Can rich parents move to a poor neighborhood for a year before their brat applies to college?

We know from the recent college bribery scandal that wealthy parents are willing to commit (federal!) crimes to get their brats into a good college (apparently contradicting the assertion that being born into a wealthy family guarantees success due to “privilege”).

Now the SATs will include an “adversity score” that considers the neighborhood and the school of the test taker (NYT explains the 31 factors). What stops a rich family from renting an apartment in a poor neighborhood starting in August of the applicant’s senior year of high school. The kid then takes the SATs in September, after enrolling in the local public school.

The NYT article is fun because it shows that American educrats aren’t interested in academic achievement:

“If you’re a really well-educated, higher-income family living in a poor neighborhood, this measure is going to overstate the disadvantage you face,” said Sean Reardon, a professor of education at Stanford University.

But, he added, “The question is not whether it’s perfect, but whether it’s better than the alternative of what colleges have had access to, to date. It sounds like this will be better than nothing.”

I.e., nobody questions the idea that students from unsuccessful neighborhoods are to be preferred and students from successful parents and neighborhoods should be admitted only as a last resort. (But if The Son Also Rises is correct, in the long run this means that the most successful people in a society will be graduates of universities that don’t discriminate against children of the successful!)

The long-term goal is to pry into the individual student’s situation:

Among the scholars who consulted for the College Board was Richard D. Kahlenberg, a fellow at the Century Foundation and a proponent of class-based affirmative action. He said he would like to see the College Board tool evolve to also include information on a student’s individual family. Still, he called the measure “an enormous step forward.”

Doesn’t that open up more opportunities for resourceful parents to game the system? Big factors are “single parenthood” and parental income. A one-income married couple living in Nevada, for example, could avail themselves of the state’s no-fault divorce laws and get divorced just before the child takes the SATs. The non-working parent will be getting the $13,000/year (tax-free) child support cap and therefore qualify as low income. The applicant can tell the SAT folks that the working parent is nowhere to be found and that the working parent’s income is unknown.

[Is this already happening for financial aid? The non-custodial parent (a.k.a. “loser parent” the winner-take-all states) is not considered by the Federales for financial aid, though says that private colleges can “require a supplemental financial aid form from the non-custodial parent”. But the typical child of an American divorce hasn’t seen the loser parent within the preceding year, so how is the child supposed to get that person to fill out a form? Massachusetts is a classical winner-take-all state and Massachusetts Educational Financing Authority says:

What if there is no contact with the non-custodial parent?

Colleges that require the CSS Profile in addition to the FAFSA understand there are cases when a second parent is not involved in the student’s life. For students in this situation, colleges have a waiver process. Students should go to the college website or call the college and ask about a non-custodial parent waiver form or process. Students will need to do this for every school that requires the non-custodial parent to submit a Profile. Colleges are understanding of cases when the other parent is truly not a part of the student’s life at all, but will not waive the requirement for a case when the other parent simply does not want to complete the application or contribute toward college costs.

Since children of single parents are preferred by colleges, why would any applicant whose parents aren’t married admit to having spoken with the loser parent?]

This would seem to penalize children of low-income parents who make the effort to move to public housing in nicer towns with better schools. I know a few immigrant “single moms” who live in Newton, Massachusetts for example. Upon arrival in the U.S. they realized that there was no stigma to being divorced and promptly sued their husbands. As these guys were low-income immigrants themselves, the child support revenue from the divorce did not disqualify them from public housing. So they live in taxpayer-subsidized apartments in Newton and send their children to the Newton schools. Their SAT scores will come with a “no adversity” tag even though they (a) did not speak English as their first language, (b) did not have two parents in their home, and (c) did not live in a high-income household.

If the mission of American universities is to educate young people (God forbid they should admit anyone significantly over the age of 18!) who have suffered from adversity, why would they admit anyone who grew up in the U.S.? An American on welfare has a greater spending power (housing, food, health care, smartphone) than a middle class family in most parts of the world.

In a global economy, what’s special about residents of the U.S.? Why are they entitled to take a spot at Harvard, for example, ahead of someone with a similar SAT score who grew up in Vietnam (excellent academic scores, but few people living better than an American on welfare).

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Percentage of public school teachers who are “excellent”

I was chatting with a dyslexia specialist at a public middle school in a wealthy Northeast U.S. district. The union pay scale for teachers reaches $100,000 per year for those with a bit of experience. The specialist interacts with nearly all of the roughly 70 teachers in the school.

  • me: How many of the teachers would you say are excellent?
  • her: About 2 percent. But another 50 percent are “good”.
  • me: So 48 percent of the students aren’t getting the curriculum delivered as designed?
  • her: True. But you have to remember that it is all about the school leadership. They’re not investing enough in teacher training. The administrators send one teacher to a class and then expect the teacher to come back and teach other teachers. That’s not what they’re qualified to do.
  • me: Suppose that the district had infinite budget and time for training teachers. How many would then work hard enough to become “excellent”?
  • her: Maybe 10 percent.
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New York Times highlights academic achievement-skin color correlation

“Only 7 Black Students Got Into N.Y.’s Most Selective High School, Out of 895 Spots” (nytimes):

Students gain entry into the specialized schools by acing a single high-stakes exam that tests their mastery of math and English. Some students spend months or even years preparing for the exam. Stuyvesant, the most selective of the schools, has the highest cutoff score for admission, and now has the lowest percentage of black and Hispanic students of any of New York City’s roughly 600 public high schools.

My comment on the piece:

What if you heard about a reporter and some editors who hung around outside an academic testing center and noted the skin color of every person who failed a test? And then published the observation that people with a particular skin color were very likely to fail?

If that isn’t racist, what would be?

Readers: What does this story even mean? If Elizabeth Warren had gotten into Stuyvesant, would the NYT have included her in their Native American participation statistics? Who is the arbiter of race or skin color in the NYC public schools? Also, how does it help a group of people when there is a front page story underlining for employers the correlation between membership in this group and low academic achievement?

Thought Experiment: Suppose that Fox News had run a story revealing the same statistics and then Donald Trump had referenced that story in a Tweet. What would the NYT Editorial Board have said?


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Totally unqualified students were admitted to our most intellectually rigorous universities based on bribes…

… yet none of the unqualified admittees had any difficulty in doing the required coursework or graduating, perhaps with honors.

“College bribery scandal: students sue elite schools in class action” (Guardian) says that second-rate students went to Yale and Stanford, for example, but there is no mention of them encountering any struggles with the academics.


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Admissions fraud layered on top of the existing American college fraud

A professor friend’s Facebook post:

A game: name a worse investment than spending $6.5M to get your kid into college.

“College Admissions Scandal: Actresses, Business Leaders and Other Wealthy Parents Charged” (nytimes) has all of my academic friends excited.

(One interesting aspect is that the people involved are charged with “racketeering,” a crime that was defined to apply to mobsters. Presumably these folks are guilty of something, but it doesn’t seem like a Godfather-style situation. We will find out that the people are facing potentially epic-length prison sentences?)

The American undergraduate education system is already mostly a fraud, in the sense that families pay a lot, but students may not learn anything (see my review of Academically Adrift, in which Collegiate Learning Assessment scores, before and after attending college, are discussed; see also Higher Education?).

[Why a “fraud”? If Honda sold cars at $30,000 and half did not function for transportation people would say “Honda is a fraud.” But a liberal arts college may charge $300,000 for four years of tuition and produce quite a few graduates whose thinking and writing abilities are no better than they were when those folks entered as freshmen. So why not hold the college to the same standard that we would hold Honda?]

Could we use this as an opportunity to motivate folks to fix a fundamentally broken system?

Currently, since there is no agreed-upon measure of achievement in college, graduating with a label from a prestige university is critical. Nobody seems to care that, with the exception of a school such as Caltech, it is almost impossible not to graduate once admitted.

The result is huge pressure on the admissions process. When U.S. population was under 100 million, almost anyone with money could go to an Ivy League college. In my youth, when U.S. population was just over 200 million and international students were rare, any American who was reasonably intelligent and worked hard in high school could attend a top school. Now that we’re heading toward 400 million (Atlantic), parents will be ever more tempted to take extreme measures to assure their children’s futures.

Complicating matters is that virtuous Americans agree that the system actually should be rigged. See “Turns Out There’s a Proper Way to Buy Your Kid a College Slot,” from the righteous editorial board of the NY Times:

And colleges have a legitimate interest in emphasizing various forms of diversity. But it seems safe to stipulate that being born to wealthy parents is not by itself meritorious.

In other words, it is legitimate to base admission on criteria other than academic achievement (“various forms of diversity”). But then the authors say that it is illegitimate to favor children from wealthy families. Every reasonable person can agree that the scales should be tilted and, even better, every reasonable person will recognize a set of universal moral principles that can guide the tilting.

Could we take some of the pressure off young Americans who will be entering a crowded-like-Asia adult world? Why not a set of national examinations that people can take in various areas to demonstrate accomplishment? Then the Harvard graduate who can’t do anything won’t be ranked by employers above the Holy Cross (Worcester, MA) graduate who is able to demonstrate achievement. We would truly have multiple paths to success and we would have a meritocratic system in which anyone who works hard can succeed.

One could argue that we already have some of this in place. There is the Graduate Record Exam that some graduate schools use for admissions. It is SAT-like, though, and doesn’t seem to measure real-world capability (it is more of a test of IQ (correlation 0.7-0.85) plus studying for the test). There are some “major field tests,” e.g., in Physics. But these suffer from some of the same issues as other standardized multiple-choice tests.

What about investing in a week-long supervised test in which students have to solve problems, do research, write up results, etc.? It would be a little challenging to accomplish given that you’d have to figure out a way to deny test-takers the use of 10 Ph.D. helpers connected via smartphone.

Since the government runs a substantial portion of the economy, perhaps people could be motivated to take this test by using it as a factor in government hiring, e.g., for schoolteachers (maybe we can catch up to Finland if we start hiring academically strong teachers the way that they do!) or Federal workers.

Readers: What do you think? If there were a recognized test of achievement and capability for 22-year-olds, would that take some of the pressure off?

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Can public school teachers be credible social activists?

Here’s the public Instagram feed of the teacher at a suburban Boston-area school (one of her thankless tasks is molding the 12-year-old mind of a friend’s daughter who previously caused mayhem with a feigned nut allergy). The feed is primarily for communicating with her students and their parents and many of the items are titled “Homework” and contain instructions such as “Just answer the Part 1 Questions! Please DO NOT do the figurative language on the back!”. Some non-homework material has made its way into the feed lately though…

(clumsily redacted in MSFT Paint for some privacy!)

This public servant, whose union has ensured her a total comp of well over $100,000 per year (salary, benefits, and pension), has apparently attended a “Teaching Social Activism Conference”. But with median hourly wage in Massachusetts down around $23 (was $22.81 in May 2017), or $46,000 per year on an annualized basis, can she credibly teach Social Activism? She and her union are directly acting to increase inequality by taking money from people who earn median wages to put it into the pockets of folks who earn above-median wages.

[The other parts of this feed are also interesting. The teacher exhorts her charges to “do something great for your community in honor of Dr. King”. Yet she teaches in a nearly all-white suburb thanks to the miracle of two-acre zoning minimums. African Americans are welcome as long as they can afford $1 million for a vacant lot and $30,000/year in property tax on a completed house.

There is an LGBTQ+ meeting on “Pink Days” in a 7th grade classroom sponsored by the Sexuality and Gender Alliance. Where does that leave 12-year-olds who want to gather around the topics of sexuality and gender but don’t identify as “LGBTQ+”? (maybe the “+” includes cisgender heterosexuals?)

Finally, the Instagram feed reveals that “Google Classroom” is heavily used. Americans will be Google users from cradle to grave? Will Google automatically flag K-12 heresy as a service to the young? An AI on a Google server will read one of the assigned essays on refugees and mark any passages in red that are not appropriately sympathetic and welcoming?]

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Middle school students assigned books about and by People of Color

Received from a teacher by a parent of a local 7th grader:

We will be reading March together as a class for our next unit and additionally students will be working cooperatively in book clubs for books that are about and by People of Color.

I asked “So they can pick any book written by or describing a Virginia Democrat?”

It seems that the answer is “no.” The letter continues with

Today in class the students had the opportunity to preview the book club books and rank their top choices.

So students can’t stray from the approved list and pick the autobiography of Clarence Thomas, for example, or Economic Facts and Fallacies by Thomas Sowell:

Government spending is often said to be beneficial to the economy, as the money disbursed is spent and re-spent, creating jobs, raising incomes, and generating tax revenues in the process. But usually if that same government money had remained in the hands of the taxpayers from whom it came, they too would have spent it, and it would still have been re-spent, creating jobs, raising incomes, and generating tax revenues in the process. This again is usually at best a zero-sum process, in so far as the transfer of money is concerned, and a negative-sum process in so far as high tax rates to finance government spending reduce incentives to do all the things necessary to generate economic activity and the prosperity resulting from it.

Poetry by Kanye West is presumably also excluded, though it might be interesting to hear a class discussion of “Gold Digger”:

Eighteen years, eighteen years
She got one of your kids, got you for eighteen years [23 in Massachusetts]
I know somebody payin’ child support for one of his kids
His baby mama car and crib is bigger than his
You will see him on TV any given Sunday
Win the Super Bowl and drive off in a Hyundai
She was supposed to buy your shorty Tyco with your money
She went to the doctor, got lipo with your money
She walkin’ around lookin’ like Michael with your money
Shoulda got that insured, Geico for your money
If you ain’t no punk
Holla, “We want prenup! We want prenup!” (Yeah!)
It’s somethin’ that you need to have
‘Cause when she leave yo’ ass, she gon’ leave with half [maybe closer to 0% after subtracting litigation costs?]
Eighteen years, eighteen years
And on the 18th birthday he found out it wasn’t his?!

The official list would also keep students from asking whether Chinese Nobelists such as Gao Xingjian and Mo Yan qualify as “of color” (of the wrong color?).

Personally I would love to see a student with the temerity to demand In Full Color: Finding My Place in a Black and White World, by Rachel Dolezal.

Readers: Does it help Writers of Color to put them in a February ghetto and tell students they can read books on white subjects by white authors the rest of the year?

Exciting Update: I got hold of the list! (Kanye West is not on it!).

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“There’s so much messaging in general about STEM, STEM, STEM”

“As STEM majors soar at UW, interest in humanities shrinks — a potentially costly loss” (Seattle Times) is kind of interesting.

The liberal-arts decline is making the university financially poorer, too.

That’s because it’s cheaper to teach a history class than a computer-science course — but the UW charges the same for both. In effect, the humanities courses have always subsidized engineering, natural sciences and computer-science classes, said Sarah Hall, vice provost of UW planning and budgeting.

Nationally, it costs an $410 per credit hour to teach electrical engineering, one of the most expensive majors. Sociology, one of the cheapest-to-teach subjects, costs less than half of that — about $176 per credit hour.

Should people go to college in order to be happy or in order to earn enough money to pay back student loans and compensate for four years out of the workforce? Humanities professors have the answer!

Humanities professors disagree. They say it’s a myth that humanities majors can’t find jobs, and it’s disappointing that so many people are discouraged from pursuing their passions.

“What’s sad for the younger generation is that so many students here have been literally pushed away from the social sciences and humanities to STEM, and are not happy,” said UW history professor James Gregory.

“There’s so much messaging in general about STEM, STEM, STEM,” he said.

The innumeracy displayed by journalists and editors is interesting. The Seattle Times:

The stereotype that English majors wind up as highly educated baristas isn’t borne out by research, Stacey said. A recent study showed that many English majors are more likely to become teachers, lawyers, CEOs and legislators.

So they’re saying that if “many” out of thousands get good jobs then English is plainly a good vocational choice. The link-to article is even more interesting:

According to the Census Bureau, graduates with an English degree have about a 4.9 percent chance of working in one of these food service occupations for some time between the ages of 22 and 26. By comparison, the average among all degree holders in this age group is about 3.5 percent. So English majors are only about 1.4 percentage points more likely to work in food service than the average for all degree holders.

Wouldn’t it be a 40 percent increase to go from 3.5 to 4.9, not a 1.4 percent increase? And that’s across all degree holders, not measured against STEM graduates. Considering how many degrees are irrelevant to employers, a 40 percent greater likelihood of becoming a burger-flipper is huge!


  • “Two big questions for economists today”: Justine Hastings, of Brown University, presented “Earnings, Incentives and Student Loan Design: The Case of Chile.” It seems that Chile did what the U.S. did, i.e., offered a lot of student loans for higher education. Their program was more intelligently designed, however, in that they didn’t allow universities to raise tuition in response to this new source of funds. Schools ended up with more students, but not more money per student as has been prevalent in the U.S. Nonetheless, the default rate has been high, especially for graduates of non-selective schools and especially for those who majored in humanities and arts. Unlike Americans, Chileans don’t like to keep flushing cash down the toilet, so now they are experimenting with adjusting the maximum loan amount according to the expected return to getting a particular degree (in Chile you don’t apply to “University of Santiago” you apply for a specific major). It turns out that when students see that the government won’t lend them the maximum for a particular degree program they get the message and try to switch into a degree that will result in higher post-graduate earnings. This is especially true for “low SES” students. SES? Due to the rejection of Marx, mainstream economists apparently can’t talk about class so they refer to “Socioeconomic status“. Hastings has a separate paper “The Labor Market Returns to Colleges and Majors: Evidence from Chile” with the discouraging result that attending a lower quality college and majoring in poetry will not set the country’s employers on fire and, in fact, many people would have higher lifetime earnings if they refrained from attending college.
  • “The Hard Part of Computer Science? Getting Into Class” (NYT, Jan 24, 2019)
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Michael Bloomberg exacerbates income inequality with donation to Hopkins for financial aid

“Michael Bloomberg: Why I’m Giving $1.8 Billion for College Financial Aid” (nytimes):

Let’s eliminate money problems from the admissions equation for qualified students.

America is at its best when we reward people based on the quality of their work, not the size of their pocketbook. Denying students entry to a college based on their ability to pay undermines equal opportunity. It perpetuates intergenerational poverty. And it strikes at the heart of the American dream: the idea that every person, from every community, has the chance to rise based on merit.

… I am donating an additional $1.8 billion to Hopkins that will be used for financial aid for qualified low- and middle-income students.

Here’s a simple idea I bet most Americans agree with: No qualified high school student should ever be barred entrance to a college based on his or her family’s bank account. Yet it happens all the time.

Let’s ignore the obvious solution for the Hopkins administrators: raise headline tuition prices by $1.8 billion over the next 10 years, charge families exactly what they were being charged before, but say that “financial aid” has been increased by $1.8 billion. (See “Credit Supply and the Rise in College Tuition: Evidence from the Expansion in Federal Student Aid Programs”, a 2015 paper from the New York Fed; 60 percent of subsidized student loans were captured by increased tuition rates and provided no relief to the purported beneficiaries.)

Suppose that the Bloomberg program works as advertised and therefore that lower income families will actually pay $1.8 billion less over the forthcoming years.

Won’t this exacerbate the inequality that Bloomberg himself was decrying as recently as May 2018 (see “Inaction on inequality could lead to uprising”)? People born fortunate (high academic potential in an economy that rewards cognitive skills) will now go to college for free instead of taking out loans and paying them back from their high earnings. So they will pull yet farther ahead of Americans with low academic ability.

Instead of the rich-in-genetics person with an IQ of 140 paying back student loans that enabled attendance at an elite university, the rich-in-genetics person will now get to use a full 50-60 percent of income (assume 40-50 percent total tax rate in California, New York, and other typical destinations for elite Americans) on consumption and retirement savings. The smart Hopkins grad who came from a lower-income family will essentially get a gift from Michael Bloomberg of luxury clothing and automobiles that will make median-IQ, median-income Americans sick with envy.

In “Protests against Charles Murray inadvertently prove the points he made in The Bell Curve?” I asked “If you like to fret about inequality, the sidelining of less-than-brilliant workers in favor of robots, etc., why wouldn’t you love Charles Murray?”

See also “The Bell Curve revisited,” my 2004 post on the book. Excerpts:

The Bell Curve starts out by talking about how we live in an era where people get sorted by cognitive ability into socioeconomic classes. In 14th century England if you were a peasant with a high IQ or a noble with a low IQ it didn’t affect your life, reproductive potential, or income very much. In our more meritocratic and vastly more sophisticated economy a smart kid from a lower middle class might make it to the top of a big company (cf. Jack Welch, who paid himself $680 million as CEO of GE) or at least into a $300,000/year job as a radiologist. For the authors of the Bell Curve the increasing disparity in income in the U.S. is primarly due to the fact that employees with high IQs are worth a lot more than employees with low IQs. They note that we have an incredibly complex legal system and criminal justice system. So you’d expect people with poor cognitive ability to fail to figure out what is a crime, which crimes are actually likely to be punished, etc., and end up in jail. (A Google search brought up a report on juvenile justice in North Carolina; the average offender had an IQ of 79.) If they stay out of jail through dumb (literally) luck, there is no way that they are ever going to be able to start a small business; the legal and administrative hoops through which one must jump in order to employ even one other person are impenetrable obstacles to those with below-average intelligence.

… For us oldsters, one unexpected piece of cheerful news from this book is that younger Americans are getting genetically dumber every year. Even if you ignore the racial and immigrant angles of the book that created so much controversy back in 1994 it is hard to argue with the authors’ assertion that smart women tend to choose higher education and careers rather than cranking out lots of babies. …  Our population is predicted to reach 450 million or so [by 2050], i.e., the same as India had back when we were kids and our mothers told us about this starving and overpopulated country. An individual person’s labor in India has negligible economic value … It would seem that no enterprise would need an old guy’s skills in a country of 450 million; why bother when there are so many energetic young people around? And how would we be able to afford a house or apartment if there are 450 million smart young people out there earning big bucks and putting pressure on real estate prices? But if the book is right most of those young people will be dumb as bricks.

Whenever anyone talks about “financial aid,” I love to respond with “United Airlines gives more than 95 percent of customers financial aid since the official maximum ticket price is much higher than the typical price paid. Economists call charging each customer according to his or her ability to pay price discrimination, but it sounds better if you say ‘we’re giving these poor souls financial aid.'” (Note that price discrimination is possible
only in markets dominated by monopolies or oligopolies. McDonald’s can’t do this because Burger King is right across the street.)

Readers: Is it logically inconsistent for Michael Bloomberg to say that he wants to reduce income inequality and then give $1.8 billion to reduce college expenses for those Americans who are best set up to earn high incomes after graduation?

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