Thursday Reading List: Making Shady Student Loans Shadier, Police Brutality Continues, and Big Data in College Admissions

Earlier this week, I wrote about the shady practices in the student loan industry. (And by "shady," I mean "Amoral, and possibly illegal.") Today, Monique Judge of The Root examines how the laissez-faire approach of secretary of education Betsy DeVos might enable that sector to become even shadier:

Amid consumer complaints over poor communication, mismanaged paperwork, and payment processing delays, the Obama administration included some contract requirement intended to improve the quality of loan servicing, but companies complained that the requirements would be expensive and unnecessarily time consuming ... According to the [Washington] Post, DeVos withdrew three memos issued by former education secretary John King and his undersecretary Ted Mitchell, including one that called for companies to be held accountable for providing borrowers with accurate, consistent and timely information about their debt.

Ah yes, just what we need ... less transparency in education policy. Regular readers know that I have seen no evidence that Betsy DeVos and her boss, Donald Trump, care about the quality of education outcomes. I have seen lots of evidence that both of them share an ideological commitment to "choice" as an educational panacea, and a concomitant aversion to regulating the private sector. This evasion of transparency is a further indicator that the secretary will continue to favor the rights of industry over the rights of vulnerable people.

Jeffery Selingo of The Atlantic looks at how Saint Louis University leverages "Big Data" to recruit its incoming freshmen:

Since the university began to rely heavily on Big Data to drive its recruitment strategy, it has reduced the number of names purchased from the College Board and ACT by 40 percent and enrolled five of the six largest freshmen classes in the university’s history. What’s more, the campus has increased its four-year graduation rate to 71 percent—up from 62 percent in 2010—and about 22 percent of the university’s students are eligible for Pell grants, meaning they mostly come from families earning less than $30,000. (By comparison, fewer than 20 percent of students at most of the wealthiest colleges in the U.S. receive Pell grants). While other universities have achieved similar success using Big Data to target and personalize their outreach, admissions deans wonder how much longer the strategy will yield positive results. For one, as more campuses copy data-mining techniques from their peers, its effectiveness is diluted if schools find and recruit many of the same students. Second, the output from data mining is only as good as the initial information students supply to the College Board and ACT.

In general, I'm in favor of technical innovations that create more opportunities for vulnerable kids. To the extent that this sort of data mining allows colleges to find students that otherwise might not have entered, and ultimately succeeded in, college, that's great. That said, any time the manner in which institutions collect, aggregate, and parse data changes, there are sure to be unintended consequences, of which we should be vigilant.

Speaking of remaining vigilant, Molly Roecker of NBC News covers a violent incident of police brutality:

The Sacramento Police Department on Tuesday announced a formal investigation into the actions of one of their officers who was seen slamming a black man to the ground and beating him — all sparked by an alleged case of jaywalking ... In a statement, the Sacramento Police Department said the officer originally "attempted to detain a pedestrian for allegedly unlawfully crossing the street" ... "For an unknown reason, the officer threw the pedestrian to the ground and began striking him in the face with his hand multiple times," the SPD statement said.

Now that my rage has cooled, I will ask America's police officers the same question I repeat after each of these incidences: "Who do you serve? Who do you protect?"

Finally today, Evie Blad is in Education Week, examining how teacher preparation programs are incorporating research on social-emotional learning:

While a majority of states include at least some social-emotional-learning competencies and whole-school factors in teacher-certification requirements, very few teacher-prep programs address such issues in mandatory coursework, according to a report by researchers at the University of British Columbia that was prepared for the collaborative. Advocates for social-emotional learning point to research showing that the approach can help boost students’ academic performance and that employers are increasingly seeking recruits with strong relational and emotional skills ... In 14 states, a majority of the programs reviewed addressed three of the five social-emotional learning dimensions for teachers. In the rest of the states, a majority of the programs addressed fewer of the competencies. Researchers did not identify any state where the majority of teacher-prep programs they reviewed covered more than one of the student social-emotional-learning skills.

If this comes as a surprise to you, it's important to remember that teacher preparation programs are notorious for not actually preparing teachers with the skills needed to educate children. Someday, this country will take teacher preparation at least as seriously as we take medical school. If you're tempted to scoff at the idea of elevating the teaching profession to that level of dignity, consider the fact that this is how teachers are revered in the countries whose schools routinely outperform ours. Have a great day!