Monday, April 08, 2013

The College Arms Race

I'm not saying she should be in an Ivy, but this observations strikes me as dead on:
Colleges tell you, “Just be yourself.” That is great advice, as long as yourself has nine extracurriculars, six leadership positions, three varsity sports, killer SAT scores and two moms.
Edublogger Joanne adds some additional true commentary:
Teens without traumas of their own are supposed to write their admissions essays about their trip to Africa — “spending that afternoon with Kinto changed my life” — but Weiss went to summer camp instead.
What is the point?  How many of the kids who do this so-called community service continue it in college or afterward?  If they don't, they're really not being volunteers, who by definition are kinda sorta "good people", they're just checking off a box for a college application.

The observation that only the affluent can afford to go build schools in Mexico, or help poor kids in Kenya, is also right on the mark; the rest of America tries to get a job in the summer.

So why do these so-called elite schools have these requirements?
SUSAN PATTON, the Princeton alumna who became famous for her letter urging Ivy League women to use their college years to find a mate, has been denounced as a traitor to feminism, to coeducation, to the university ideal. But really she’s something much more interesting: a traitor to her class.

Her betrayal consists of being gauche enough to acknowledge publicly a truth that everyone who’s come up through Ivy League culture knows intuitively — that elite universities are about connecting more than learning, that the social world matters far more than the classroom to undergraduates, and that rather than an escalator elevating the best and brightest from every walk of life, the meritocracy as we know it mostly works to perpetuate the existing upper class. 

Every elite seeks its own perpetuation, of course, but that project is uniquely difficult in a society that’s formally democratic and egalitarian and colorblind. And it’s even more difficult for an elite that prides itself on its progressive politics, its social conscience, its enlightened distance from hierarchies of blood and birth and breeding. 

Thus the importance, in the modern meritocratic culture, of the unacknowledged mechanisms that preserve privilege, reward the inside game, and ensure that the advantages enjoyed in one generation can be passed safely onward to the next. 

The intermarriage of elite collegians is only one of these mechanisms — but it’s an enormously important one. The outraged reaction to her comments notwithstanding, Patton wasn’t telling Princetonians anything they didn’t already understand. Of course Ivy League schools double as dating services. Of course members of elites — yes, gender egalitarians, the males as well as the females — have strong incentives to marry one another, or at the very least find a spouse from within the wider meritocratic circle. What better way to double down on our pre-existing advantages? What better way to minimize, in our descendants, the chances of the dread phenomenon known as “regression to the mean”? 
That, dear readers, was published in the New York Times.

Getting in to college has become an arms race for no good reason.


Anonymous said...

There's a perfectly good reason, though most folks don't like to admit it: The gap between rich and poor is widening, and the number of people in the elite (as a percentage of world population) is shrinking.

Living on the wrong side of the street is different from living on the wrong side of the Pacific. As stratification increases, it becomes much more important to make it on the "right" side of the gap.

Anonymous said...

Darren: "I'm not saying she should be in an Ivy, but this observations strikes me as dead on ... The observation that only the affluent can afford to go build schools in Mexico, or help poor kids in Kenya, is also right on the mark..."

And yet Suzy applied to four (listed) schools [Princeton, Yale, UPenn and Vanderbuilt] that collectively have slots for 7,500 incoming freshmen. Slightly less than 50,000 students had SAT scores *better* than Suzy. Even if these schools only cared about SAT scores and ignored everything else, Suzy probably doesn't get in to these schools. Her SAT score just isn't high enough. She probably does get in to UMich or some similar state school.

So what's the complaint?

-Mark Roulo

Darren said...

That *she* wouldn't have gotten into an Ivy anyway doesn't mean there isn't an arms race which she correctly described.

Anonymous said...

Darren: That *she* wouldn't have gotten into an Ivy anyway doesn't mean there isn't an arms race which she correctly described.

Well, yes :-)

But since she wouldn't have gotten in to her desired schools based soley on her SAT scores, complaining about her own lack of extra-curriculars makes for a weak argument.

If she had been in the top 5,000 or so and missed because of extra-curriculars, fine. But without the test scores, what is her complaint?

And an argument against an "arms race" to score better on the SAT isn't going to get much sympathy.

So what is her argument? "I didn't have a good enough SAT score to get admitted to Yale anyway *and* I didn't build a school in rural Mexico?"

-Mark Roulo

Anonymous said...

Charles Murray, in his book about the "Coming Apart of White America" addresses this issue.
The haves get more, the have nots get less: here in Ohio, Kasich proposes an education budget that "equalizes" $$$ between big, suburban or urban schools and the small, rural, extremely poor schools who have little or no tax base from busineses and not much $$ from property taxes. Huge suburban schools, already rich with property and business taxes, got increases of more than 250% and the small poor schools got 0 increase. This after getting huge cut(our district was cut over $400,00 cut two years ago). Big staff cuts to a staff already too small.
The kids I teach really need more--they are already at such a deficit in life experiences, reading, vocabulary, background knowledge--very typical rural poor. No raises for teachers for the last six years, no hope of any in the new contract. We teachers buy so much for our students, from books and materials to coats, shoes, gloves.Hurts to see rich districts get millions more while we close our middle school (new building) and move two grades back into our old,crowded high school to save money on heat, etc. Hate to have young kids mixed with the older kids, and teachers are getting much larger classes and moved into small rooms away from rooms we have taught in for dozens of years. If it made sense, I'd be all for it, but I am considering retirement at this point; I don't really want to yet, but can see train wreck coming.

Darren said...

I used the girl's comments to open this post. She correctly identified the problem, I'm not saying she's the poster child of a victim of the problem. The main thrust of my article was was I quoted adults as saying :-)

Anonymous said...

Darren: " She correctly identified the problem..."

Except that I'm not sure that she has.

The Ivy League schools tend to select kids who (a) have fantastic test scores on average [Suzy, whose SAT puts her in the top 3% of the nation, would be in the *bottom* 25% on the incoming class at Yale], and (b) are often "interesting" in some way.

Suzy doesn't have the test scores for Yale and she isn't "interesting" (by her own admission).

So ... how could we "fix" this so that Suzy can get into Yale?

One approach would be to go "test only." The Indian IIT schools (which have a *VERY* good reputation) do this. One upshot is that the kids tend to be studying for this entrance test from middle school (or earlier) on. And they tend not to focus on extra curriculars because those don't help. The kids can be very bright, but are often one-dimensional (this is often corrected later, but going in to college the kids tends not to be well rounded). Is *this* a fix? Given a choice, I prefer our approach. Plus, I doubt that Suzy would get in anyway ... the other kids would study harder, too.

Another fix would be to up the enrollment at the Ivys (and Stanford, MIT, Duke, etc) by 5x - 10x. Make the Yale incoming class have 7,500 to 15,000 students instead of the roughly 1,500 that it has. But then the quality of the education probably suffers -- for one thing, the kids aren't as smart and so the classes have to go slower. Suzy can probably already get into a very good school with an incoming class of that size: UMich, UCLA, Illinois, ... But she wants to go to an Ivy. Turning the Ivy League schools into de-facto good state schools probably misses the point.

So ... what *EXACTLY* is the problem? Other than lots more people want to go to very good, very elite schools than there are slots at those schools?

Maybe the problem is that "we" don't tell kids that lots of things that they want are tough and that they probably won't get them? Is Suzy's real complaint that no one told her that Yale was *VERY* difficult to get into? And that she probably wouldn't make it?

It could be that this is her complaint: "Hey, no one told me that I probably wasn't good enough to get into an Ivy League college." But I didn't get that from her article.

What do *YOU* think is the problem she has identified?

-Mark R.

Ellen K said...

Resume padding has seeped down to high school. I am sponsor for National Art Honor Society. It's supposed to be an honor. They are supposed to exemplify superior contributions in academic and creative realms. They are supposed to give back. Many kids show up the first two meetings and I never see them again until honor cords come in before graduation. It's not just an art thing, the German teacher, the Latin teacher, the Spanish teacher and the Science Honor Society sponsor report the same thing. Yet....if we deny these kids honor cords after they've paid their dues then the sponsor gets in trouble. It's a game. Kids claim to be leaders of this group or that. We've even had kids invent groups just so they could have that on their entrance docs. It's a sick thing and the Ivies promote it.