to say there was “little visible student learning” happening in classrooms at all. The buildings were deteriorating to the point of being health hazards. Some of the Johns Hopkins researchers found themselves walking out of buildings and crying; one researcher reported feeling physically ill after seeing the conditions of one building.When Governor Gina Raimondo assumed office in 2015, “I knew that the Providence public schools weren’t where they needed to be,” she told me in a recent interview. The Johns Hopkins report made clear the extent to which that is an understatement. “We do have a crisis on our hands,” Raimondo said.Now Raimondo, alongside her education commissioner, Angélica Infante-Green, is taking a dramatic step: Taking over Providence’s public schools. The state will assume control of the district for at least five years, beginning November 1. Infante-Green will oversee the district’s budget, personnel, and programming. “Because of the magnitude of our problem here, everything has to be on the table,” Raimondo told me. “We have to go big here. These kids have been left behind too far for too long.”After Infante-Green started as the education commissioner in April, she held nine public sessions and more than a dozen focus groups just in Providence to hear comments from parents, teachers, students, and advocates about their community schools in her first four months on the job. “The community feels like they have been let down, and now their kids are being let down,” Infante-Green told me. Several teachers told her that their students could not read. One student told her they had 11 English teachers in one 10-month school year. And then there was the question of diversity in the system: 98 percent of the teachers in the district are white, she told me, and 91 percent of the students are people of color.[Read: Could a state takeover help Chicago’s struggling public schools?]In late July, armed with the results of her public outreach and the report from Johns Hopkins, Infante-Green went to the governor and requested the takeover. In her final takeover order, Infante-Green reasoned that the state and federal government had substantially increased funding for the public schools in Providence since 2011—a year after a new funding formula was implemented; and in the past five years, the state appropriation to the school district had increased by $40 million, and yet the district continued to chronically underperform. (Though critics argue that the formula short-changes English-language learners.) The solution, state officials argue, has to be more than funding.This isn’t the first time serious issues have been identified in Providence’s public schools. When Domingo Morel’s family moved to Providence from Union City, New Jersey—which had narrowly avoided a state takeover of its own—in 1993, another bombshell report on the poor state of the city’s schools had just been released. “Providence Blueprint for Education” detailed concerns similar to today’s: a lack of school safety, questions of equity, problems with the English learning programs. Morel, who was in high school at the time, remembers the schools being in rough shape.The 1993 report, which took a year to prepare, was meant to be a nudge—“a message of encouragement, not despair.” The business leaders and educators involved in putting it together wanted to be “perceptively honest” about the schools in Providence, and work to fix them. But when I asked Morel, who is now an assistant political-science professor at Rutgers who assisted the Johns Hopkins team with this year’s report, about what had changed between then and now, his response was simple: “There’s really no difference.”The benefits of school takeovers are always uncertain—there have been more than 100 state takeovers since New Jersey first took over Jersey City schools in 1989—and any number of things can derail the path to success: The state could misdiagnose the city’s problems, set impractical deadlines, or look to the wrong experts. But one of the biggest potential pitfalls for a state takeover is the failure to involve the community in the plan. Although Raimondo is, according to one poll, the least popular governor in the country, when it comes to the Providence takeover, she has received significant support from political leaders and top educators. The mayor of Providence announced that he supported the takeover; so did the city council, the school board, and the district superintendent. In his book on school takeovers, Morel calls these kinds of situations “cohesive state-local regimes,” where there is a strong relationship between the governor and the mayor of the city being taken over. Typically, these leaders are members of the same party. “The signals that are sent to the community [by this type of agreement] are that this is not going to be the same type of intervention that we’ve seen in other places,” Morel told me.But students, parents, and advocates in Providence still have concerns that they may not have a formal role in the process. That disconnect between the community and those conducting a takeover, the ever-present danger of an us versus them mentality, can quickly hamper the effort. In Little Rock, Arkansas, for example, that sort of divide between state officials and the community over a recent school takeover has resulted in tense, passionate meetings and protests. The community doesn’t seem to have many objections to the takeover itself in Providence—so much attention has been paid to the state of the schools that most agree something needs to be done—but citizens do want some say in how the takeover will be conducted.“Nothing about us, without us, is for us,” Elliot Rivera, the executive director of Youth In Action, a student advocacy organization, told me. The students who were a part of the organization, he said, had been vocal about the issues in the school system for years, and with the announcement of the takeover, the government was naming those same things as problems it wanted to fix. It was an opportune time: “Let’s work together to come up with solutions that feel equitable for all of us.”[Read: An attempt to resegregate Little Rock, of all places.]So in September, a group of organizations, including Youth in Action, filed a petition for a formal role in the creation of the takeover plan. The state ultimately denied the petition, but Infante-Green stressed to me that community members would have “official roles” in the plan, though it’s not yet clear exactly how. Last week, Infante-Green released the details of her takeover plan. She has selected a superintendent to lead the turnaround effort, but she wrote that she will “afford students and parents sufficient opportunity to measure the progress of the plan, [and] afford relevant stakeholders, including students and parents, sufficient mechanisms to express their opinion on material decisions.”When I spoke with Governor Raimondo, she wanted to stress that community involvement will be paramount to the success of the takeover. “If we come up with some turnaround plan from on high and try to impose it on the community, that won’t work,” she told me. “That’s true of most things. Everything I’ve done as governor that’s been successful has been very bottom-up.”The state has given itself a five-year timetable for the plan, and the margin for error is large. As Emily Richmond wrote in The Atlantic, there’s a fundamental tension at the heart of school reform efforts: “It’s not a question of who’s in charge but what they do with that authority once they have it.” In the introduction of the 1993 report, Edward D. Eddy, the chair of the commission, closed with optimism. The schools could improve, he wrote: “Yes, it can happen here.” But it has not happened yet. Everyone hopes it’s still possible.
2019-10-29 15:56:10
2021-05-08T10:24:54.000000
2 y
theatlantic.com
As the Strike Approached in Chicago, Teachers Taught Labor
As the strike vote got closer, Anna Lane realized that she was going to have to throw out her lesson plan. Lane, a history and civics teacher at Kelly High School, in Chicago’s Brighton Park neighborhood, was in the middle of teaching a unit about how the city funds public-education initiatives. But as labor negotiations between the Chicago Teachers Union (CTU) and Chicago Public Schools (CPS) started to make the local news last month, Lane’s students began asking questions that her original syllabus didn’t cover.CPS and Chicago’s mayor, Lori Lightfoot, had publicly questioned why the union was fighting so hard for a raise, and at Kelly, Lane heard comments from students that the potential strike was just about money. “As a teacher, you know, that’s going to make you want to address the issue,” said Lane, who is a member of the CTU’s Latinx caucus. “So I asked the kids, ‘Do you want to know what we’re fighting about?’” They were interested, so in a day and a half, Lane put together a lesson plan that covered the history of the modern labor movement, including 40-hour workweeks and child-labor laws. Shortly afterward, the CTU voted to authorize a strike the following month, the second time it has done so in the past decade (the first was a far-reaching week-long action in 2012).[Read: America’s teachers are furious]The current strike is now in its eighth day of negotiations, and encompasses both the CTU and the Service Employees International Union 73, which represents the classroom aides, custodians, and other workers who keep the city’s school system—serving some 361,000 students—running. Those two unions together represent about 35,000 workers, tens of thousands of whom have been picketing this week outside their schools and flooding Chicago’s downtown center. The CTU is arguing for higher pay to keep up with Chicago’s mounting cost of living, alongside a long list of other requests, including smaller class sizes, more school nurses and librarians, funding for bilingual education, and access to affordable housing for teachers and their students, an estimated 16,450 of whom are homeless.The city contends that the teachers are asking for more than the city can afford, and Lane says she printed out and used some of CPS management’s emails as “primary-source documents” to teach labor history and illuminate both sides of the struggle. (A CPS spokesperson said the district sent out an email to families the day before the strike noting the deal that management was offering, in addition to issuing other updates about the strike; the leaders of individual schools may have sent out their own messages in some cases.) Lane also showed video clips summarizing both parties’ points of view, explained what the teachers were fighting for, and answered students’ more pressing concerns, such as whether they’d have to make up any strike-canceled days at the end of the school year. So far, CPS says they won’t.Younger grade levels, meanwhile, don’t get quite as comprehensive an education in labor policy. But even in elementary school, Lane says the strike comes up in the classroom: Friends of hers who teach in lower grade levels told her that they spent time before the strike deadline reading aloud children’s books on labor issues.Les Plewa, a teacher at Taft Freshman Academy, started teaching the strike in his civics classes two days before the strike deadline. Like Lane, Plewa says he wanted to present enough information to enable his students to come to their own position on the strike. The day before the strike, Plewa says, a student who doesn’t normally talk much came up to him and said he really enjoys the class, something Plewa thinks was prompted by his breaking down the strike and the issues behind it. “Sometimes the public doesn’t realize the effort teachers put in in terms of helping students understand,” he says.Plewa also thinks it’s important to give students some perspective on “what other districts have in terms of resources—the students can’t understand what they’re missing if they don’t know about it.”For example, Karen Zaccor, who teaches science at Uplift Community High School, in Uptown, says she brought up in a class discussion that the school hasn’t had a librarian in several years. She said that in conversations about the strike, many students were able to grasp some of the sharpest perceived injustices in the system, such as the pay discrepancies between teachers and special-education classroom aides. (In Lane’s class, sports funding and building repairs—most of her school’s campus was built in 1932—were issues that students immediately connected with.)To Zaccor, the strike is a teachable moment. “I think it’s sort of illustrative for them to see [that] you always start by talking, by trying to work things out, but if you’re fighting for justice, sometimes you have to take things to another level,” she told me.Some lessons have landed so well that many students have opted to continue their education outside of the classroom. Lane, Zaccor, and Plewa all say students from their classes have joined them on the picket lines; Lane says one student, a band leader, has even organized a group of classmates to play music during the big downtown rallies. “Since the first day, there’s been quite a few students who have showed up for me and have showed up for other teachers,” Lane said. “This is a community action as well.”In fact, her students were already familiar with direct civic action: The unit she’d paused to teach labor history had students writing letters to Mayor Lightfoot outlining their views on how the city should spend taxpayer money, and other classes included trips to city budget hearings and a student-run press conference on bilingual education programs.CPS canceled class on Thursday, for the fifth school day in a row. The CTU says that the two sides are making progress at the bargaining table, but are still fighting over contract language that enforces smaller class sizes and adds staff. “Yeah, I’d rather be teaching today, but I also teach history, and I know the importance of having to take an action,” Plewa told me on Monday. When he and his colleagues get back in the classroom, they’ll have another chapter in the country’s history of organized labor to teach.
2019-10-24 22:12:59
2021-05-08T10:24:54.000000
2 y
theatlantic.com
An Attempt to Resegregate Little Rock, of All Places
LITTLE ROCK, Ark.—When Diane Zook, the chair of Arkansas’ State Board of Education, banged her gavel to bring the afternoon meeting into order on October 10, every seat in the cramped boardroom was filled. Nearly every inch of paint on the wall had been covered by a body before the fire marshal, concerned about capacity, ushered those standing out of the room. The crowd spilled into the overflow areas in a wave. Sixty-two years after the world watched Little Rock struggle to desegregate its schools, history seemed to be repeating itself.Nearly five years ago, in January 2015, the state of Arkansas assumed control of Little Rock’s public schools. At the time, six of the schools in the district had “chronically underperformed” on state exams regularly for several years; 22 superintendents had passed through the district in 32 years, creating a sense of instability. The state gives a letter-grade assessment to every public school, which is based on a combination of state-exam results and other metrics, such as graduation rates. Because of that instability, and the handful of ‘F’-rated schools, the state believed the best way to steady the district was to take it over.Legally, the state can take over a school district for a maximum of five years. For Little Rock, that deadline is rapidly approaching. To prepare, the state board came up with a plan that would return limited local control to Little Rock School District. The community would hold elections for a local school board, but the newly elected board would only be responsible for the schools that had not received an ‘F’ grade. The “failing” schools, which all have high minority populations, would still be under state control. The board’s plan would effectively divide the district by race.It was a shockingly brazen proposal in the town that holds a rarified place in the collective national memory over the fight for school integration. Less than a lifetime ago, the desegregation of Little Rock’s Central High School became a nationwide story. On September 4, 1957, three years after the Supreme Court ruled in Brown v. Board of Education that separate facilities were inherently unequal, nine black students attempting to integrate Central High School were met by a mob, and the state National Guard. Governor Orval Faubus had declared a state of emergency and deployed troops to block the students’ entrance. In response, President Dwight Eisenhower ordered federal troops into the city to keep the peace and ensure desegregation. And now, in 2019, the state had proposed a plan that many residents argued amounted to an attempt to codify separate and unequal schools in the city.[Read: How segregation has persisted in Little Rock]School districts across the country have been resegregating. The number of students attending intensely segregated schools—those where 90 percent or more of students are nonwhite—has more than tripled since 1988, according to a 2019 report from the UCLA Civil Rights Project. “Segregation is expanding in almost all regions of the country,” Gary Orfield, a UCLA professor who led the study, said in a release. “Little has been done for a generation.” But the fact that resegregation was on the table here in Little Rock, where the struggle for integration is such an iconic part of the city’s history, makes that fact strikingly clear.Just before Zook gaveled the October meeting into order, I turned to an employee who had worked at the State Board of Education for three years. “Is it usually this packed?” I asked him. He laughed, and told me that there were typically about 20 people at state-board meetings, a far cry from the more than 100 bodies packed into the room and the untold more gathered outside. Then he pointed to the bottom of an agenda sheet. “Those four items,” he said—a discussion of the state of Little Rock’s schools, their ratings, the plan for how they would be governed, and what that governance would look like—“that’s why all these people are here.” The question of school integration had mobilized Little Rock 62 years ago; the same question, 62 years later, had mobilized it in the opposite direction.The tensions over the desegregation of public schools in Little Rock did not leave when the news cameras did. Official desegregation and actual integration are fundamentally different things, and the latter became more difficult as the makeup of the city began to change. Residential segregation in the city has intensified since the ’50s, as white families have fled the majority-black south and southwest parts of the city for North Little Rock. Locals note the divide at I-630. The schools north of that road tend to have more resources and more white students, and fare better on state assessments. The schools that are south of it tend to have more black students, and score lower on the state ratings.As Alana Semuels wrote for The Atlantic in 2016, the fight over segregation in Little Rock’s public-school system looks different now than it did in 1957. It’s not a question of whether students of different races can go to school with one another, but whether they ever will. “What’s stunning about today’s methods of avoiding integration is that they are, by and large, legal, but they nevertheless leave black students stuck in schools that are separate and unequal,” Semuels wrote. The students south of I-630 are still left with less.Then, in 2014, Little Rock elected a majority-black school board for the first time. It made sense; at the time, two out of every three students in the Little Rock School District were black, according to a University of Arkansas database. And the two newly elected school-board members had focused their campaigns on addressing the district’s inequality. But before they had a chance to do so, the local board’s power was taken away. A few months after the election, on January 28, 2015, the Arkansas State Board of Education voted to take control of the Little Rock School District.“They believed that the state could offer some more stability and bring some more healing to the Little Rock School District,” Anika Whitfield, one of the co-chairs of the education advocacy organization Grassroots Arkansas, told me. With the takeover, the argument for local control of public schools had been turned on its head. Typically, conservatives argue that more local control is better—but here, a conservative-led state board was advocating for top-down intervention.But stability did not follow. “Within the first year of the takeover, we had four superintendents,” Whitfield said. When the state took over the district, six schools were failing its assessment; the state’s 2019 data show that eight now are. After nearly five years, the state had not accomplished the fundamental goals of the takeover. Some residents of Little Rock were frustrated, but there was little they could do. When a locally elected school board is failing, members of the community can vote them out, Ali Noland, a parent in the district, told me. But when the school board consists of state-appointed officials, the same oversight is not possible. The relative feeling of powerlessness unified the community, Noland and other parents, elected officials, and advocates I spoke with told me. Black, brown, and white parents—wealthy and low-income families—all coalesced around the idea that they should have local control of their public schools.Then at a special board meeting in September of this year, as the five-year deadline to relinquish control of the schools from the state’s hands was approaching, the state board released its plan to return some control to the district. The plan created a tiered system. Schools that were rated as failing would operate under “different leadership” from the rest of the schools in the district, though it was unclear what exactly that meant. Only the top-rated schools in the district would be led by an elected school board. Each of the ‘F’-rated schools, save for one, was south of I-630.[Read: Is school desegregation coming to an end?]The plan had been kept secret until the morning of the meeting, and advocates were furious. “We deserve one district, not a three-tiered district, not a segregated district, not a district with two leaderships," Vicki Hatter, a Little Rock–district parent, told the Associated Press. “We deserve one district, one full district, and a duly elected school board.”Mayor Frank Scott Jr., the first elected black mayor of Little Rock, stepped in with a compromise: a way out of seemingly indefinite state control, and out of the tiered system the state board was proposing. He suggested a transition period to complete local control. Under Scott’s plan, a temporary board consisting of both state and city officials would oversee the entire district from January 2020 until November 2020, when a school-board election would be held; at that point, the locally elected board would reassume control of the district. Crucially, the temporary board would not be allowed to make any “consequential decisions,” Scott told me.Arkansas Governor Asa Hutchinson appreciated the mayor’s input, and noted that a change to the plan the board had proposed was not off the table. Johnny Key, the state’s education secretary, said he believed the mayor’s proposal to be a “thoughtful approach to a very difficult issue.” But several advocates believed that it did not return the district to local control fast enough.At the state board’s October meeting, both Scott’s plan and the state’s plan were on the agenda. “The decisions that they’re making are concerning the futures of our most precious assets—and that’s the students of our school district,” Scott told me the day before the meeting. Judging by the overflowing crowd that showed up, the community agreed on the stakes.The night before the board meeting, more than 2,000 people gathered outside Central High School for a candlelight vigil. Organizers had brought 1,000 candles, but quickly ran out. They sang, chanted, and swayed. Videos of the event went viral on Twitter.Inside the boardroom the next day, the air-conditioning fought against the number of people in the room, many of them wearing red shirts reading We Support #OneLRSD or The Second Little Rock Crisis. After a lengthy presentation about the condition of some of Little Rock’s failing schools and a brief discussion of Mayor Scott’s plan, Chad Pekron, a lawyer whom Hutchinson had appointed to the state board in July, began to speak. Before the public-comment portion of the meeting, Pekron wanted to address the state board’s proposal for a tiered school district.“There’s a significant role for the state to play in the schools, and in other schools in the state,” Pekron said, explaining that the state is obligated to ensure that schools within its borders are “equitable and adequate” under the law. He spoke slowly and reservedly; this seemed to have been weighing on him. “I don’t think we can accomplish what we want to for students as long as it’s this going on,” he said. “It’s us versus you. That’s not going to help the students.” So he offered a motion: To return the district to unified local control “under a framework of state support for the schools that really need it.” The audience applauded as Zook banged her gavel for order, but the cheering was tentative. Pekron’s proposal sounded like a gesture toward goodwill with the community, but it was also confusing. What did “state support” really mean, for instance?What exactly the new plan would look like, and how much the community would be involved in its implementation, was still up for debate. For the next hour, advocates, teachers, parents, and politicians stood to deliver comments. Many people said Pekron’s motion seemed to address most of their concerns. The motion passed unanimously, and when it did, there was a pause in the room followed by more hesitant clapping. The plan was, at least, a step back from the one that would have segregated the district. But there had been little assurance that residents’ voices would be heard in conversations about transitioning control of the school district back to the community.As quickly as some goodwill had been gained by Pekron’s motion, though, it was lost. The board’s next agenda item was a surprise motion that had been tabled at the previous board meeting. As the September meeting was winding to a close, Sarah Moore, one of the state-board members, had offered a motion to derecognize the teachers’ union, the Little Rock Education Association. It was the kind of consequential decision that Mayor Scott’s plan would theoretically have blocked, and the kind that local residents were concerned the board would continue to make under the tiered system.The tabled motion was brought back to life at the October meeting, and the board pressed ahead with it as the audience shouted protests that the members had not heard public comment on the matter. Zook ordered a vote to derecognize the teachers’ union as the bargaining entity for the school district. One by one, each board member voted yes. The room was a swirl of anger and confusion. Just like that, any sense that the community and the board were on the same page was gone. As the next agenda item was raised, about personnel-policy committees, Ali Noland used her scheduled public-comment time to speak on the teachers’ union instead.“You just ceased recognition of the LREA without any additional public comment,” Noland said, “and without explaining to anyone in this community why this is not an issue that can be left to be decided by a democratically elected school board.” Zook said that a decision about the union needed to be made by the end of the month. But that explanation didn’t satisfy Noland. “Please explain to the press and the public why you are taking these actions,” she continued.Zook paused for a moment. Then she moved on to the next issue on the agenda. “Shame!” a member of the audience exclaimed, and then another. Zook summoned the police to the front of the room.“Somebody have some integrity,” someone said.“This is absolutely shameful,” another man said as he left the room.Zook gaveled as the crowd began to jeer at the board. “I have some new business if—” Zook was cut off. She paused.“We are your business,” someone yelled.“This meeting is adjourned,” Zook said, as the crowd erupted. For a full minute they stood and chanted, “Shame. Shame. Shame. Shame.” People began filing out of the auditorium. The board members packed up. Cameramen moved in to get a better shot.Suffice it to say the rift between the state board and residents of Little Rock was not mended during the October meeting, and the future of the school district is unclear. What is clear is that once again, the city of Little Rock has found itself in the middle of a national struggle over school segregation. But this time, the angry demonstrators are fighting for things to be fair.
2019-10-22 13:00:00
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theatlantic.com
Why Is America So Obsessed With Ivy League Schools?
We know that elite colleges aren’t the only pathway to elite careers. Yet many parents will stop at nothing to gain their children admission to these highly selective institutions. In a new episode of The Idea File, the Atlantic staff writer Adam Harris investigates the American fixation on Ivy League colleges that led to the Varsity Blues college-admissions scandal. Harris also reveals who really suffers from the hysteria of the college-admissions process, with its attendant misconduct as families try to game the system.
2019-10-17 17:33:00
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theatlantic.com
The College-Admissions Scandal Was Better Than a Movie
When the Varsity Blues college-admissions scandal came to light earlier this year, its dramatic details captured the nation's attention. In March, dozens of wealthy parents, including bankers, CEOs, and movie stars, were charged by federal prosecutors for taking part in a fraudulent scheme to effectively buy their children a place at some of the nation’s top colleges. There was money, fame, deception—it only made sense that, eventually, the seemingly made-for-television drama of it all would actually be made for television.Lifetime, perhaps best known for happy-ending-heavy holiday programming, was the channel that fulfilled this near-inevitability. On Saturday, the station premiered its dramatization of the scandal, a two-hour movie called The College Admissions Scandal. The real-life scandal arguably could not have been scripted better—no one expected the parents to Photoshop their kids’ heads onto the bodies of water-polo players to make them look like athletes—and Lifetime didn’t try too hard to deviate from it. But in sticking to the drama, the producers and writers obscured a deeper, much more pressing problem with college admissions.[Read: The college admissions scandal and the warped fantasy of the American scam.]The film follows two fictional families angling to get their children into prestigious colleges. One set of parents is fixated on Stanford, where Danny, their son, stands a good chance of getting in: He is a “double legacy,” his dad boasts, meaning both of his parents went to the university. An acceptance letter is, at least according to his parents, his birthright.Getting into Stanford won’t be easy, though, and Danny’s parents know it; they fret over his GPA and SAT score even more than Danny himself does. Stanford is one of those highly selective institutions that seems to get more selective each year. (The annual release of its admit numbers became such a spectacle that the university, in 2018, announced that it would no longer issue news releases about the data.)But then something comes along that might save Danny from those daunting admissions numbers. When a group of parents is gathered over coffee, engaged in an anxious conversation about their children and college, one mom mentions the name Rick Singer.Singer is one of the figures Lifetime dragged and dropped—name and all—into the movie from the actual Varsity Blues scandal. In real life, Singer orchestrated schemes to fabricate test scores and exaggerate students’ athletic abilities to get them admitted to selective colleges through “side doors”—such as those reserved for athletes—for a hefty price. The fictional Singer is not much different. He’s a master salesman in the film, convincing parents that he can discreetly provide them with a crucial admissions nudge.[Read: A scandal fit for a win-at-all-costs society.]The College Admissions Scandal also runs with the notion, backed up by the federal investigation, that overbearing parents, not their children, were the ones instigating the deception. At one point in the film, a mother persuades her daughter to take photos in front of a green screen to make it seem like she’s really a soccer player, as her application indicates. “It seems so easy—I’m surprised everybody doesn’t do it,” the daughter says, almost gleefully, before posing for the pictures. (Her mom replies that, well, not everybody has a quarter of a million dollars to spare.)Other children in the movie are unaware of their parents’ machinations. In this regard, the film also hews closely to reality. In the transcript of one conversation released from the Varsity Blues investigation, one parent, who’s worried that her daughter will get suspicious, asks Singer, “How do you do this without telling the kids what you’re doing?” “Oh, in most cases,” Singer assures the parent, “none of the kids know.”In telling this tale, The College Admissions Scandal frequently leaps ahead in time, fast-forwarding to the most dramatic points of what was otherwise a more drawn-out disaster for the families involved. One jump takes viewers to the testing rooms for students granted extra time on the SAT—securing additional time for students, even if they didn’t really need it, was a central part of Singer’s real-life cheating operation. There are jumps to the moments of bliss: One student gets into Yale, and another gets into Stanford. And of course there is a jump to the point in time when all the wrongdoing comes to light, with scenes of flashing police sirens and children fuming at parents.[Read: Elite college admissions are broken.]But through this predictable narrative arc, there is an omission—one that, admittedly, would bother a film critic less than it does an education reporter. Just like most media coverage of the Varsity Blues scandal, The College Admissions Scandal dwells almost entirely on the misfortunes of a small group of affluent families. This focus obscures the fact that college admissions have substantive, systemic problems that will not end with a little jail time and fines for those trying to cheat their way in; there remain big, unanswered questions about why colleges don’t enroll more low-income and minority students, whether they could put the billions they have in endowment funds to better use, and whether the most selective schools should just let more people in.But the film, perhaps predictably, leaves the system itself unexamined. Occasionally, the unfairnesses of it are addressed in a surface-level way: There are numerous references to the edge that students get if they are athletes, legacies, or the offspring of someone who can sponsor the construction of a building on campus. But The College Admissions Scandal never goes deeper than that. In life and in art, people eagerly watch as some are caught cheating in a broken system, but take less of an interest in how that system might be fixed.
2019-10-16 17:00:58
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theatlantic.com
Every Child Can Become a Lover of Books
Editor’s Note: In the next five years, most of America’s most experienced teachers will retire. The Baby Boomers are leaving behind a nation of more novice educators. In 1988, a teacher most commonly had 15 years of experience. Less than three decades later, that number had fallen to just three years leading a classroom. The Atlantic’s “On Teaching” project is crisscrossing the country to talk to veteran educators. This story is the eighth in our series. When Michelle Martin thinks back on her teaching career, she identifies its starting point as second grade—not when her students were second graders, but when she was. Earlier this year, sitting in her office full of children’s books at the University of Washington, Martin told me that her first pupil was a classmate, a little girl whose family had moved into Martin’s neighborhood in Columbia, South Carolina, and who “had had a turbulent childhood.” Upon noting that her classmate was having trouble reading, Martin simply told their teacher not to worry—she’d take care of it. Martin remembers few specifics of the exact teaching strategy she used, but says her teacher later remarked to Martin’s mother, “She taught that child to read!”Decades later, as a professor who specializes in children’s library services at the Information School at the University of Washington, Martin is still turning children into readers, and her mission has expanded to educating teachers and librarians about how to make students of all backgrounds eager to explore books.Martin’s day job is teaching graduate students, most of them future librarians, about children’s and young-adult literature. (Her professorship is named for the librarian turned beloved children’s-book author Beverly Cleary.) Martin’s philosophy is that all children can become lovers of books, but that it’s an educator’s job to help them find the stories in which they can see or imagine themselves. In 2017, a study published by the American Library Association indicated that in the United States, some 87 percent of librarians were white. The pool of American teachers, meanwhile, is about 80 percent white, and children’s literature as a genre is also overwhelmingly written by, and about, white people. Yet only half of American children are white—and Martin has taken note over the years of the ways in which the whiteness of school libraries and classroom book collections can alienate students of color, resulting in missed opportunities to foster a love of reading.So Martin co-founded Camp Read-a-Rama, a summer program that started in South Carolina and then moved with her when she relocated to Washington. She’s also a trusted resource for librarians, teaching them how to incorporate books by and about people of color into their libraries and story times.Despite the ultimate shape of her career trajectory, Martin says she spent a good chunk of time resisting the idea of becoming an educator. Her parents and grandmother were teachers, and Martin was hesitant to do anything she felt might just be mindlessly falling in line. But she ended up teaching anyway: After graduating from college as an English major in 1988, she wanted a break from school before pursuing a Ph.D., and she found a job as an outdoor educator near California’s Sequoia National Forest.Upon accepting the role, “I had to do a little bit of PR work with my mother,” Martin remembers. “She was like, ‘Black people have been trying to get out of the woods for [generations]!’” But Martin fell in love with outdoor education. She taught kids about animal life cycles and the night sky, having them write haiku out on the trail and learn songs Martin herself had written about how to identify different kinds of animal poop. After two years, Martin left and got a master’s in outdoor education. She spent the next two years working as a naturalist in South Carolina’s Sesquicentennial State Park, 10 minutes from where she grew up.Martin returned to school to earn her Ph.D. in children’s literature in 1993. She began her classroom teaching career four years later and eventually ended up at Clemson University, a move she welcomed because it meant living in her home state of South Carolina. (Martin taught at Clemson for 12 years before taking on her current role at the University of Washington in 2016.) At Clemson, she told Rachelle D. Washington, an education professor she’d befriended, “about this idea I had of taking my [outdoor education] passion and my children’s-lit passion and putting them together,” Martin told me. “And she said, ‘Let’s do it.’” In 2009, they launched Camp Read-a-Rama.Camp Read-a-Rama has been held in libraries, churches, schools, and affordable-housing complexes for formerly homeless families; Martin aims to “find the kids who really need to be there, and make sure that they can afford camp.” Kids who attend also get books to take home, as research has demonstrated how important it is to childhood literacy to have a home library.Often, local teachers who hear about the program reach out to Martin to recommend particular students who could benefit from attending. But kids who need the extra help, she added, are everywhere. Several years ago, when the camp was still in South Carolina, she pulled into her driveway on a 100-degree day while some workers were repairing her roof. “I heard, ‘Papa, Papa! Can I get out of the truck?’” Martin remembered. A little boy was waiting in the car, and when Martin approached, he told her his grandpa was on the roof. “Papa and Grandma were raising him, Dad was in jail, and they couldn’t afford child care. So Papa had to take him to work.” Martin had him at Camp Read-a-Rama the following Monday.Martin emphasized that what she and her staff teach at Camp Read-a-Rama is less reading and more the enjoyment of reading. In Martin’s experience, reading becomes a more appealing prospect to kids when “you put them in an immersive environment where they’re surrounded by books that they like,” she said. “You’ve got a book that all of a sudden becomes an activity: You read about the wet dog, and then you’re acting it out on the stage, or you’re outside splashing around just like the wet dog did, for example.” Martin refers to this approach as “reducing the distance between books and life.”Lauren Rizzuto, a former student and research assistant of Martin’s at Clemson, worked with Camp Read-a-Rama in its early stages, an experience that informs how she teaches now as an adjunct professor of children’s literature at Simmons University in Boston. “I kept a lot of that hands-on experience in mind when I was designing my course so that it wouldn’t be purely reading books in a vacuum,” she said.In addition to teaching children and graduate students, Martin routinely advises librarians who want their libraries to better serve children and families of color. She has seen firsthand what she considers to be an ideal library setup: On a recent visit to Australia, she visited a library and was greeted by “rows and rows and rows of [books in] all the languages of the people who would be visiting that library—videos, magazines, from all these different countries,” as well as in the indigenous languages of the aboriginal people of the area. “What a welcome, you know?” she recalled. “Structurally, it’s already saying, You belong here.”But Martin thinks it’s important not just to have books that feature people who look and sound like their young readers, but to teach those books, too. To make this point, she is fond of reading books to librarians, such as Derrick Barnes and Gordon C. James’s Crown: An Ode to the Fresh Cut, a children’s book about the power of an artful barbershop haircut to boost self-esteem, with illustrations that star young black boys. She tells the librarians, “You might not know from experience [what some of the haircuts are], and some of the kids might not know, but you can do your homework and find out.” It’s okay, Martin adds in her workshops, for white educators to admit to kids that they’re not familiar with certain things that might come up in books for diverse readers. “You can learn from kids,” she said, “and they can teach you a lot of stuff, if you’re willing to listen.”[Read: Where is the black Blueberries for Sal?]Martin says participants in these workshops often tell her afterward that she got them thinking for the first time about how certain books might resonate differently, or fail to resonate at all, with kids of various backgrounds. Rizzuto, too, counts this among the key lessons she’s learned from Martin: “She showed me that childhood doesn’t look the same across cultures, classes, or races.”When Martin isn’t teaching in a classroom (or writing children’s-book reviews in her office), she’s often swimming, biking, or hiking. She continues to mentor kids from diverse backgrounds in the outdoors, leading a troop of Girl Scouts (most of whom are girls of color) and doing “Girl Scout stuff” such as hiking and camping with her own daughter, who’s 16 and extending a matrilineal line of Scouts into its fourth generation.The field of nature conservation—like the fields of librarianship and children’s literature—is overwhelmingly white. “Michelle was one of the first black people I met who understood what I was doing and what my passion was,” said J. Drew Lanham, an ornithologist at Clemson who is black and a friend of Martin’s. Lanham spoke highly of Martin’s career-long passion for exposing kids of color to the outdoors, noting that this exposure is good for environmentalism, too, since it can foster a lasting love of nature and win over more converts to the cause.What Lanham has seen Martin do outdoors is what many of her colleagues and students have seen her do at Camp Read-a-Rama and in her classrooms and workshops: enable kids to venture into any space—be it a library or a classroom or a mountain preserve—and feel empowered to explore.This article is part of our project “On Teaching,” which is supported by grants from the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation, the Spencer Foundation, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, and the Panta Rhea Foundation.
2019-10-15 17:45:05
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theatlantic.com
The Contradiction at the Heart of Public Education
Over the summer, an education panel convened by Bill de Blasio put New York City’s mayor in a bind: It recommended dismantling much of the city’s programming for gifted students in order to advance integration.Hizzoner is known for his charged progressive rhetoric about ending inequality, but the proposal would compel him to stop talking and take on the thousands of families who like special academic offerings for their high-performing children. The panel argues in its report that the system serves to segregate by race, income, and language, and to “perpetuate stereotypes about student potential and achievement.” The panel would institute a moratorium on new gifted-and-talented programs, phase out existing programs, end the use of middle-school entrance criteria (such as grades, test scores, behavior, and lateness), and fundamentally alter high-school admissions practices. The panel would instead prioritize schoolwide enrichment programs so a diverse student body could learn together under one roof.The recommendations were met by swift opposition from several city leaders, who defended programs for precocious children while acknowledging the imbalance in program enrollment. As for the mayor: He was conspicuously noncommittal in response to the panel of his administration’s own creation.It would be easy to suggest that de Blasio—in Irving Kristol’s memorable language—is just another liberal mugged by reality. This story, however, represents more than a clash between one ambitious politician’s progressive aspirations and the educational equivalent of realpolitik. Whether America’s public-education system should give special attention to especially high-achieving students is a question that perpetually bedevils policy makers. It forces them to grapple with issues as fundamental as the meaning of equality and opportunity and the purpose of public schooling.Gifted education puts in tension two equally compelling strands of American thought. On the one hand, Americans are egalitarian: We resent unearned privilege, and we intuit that public schools ought to be where very different young people come together to prepare for an equal shot at the American dream. On the other hand, Americans believe in individualism: We appreciate that different people with different aptitudes and ambitions will accomplish different things. We want to cultivate special gifts so each of us can be our very best.In the early days of American public education, a premium was placed on equality and standardization. For example, in the 19th century, it was paramount that we enabled all kids to become literate regardless of whether they could afford boarding schools and tutors. In the decades to come, as more and more immigrants reached our shores, our schools were handed the duty of advancing acculturation and assimilation.Many state constitutions, in fact, have language prioritizing commonality, equality, and/or uniformity in the provision of public education. Arizona, North Carolina, South Dakota, and Washington mandate a “general and uniform” system; Colorado, a “thorough and uniform” system; Idaho, a “general, uniform and thorough system.” California requires a “system of common schools”; Nevada, a “uniform system of common schools”; Indiana and Minnesota, a “general and uniform system of Common Schools”; Kentucky, an “efficient system of common schools.”The focus on equality is not a relic of the early republic, of course. Over the past several generations, the most high-profile reform efforts have sought to create a more level playing field for groups of historically underserved students, including African Americans, girls, children of immigrants, English-language learners, and students with special needs. The court cases related to school desegregation and busing, the passage of Title IX, and rules related to special education all promoted an equality agenda.When I started working in the modern education-reform movement about two decades ago, virtually all our efforts were intended to help the most disadvantaged students. (Over the years, I helped found a charter school for low-income kids, was involved in the early days of two education advocacy organizations, and worked on education policy for a state legislature, a member of Congress, the White House, the U.S. Department of Education, a state department of education, and a state board of education.) Vouchers offered expanded options to low-income students assigned to failing schools. Teach for America prepared sharp recent college graduates for teaching jobs in disadvantaged communities. School-finance lawsuits aimed to direct more dollars to low-income schools. Charter schools became an engine for starting high-performing, high-poverty schools, especially in urban America. The No Child Left Behind Act aspired to get all students up to proficiency in reading and math and to close the achievement gap.Agree or disagree with the strategies used, such initiatives were similarly motivated by the impulse to treat public education as a leveling force. In hindsight, it is striking how little discussion we had in the reform community about how these efforts did or did not address the needs of kids who were excelling, or how these initiatives were landing on non-disadvantaged communities—places where parents liked things just as they were.That lack of self-reflection led to a decade of humbling for reformers: the sudden emergence of the “opt-out” movement against testing; the political backlash against No Child Left Behind, teacher-evaluation reform, and Common Core; and the painful realization that the passionate but imprudent college-for-all mind-set devalued non-college paths into the workforce and contributed to gobsmacking levels of student debt. These examples should have revealed to the sometimes self-certain reform community that, because public education is a democratic enterprise, an education-policy agenda should address the needs and interests of all families. Put more bluntly, reformers should be able to give a convincing answer to the question, “What does your plan have to offer my child?” no matter who asks.For entirely too long, policy has been incapable of addressing that question when posed by the parents of high-performing kids.Unlike in other important education areas, the federal government, as reported by the National Association for Gifted Children (NAGC), “does not provide guidance or have requirements for gifted services.” Uncle Sam’s sole dedicated gifted program, the Jacob K. Javits Gifted and Talented Students Education Program, was appropriated just $12 million in 2019. The federal government’s Title I, Part A program, which provides funding to districts for low-income students, was appropriated nearly $16 billion in 2019.As a result, high-achieving students depend on state and local policy and practice. But a 2015 study by NAGC and the Council of State Directors of Programs for the Gifted (CSDPG) highlighted the “lack of centralized data collection, measurement, and accountability to systematically monitor and improve the service of students with gifts, talents, and unidentified potential in our public schools.” The report found that “many states lack basic data about gifted students and teachers around which quality programs can be built.” So although the federal government estimates that about 6 percent of students are in gifted-and-talented programs, it’s not clear what to make of that number.Of the 40 states responding to the NAGC/CSDPG survey, 32 reported some kind of state-level mandate on identifying or serving gifted students. Worse, only 17 states require that gifted services be provided in all K–12 grades. Four states only required that gifted students be identified—with no requirement to serve them. Twelve states reported no state funding to districts for gifted education. In fact, more than half of the states had less than one full-time staff member devoted to gifted education (state departments of education typically have hundreds of employees).Gifted education simply isn’t a priority in this country. A 2016 study found that states’ education-accountability systems “provide schools with few incentives to focus on their high-achieving students.” The report only deemed four states “praiseworthy” along these lines. A 2017 study assessing whether states had used new federal flexibility to alter their accountability systems found that fewer than half of the states had “strong” systems for “signaling that all students matter, not just low-performers.”In the 2012 book Exam Schools, Chester Finn and Jessica Hockett found only 165 selective-admissions public high schools in the entire nation (out of the roughly 24,000 public secondary schools in America). These schools served about 1 percent of the total high-school population, and 20 states didn’t even have one such school. A 2007 report by the Johns Hopkins University Center for Talented Youth (CTY) found that although ability grouping has been shown to be an effective way of meeting the needs of gifted students, only about half of the students participating in CTY’s talent-search program reported being grouped in this way at any time during elementary or middle school. A study on how high-achieving students fared during the No Child Left Behind era found that, when asked who is likeliest to get one-on-one attention from teachers, 81 percent of teachers said “struggling students.” Only 5 percent said “advanced students.”There are a number of philanthropically funded initiatives for gifted students, such as the Jack Kent Cooke Foundation’s Young Scholars Program for high-performing seventh graders with financial needs. And parents with means can send their children to elite private schools. The question, though, is whether we ought to invest serious public funding in gifted students through the public-education system.These are, after all, kids with special needs of a sort; their parents vote; and the nation could benefit mightily from the purposeful fostering of their talents. It’s not as though our standard operating procedure is succeeding wildly. A study from 2010 found that the percentage of U.S. high-achieving math students was “shockingly below those of many of the world’s leading industrialized nations.” Indeed, 30 of the 56 other countries that participated in a respected international math assessment had a larger percentage of students scoring at an advanced level. Only 3 percent of U.S. 12th graders reached the advanced level on the latest administration of the math portion of the National Assessment of Educational Progress; only 6 percent did so in reading. A 2007 report focused on disadvantaged kids found that they are more likely to fall from the ranks of high-achieving students over the course of their school careers, and that they rarely rise into the ranks of high achievers.Gifted education gets short shrift in part because some believe that other education issues are simply more important and see efforts to advance gifted education as inhibiting those priorities. For example, the panel that made New York City’s provocative recommendations was actually called the School Diversity Advisory Group. No surprise, the panelists approached gifted education primarily through the lens of integration.And no doubt, there is a moral case to be made for focusing attention on at-risk students instead of high achievers. Given the consequences of the achievement gap and the fact that policies (such as past housing segregation and current residence-based school assignments) limit some students’ opportunities, it is only sensible, some contend, to focus policy on aiding the disadvantaged. A progressive point of view might hold that the only approach that squares with justice is to direct resources in a way that helps those at the bottom. Others, reasoning more pragmatically, might note that there are limited educational resources, so we must triage: Struggling kids, not soaring kids, need help first.We should also recognize that the topic of gifted education makes some feel viscerally uneasy. Discussions about varying intellectual capacities can become malignant, for instance, due to radioactive attempts to link intelligence to sex, race, and class. Just this summer, the author Nassim Nicholas Taleb and the Quillette founder Claire Lehmann tangled over the science and social implications of IQ tests and behavioral genetics. A reasonable person, seeing that a gifted classroom’s racial composition didn’t match the rest of the school’s, might connect that fact to the nation’s history of school segregation. And needless to say, the government’s involvement in issues of intelligence is not always positive.Less than a century ago, the Supreme Court upheld a Virginia statute that authorized the forced sterilization of the “feeble-minded,” with Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr., evidently believing he was doing a service to society, infamously writing, “Three generations of imbeciles are enough.”Lest you think this allusion to eugenics is inapt, one member of the New York City panel asserted in a recent op-ed that the existing approach to gifted education is exactly that—“a modern-day-eugenics project.” But opposition isn’t always based on so sensational a charge; some simply sense that gifted programs are unfair.Some degree, perhaps half, of cognitive ability is innate. And while families can do a number of things to help their kids be identified as gifted—including reading to youngsters at an early age—some tactics are only available to families with financial means, such as paying for tutors, supplemental services, and test prep. Given the advantages that come with unusual natural ability and supportive parents, public investment in gifted kids can feel like making the rich richer, both figuratively and literally. As the scholar Tom Loveless of the Brookings Institution—an expert on high-achieving students—ruefully noted, “There’s a long-standing attitude that, ‘Well, smart kids can make it on their own. And after all, they’re doing well. So why worry about them?’”Americans’ leveling impulse has unappealing consequences: In a perverted version of fairness, we knowingly neglect the special gifts of some kids in the name of equality. Each child must be seen as more than a component part of a political strategy to equalize social outcomes. Each child has a legitimate claim to the attention necessary to make the most of his or her interests and capacities.When schools don’t foster the growth of the highest-potential young people, the public loses something. Beneficial technologies might not be invented, and profound works of art might not be created. Boys and girls who know they are able to do more can become frustrated, and their parents can feel powerless to help.Perhaps most important, when there’s insufficient public investment in identifying and serving gifted students, the economically and socially disadvantaged kids with special abilities are the ones who suffer the most. Wealthy families can find private ways to supplement their kids’ education. They can opt in to homeschooling and non-public schools; hire math coaches and music tutors; pay for challenging books, coding camps, online courses, and test-prep classes. As we’ve seen from the infuriating Varsity Blues scandal and the galling findings about Harvard’s legacy and donor preferences, the rich and connected will use the power available to them to advance their kids’ futures. Low-income families, those in sparsely populated areas, and those unable to make a sotto voce call to a friend of the family can do none of these things. They lose out.The New York City panel behind the provocative recommendations deserves credit for addressing an important problem head-on. The city’s current approach to gifted education is flawed. If you believe—and you should—that unusual cognitive abilities are evenly distributed among the population, then it’s a problem that disadvantaged kids are significantly underrepresented among those identified for special programming. And if you believe that high-quality offerings for gifted kids can substantially advance their learning—and you should—then disadvantaged students’ lack of access to such programs can serve to perpetuate intergenerational inequality.But it is a non sequitur to then argue that gifted education must be brought to an end. Instead of destroying the current system, the panelists could, for instance, have suggested methods to improve the identification of gifted students, or creative ways for the district to use federal Title I funds to support low-income gifted students. And they should have insisted that all students get the best possible primary-school instruction so they are equally able to compete for the limited spots in screened high schools. The scholars Jonathan Plucker and Scott Peters have explored and recommended an array of interventions along these lines.Justice in education isn’t realized through uniformity; it’s realized by ensuring that every single child has the best shot at reaching his or her highest potential. By highlighting underserved populations’ lack of access to great programs, the panel is a welcome advocate for half of the equation—that “every single child” means every single child. But policy makers in New York and nationwide should also commit to the other half of the equation—taking seriously “the best shot at reaching his or her highest potential.” That means defending programs inside the public system designed to challenge those with unusual capabilities so they can make the most of their talents. Properly understood and executed, investing in kids with special talents serves both America’s commitment to collective equality and individual excellence.
2019-10-10 13:00:00
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theatlantic.com
Why Is Middle School So Hard for So Many People?
Middle school. The very memory of it prompts disgust. Here’s a thing no one’s thinking: Geez, I wish I still looked the way I did when I was 12. Middle school is the worst.Tweenhood, which starts around age 9, is horrifying for a few reasons. For one, the body morphs in weird and scary ways. Certain parts expand faster than others, sometimes so fast that they cause literal growing pains; hair grows in awkward locations, often accompanied by awkward smells. And many kids face new schools and a new set of rules for how to act, both socially and academically.But middle school doesn’t have to be like this. It could be okay. It could be good, even. After all, middle schoolers are “kind of the best people on Earth,” says Mayra Cruz, the principal of Oyster-Adams Bilingual School, a public middle school in Washington, D.C.The notion that middle school deserves its own educational ecosystem at all dates back to the 1960s, with a campaign to better accommodate the specific learning needs of children ages 10 to 16. The movement drew from the work of two psychologists, writes Phyllis Fagell in her new book, Middle School Matters—a movement prompted partially by a quest to strip intermediary grades of their “Jan Brady” syndrome, and by the sense that they were overlooked as the middle child of the K–12 family, an afterthought or a means to an end.Take the massive variation in grade figurations. Some middle schools are combined on a single campus with their elementary- or high-school peers; most are siloed institutions grouped into two, three, or four grades—or just one. Starting a new school in middle school—a common experience for many students—can be devastating. That’s in large part because of how important social currency is at this age—starting school on a brand-new campus with unfamiliar people is bound to upend kids’ existing popularity hierarchies.[Read: Being in middle school is like ‘trying to build a parachute as you’re falling’]A 2016 American Educational Research Association study of 90,000 students in New York City, for example, found that one’s status as a “top dog” has the most positive academic and social advantages in the sixth grade. And not only do kids at this age place a greater premium on popularity than their younger counterparts; they also benefit immensely from stability. A separate 2014 study of 6,000 K–8 students in small towns throughout Pennsylvania and Indiana found that starting a new school in the sixth or seventh grade can undermine kids’ motivation and confidence; those who didn’t have to transfer from their elementary school fared better.More recently, the psychologist Marisa Malone, a graduate student at the University of Virginia, found that sixth and seventh graders who started at separate middle schools were less likely to pass tests than those who were still grouped with their elementary-school peers. The transition to a new school, she concludes in her September 2019 paper, may be exacerbated by the disproportionately high rates of bullying and pervasively low self-esteem that occur in those intermediary years.“They have this heightened need for autonomy, yet suddenly their lives are so constricted and their every movement is really controlled,” Fagell told me in a recent interview. Middle schools often “infantilize the kids … and treat them like young children who cannot be trusted to problem-solve or to lead”— even though middle schoolers yearn for opportunities to step up. And when middle schools aren’t infantilizing students they’re treating them like little high-schoolers, discouraging academic risk taking and pigeonholing students by achievement level before giving them a chance to figure themselves out. Neither approach suits middle schoolers’ needs. Many kids also lose recess around this time—which erases an important opportunity for physical release and social bonding.Any human past the age of 13 can tell you that navigating social settings is fraught for even the most well-adjusted middle schooler. “Most adolescent friendships are poor quality, defined not just by the presence of aggression, but by the lack of reciprocity,” Fagell writes in her book, citing research suggesting that kids’ best-friend lists change every two weeks. Classrooms with chair-desks arranged in fixed rows don’t help promote socializing. And middle schoolers end up feeling, as one seventh grader Fagell interviewed put it, simultaneously “judged and ignored.”That seventh grader may have a point. In the annals of education, middle school often is disregarded. Mary Beth Schaefer, an education scholar at St. John’s University, has studied the progress of the movement to better accommodate middle schoolers over a 50-year period beginning in the 1960s. Schaefer tells a story of fits and starts: Efforts to reform middle school regularly made their way into national policy debates, but those conversations always dissipated quickly, resulting in stagnation or even skepticism of the cause’s validity. Middle School Journal, Schaefer notes, dropped by close to 100 pages per volume from 2010 to 2013. And yet we know that middle school is a pivotal time for children, whose bodies and minds develop more rapidly during early adolescence than at any stage other than the first two years of life.So it doesn’t help that adults often dismiss middle school as the nightmare they remember it to be. “They tend to fear this precarious age range,” Cruz, the D.C. principal, says. “[Adults] misunderstand those years” as a chapter that these days is defined by sexting and narcissism, poor critical thinking, and civic apathy.“Adults want to control,” Cruz says. And that may be why grown-ups struggle to adequately serve middle schoolers, whom she describes as “consistently inconsistent.” Yet Cruz is optimistic that middle school could be great.One easy fix: a little bell-schedule rejiggering so that middle-schoolers can fuel their growing appetites when their bodies need it. Cruz’s school, Oyster-Adams, decided to implement a 20-minute snack break at 10:45 a.m. so the district’s existing lunchtime for the school (which also serves younger grades on another part of campus) wouldn’t leave her with hangry tweens. Another change: Middle-school classrooms should budget for air conditioning—tween bodies do not smell or feel good when it’s stuffy inside. Of course, the structural changes that benefit one community of preteens may not make sense in another.[Read: Have smartphones destroyed a generation?]One common denominator across the middle-school crisis is a simple empathy deficit. “Little people have all the feelings that adults have—[just] with way less world experience,” Cruz says. The principal told me parents of younger students elsewhere on campus often complain to her about the middle schoolers cursing and being haughty when they “drop off my innocent, little, tiny fourth grader.” She addresses the issue, but when this happens she thinks to herself: denial. “Everybody struggles with [early adolescence],” she says. “It’s not like you can just skip that.” She often notices a similar attitude in public spaces—when adults are on a bus with middle schoolers, for example, they often glare and shake their heads at the tweens, who if they’re in a group are very likely causing a ruckus. But those insolent preteens? “That’s gonna be your kid in a few years!” Cruz thinks to herself. Or: “I bet you acted kind of like that [in middle school], too.”The middle-school movement has experienced somewhat of a resurgence in recent years. For these efforts to be successful, adults will have to embrace the messiness that is middle school. Tweenhood is torturous, and tending to those in the midst of it can be excruciating and embarrassing: Tweens will make lots of mistakes, and they’ll learn from them, and still make more mistakes after that. Yet those mistakes—and the growth that follows—are precisely what give middle school its meaning.
2019-10-07 18:30:01
2021-05-08T10:24:54.000000
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theatlantic.com
College Students Just Want Normal Libraries
Back in the 1940s, college libraries had something of an existential crisis. Charles Gosnell, a prominent library-sciences scholar and college librarian in New York, suggested that shifting academic priorities and space constraints threatened to deplete certain book collections, particularly those in highly technical fields such as chemistry, economics, and education. By phasing out the seemingly antiquated books, perhaps libraries would also be divesting themselves of the titles’ particular perspectives or scientific frameworks, many of which could be invaluable. New books had begun to far outnumber older titles in libraries’ collections, a trend that Gosnell described in his article as “book mortality.”Libraries pulled through, of course, but then the rise of the internet renewed fears of obsolescence. So far, the internet has not killed libraries either. But the percentage of higher-education budgets dedicated to libraries has been dwindling since the 1980s, and at many institutions there’s been a corresponding drop in reported spending on print materials while that on electronic resources has grown.Likely in the hopes of proving that they have more to offer than a simple internet connection does, many college libraries are pouring resources into interior-design updates and building renovations, or into “glitzy technology,” such as 3-D printers and green screens, that is often housed in “media centers” or “makerspaces.”The Claremont Colleges’ shared library now has a “digital tool shed”—“a technology-rich active-learning center,” according to a 2016 press release previewing the resource, where people are able to “try out innovative pedagogy” such as a data-visualization wall and cutting-edge video- and audio-recording software. Minnesota’s Macalester College library has an “Idea Lab,” which it describes as “a co-working space resembling that of many big tech companies,” where students can needle-felt miniature animals and wear virtual-reality helmets. The goal is, ultimately, to stay relevant and increase appeal. (See: the “Mad Librarian Escape Room” at Goodwin College’s library, which tasks teams of students with salvaging a rare book—a “precious volume!”—via clues they gather in a scavenger hunt.)Yet much of the glitz may be just that—glitz. Survey data and experts suggest that students generally appreciate libraries most for their simple, traditional offerings: a quiet place to study or collaborate on a group project, the ability to print research papers, and access to books. Notably, many students say they like relying on librarians to help them track down hard-to-find texts or navigate scholarly journal databases. “Google can bring you back 100,000 answers,” as the writer Neil Gaiman once said. “A librarian can bring you back the right one.”Some colleges see libraries as prime real estate that can hold any number of miscellaneous student services, from tutoring to child care. “As the college grows and space becomes tight, a library that sometimes looks empty might be a tempting target for administrators trying to maximize the use of space on their campuses,” noted a trade-association article published earlier this year. Such “tides of change,” as an Indiana University library-sciences professor argued in a 2016 study, “threaten the core of library practices and values.”[Read: The books of college libraries are turning into wallpaper]So-called digital natives still crave opportunities to use libraries as libraries, and many actively seek out physical texts—92 percent of the college students surveyed in a 2015 study, for example, said they preferred paper books to electronic versions. (Plus, a growing body of evidence shows that physical books and papers are more conducive to learning than digital formats are.) The dean of learning and technology resources at one of the six campuses of Northern Virginia Community College (NOVA) recently told me about a student he had met: Upon learning that her campus library had only the e-book version of a text she needed to read, the woman opted to make the trek to another campus a nearly half-hour commute away that had the hard copy. A 2016 survey of students at Webster University, which is based in Missouri but has campuses around the world, also illustrates limited use of digital resources, finding that just 18 percent of students accessed e-books “frequently” or “very frequently,” compared with 42 percent who never used them.*Duke University’s 2016 survey of its students drew similar conclusions, finding that book delivery was one of the most important services to students; fancy library services such as instant messaging or data-visualization help fell much lower on students’ priority lists. A separate, years-long project on community-college students by the NOVA dean and a team of researchers found that respondents “most often view the library as the service provider they would likely go to” for an array of bread-and-butter needs, such as help gathering research for a paper, registering for classes, or applying for financial aid. Demand for access to devices such as 3-D printers and virtual-reality headsets was relatively low; respondents tended to highlight the need for reliable Wi-Fi instead.Many college libraries are reinventing themselves, but perhaps they’re trying to fix an institution that isn’t, in fact, broken. “I mean, yeah, the degree is cool,” one community-college student told the researchers of the aforementioned study when asked what he wanted from his campus services, “but I’m more about the knowledge.”* This piece has been updated to more accurately reflect the location of Webster University's campuses.
2019-10-04 19:35:15
2021-05-08T10:24:54.000000
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theatlantic.com
Harvard Won This Round, but Affirmative Action Is Weak
Precedent is powerful; it was always unlikely that District Court Judge Allison Burroughs was going to break it. In a much-anticipated 130-page decision released yesterday, Burroughs ruled that Harvard University’s admissions practices do not discriminate against Asian American applicants. The high-profile lawsuit had been brought by Students for Fair Admissions, whose president, Edward Blum, has orchestrated several court cases aimed at dismantling the use of race in admissions.The win for Harvard reinforces four decades of case law on race-conscious admissions, but it also, importantly, shows how restricted the practice is, what it can and can’t do. Affirmative action is a tool to help diversify some highly selective campuses, but it is a highly limited one.In its complaint, SFFA accused Harvard of a range of discriminatory practices including racial balancing, using race as a deciding factor in admissions, and failing to use race-neutral alternative policies to achieve a diverse student body. Burroughs combed through each claim and found that the university adhered to the rigidly defined acceptable use of race in admissions. Both Harvard and affirmative-action advocates cheered the decision. “It represents a significant victory not merely for Harvard, but also for all schools and students, for diversity, and for the rule of law,” Harvard’s lawyer, William Lee, said in a statement.There was a caveat near the bottom of Burroughs’s ruling, though. Harvard’s admissions policy, and its use of race in admissions, withstands strict scrutiny—the highest standard of review the court uses in deciding discrimination complaints—she wrote, but “it is not perfect.” Burroughs suggested that the admissions officers should take bias training and that the university should maintain clear guidelines for how race is used in admissions. “That being said, the Court will not dismantle a very fine admissions program that passes constitutional muster, solely because it could do better.”The fine admissions program Burroughs lauded was doing what it was intended to do: diversify the campus. Harvard’s program has been held up as an example of the proper use of race in admissions for decades, since affirmative action had its landmark test at the Supreme Court in the Regents of the University of California v. Bakke case that was decided in 1978. In that case, the high court ruled that the consideration of race in admissions was constitutional, but race could not be the sole factor for the decision—it needed to be used in concert with other factors.[Read: The Supreme Court Justice who forever changed affirmative action]In case after case the courts have drawn a tight circle where affirmative action can live; the colleges that step outside of it will be ordered back in by a judge. In the Bakke decision, the Court made clear that the use of race in admissions could not be used as a remedy for past discrimination; instead, it had to be used as a tool for diversity—to benefit all the students on campus. An outline of Harvard’s program, the holistic admissions program that it still uses today (with small tweaks made over the years), was appended to the 1978 opinion.But then black enrollments at Ivy League institutions stagnated. “Black students make up 9 percent of the freshmen at Ivy League schools but 15 percent of college-age Americans, roughly the same gap as in 1980,” a 2017 New York Times analysis found. Only a handful of schools are selective enough to engineer their classes using race as a factor, and the inert statistics of black students at those institutions are in part a result of the limitations on affirmative action placed by Bakke and later court cases. The schools that use race in admissions have become adept at designing their programs to be legally airtight.[Read: What happens when a college’s affirmative action policy is found illegal]Twenty-five years after Bakke, in 2003, Associate Justice Sandra Day O’Connor delivered the opinion of the Court in another affirmative-action case. This time it involved the University of Michigan. “We expect that 25 years from now, the use of racial preferences will no longer be necessary to further the interest approved today.” Perhaps by then, the Court opined, a workable alternative to the use of race would have been found.The year O’Connor was referencing is 2028, less than a decade away, and all the evidence points to the conclusion that the use of race in admissions will still be necessary to achieve a diverse student body. Burroughs notes in her decision that in states where affirmative action has been banned, such as California and Michigan, there have been precipitous declines in black enrollment. “The numbers are probably not what we would like them to be, but still, without affirmative action, they may be a whole lot less,” Kevin Brown, a law professor at Indiana University, told me.In a statement after Burroughs’s opinion was released, Blum said that SFFA would appeal the decision to the First Circuit Court of Appeals, “and, if necessary, the Supreme Court.” This is where the case has long seemed destined to arrive, bringing with it big questions: Will a more conservative Supreme Court break precedent and eliminate the use of race in admissions? The precedent on the use of race in admissions is strong, but is it strong enough to withstand another fight at the high court?As a weapon to fight racial discrimination, affirmative action was downgraded from a sword to a dagger by the courts long ago. Going forward, the Harvard case may reinforce that limited strength, or weaken these policies further.
2019-10-02 18:17:12
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theatlantic.com