Monday Reading List: Unlikely Predators in Higher Education and Being Blunt About Racism

Kevin Carey is in The New York Times, examining how the federal government's crusade to crack down on predatory for-profit colleges ended up snaring Harvard:

The Harvard program is run by the A.R.T. Institute at Harvard University (A.R.T. stands for American Repertory Theater). It’s a small program, admitting about two dozen students each year into “a full-time, two-year program of graduate study in acting, dramaturgy or voice pedagogy.” On average, graduates earn about $36,000 per year. The problem, from a regulatory standpoint, is that they borrow a lot of money to obtain the degree — over $78,000 on average, according to the university. The two-year tuition total is around $63,000. And because it’s a graduate program, students can also borrow the full cost of their living expenses from the federal government, regardless of their credit history. After accounting for basic living expenses, the average Harvard A.R.T. Institute graduate has to pay 44 percent of discretionary income just to make the minimum loan payment.

Carey points out that the magnitude of the loan payment says little about the quality of the program. Still, there seems to be an enormous mismatch between higher education costs and future earning potential. Even at Harvard. Increasing one's future earnings is not the only reason to get a college degree, but you have to be pretty privileged to ignore value as a factor.

Sarah Garland, writing at The Hechinger Report, looks at the tension between personalized learning and academic standards:

... as more schools, districts, states and even the federal government begin to embrace the idea, personalized learning is coming into conflict with an older movement in American education: standards-based accountability. Grade-level standards – the content and skills students are supposed to master each year – and the end-of-year tests that measure them aren’t forgiving to schools and teachers who stray far from the predetermined path ... The rigidity of the current standards-based system could present a problem as personalized learning tries to grow – although some hope advocates on both sides will find compromise that strengthen both ideas ... The standards movement, driven by fears that American students were falling behind their international counterparts, has dominated U.S. education reform since the 1990s.

Personalized learning and academic standards can coexist. Personalization might sound newfangled, but it's really just a natural extension of the "differentiated instruction" philosophy that has permeated education for close to two decades. The bigger risk, as far as I'm concerned, is that wealthier families will continue to supplement basic, standardized education with personalized add-ons, while families with fewer resources receive a bare-bones experience.

Speaking of disparities, Khulia Pringle, writing at Citizen Education, takes a hard look at discipline in the public schools of St. Paul, Minnesota:

Quite remarkably, one student explains that it is the policy of his school, Humboldt High School, to automatically dismiss students for the rest of the day if they are caught in the hallway without a pass. If the the student gets mad about the dismissal and vents that anger (slams door, curses), upon their return the following day they are informed that they are now being suspended for ‘anger’ and must return with a parent if they are to be allowed to resume classes. According to the same student, since so many parents are at work during the school day, the re-suspended students just don’t come back.

Regular readers will not be surprised to learn that these policies disproportionately affect Black and Native American students. In some of the anecdotes that Pringle shares, the racism isn't even coded.

Speaking of which, Vann Newkirk II, writing in The Atlantic, reflects on the overt racism of the presidential election and remains unconvinced by the commentariat's call to conserve cordiality in discussing the phenomenon:

In the aggregate, though, these calls for civility threaten to impose a burden on people of color. If calling out racism is largely counterproductive, using a systemic definition like white supremacy is also unacceptable, and stigmatizing or shaming those who espouse racist beliefs is self-defeating, what tools remain? The only form of productive debate that people of color can engage in, it seems, is the gentle persuasion of white people who may or may not hold retrograde views. That advice is of course probably most appealing to white Americans ... White Americans share a vested interest in not being called racist, straight people in not being called homophobic, and men in not being called misogynistic. Arguments in favor of civility cede valuable rhetorical ground by default and coddle people who may well know the score about their own views ... But even if we do assume that levying claims of racism and shame is counterproductive in persuading white people to join diverse coalitions, there is another suspect claim at work here: that persuasion is the sole end-goal for argument. For people who suffer the incivil burden of bigotry, that claim doesn’t quite hold up. Sometimes the goal of argument is to vent. Sometimes it is to simply tell the truth.

The appeal to truth telling is persuasive, especially in light of the fact that so much prejudice gets swept beneath the rug under the guise of "just telling it how it is." It's also worth remembering that much post-election analysis - whether about racism or any other factor -  relies on retrospective speculation about how Democrats might have won. Believe it or not, there are some goals that are more important than assembling an electoral majority. Stigmatizing and eradicating racism is one of them. Have a great week!