What people say about Color and Money-

"Anyone interested in the inequities of the selective college admissions process will find Color and Money clear-eyed, hard-hitting, enlightening, and informative."--Rachel Toor, author of Admissions Confidential: An Insider's Account of the Elite College Selection Process.
"For those concerned about why the march toward social justice in America has faltered badly for nearly forty years, Peter Schmidt's Color and Money is a highly instructive--and greatly disturbing--guidepost." --Richard Kluger, author of Simple Justice: The History of Brown v. Board of Education and Black America's Struggle for Equality.
"An indispensible guide to the debate over affirmative action in the United States."--Michael Lind, author of The Next American Nation.
"This book is a must read for anyone concerned with access to higher education, especially to the nation’s elite universities, as well as with larger questions of social policy and social justice."--Terry MacTaggart, Former Chancellor, University of Maine System
"Books on the highly-charged issue of affirmative action are usually one-sided and inflammatory. Peter Schmidt's Color and Money is a wonderful exception. It provides an honest and fair examination that is also passionate and illuminating."--Richard D. Kahlenberg, Senior Fellow, The Century Foundation, and author of The Remedy: Class, Race, and Affirmative Action

Peter Schmidt is available as a speaker

Peter Schmidt is available to speak at colleges, bookstores, schools, churches, and at gatherings of education associations. His past speaking engagements are listed at the bottom of this Web site. If interested in having him appear, e-mail him at schmidt_peter@msn.com. He also is available as an expert source for journalists covering affirmative action. Those on a tight deadline should email him at peter.schmidt@chronicle.com.

Hear interviews with Peter Schmidt

Jack Lessenberry of Michigan Public Radio talked to Peter Schmidt about Color and Money in August. You can hear the interview here. Reading the book inspired Jack to write an essay on it, which you can read here. You also can hear Peter Schmidt talk about his book on the NPR program Justice Talking and in a Chronicle of Higher Education podcast.

Color and Money Is a College Course!

Many college professors are now using Color and Money in their classes, but Jack Dougherty, the director of the educational studies program at Trinity College in Connecticut, has gone a big step beyond. He has decided to name a freshman seminar "Color and Money" and to structure the class around the book. He has graciously agreed to share his syllabus, available here, for faculty members at other colleges who may have the same idea.


Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Color and Money Gets Positive Review in International Education Journal

The new issue of the International Journal of Educational Advancement has a favorable review of Color and Money.

The reviewer, Christine M. Luce of Vanderbilt University, praises Color and Money for including "novel critiques of the arguments both for and against affirmative action" and says it "realistically portrays the theoretical arguments, research data, and political motivations of the winners and loses in affirmative action policy without regard to political correctness."

She writes: "I find it both rare and refreshing to read such an honest, insightful book, which boldly challenges the status quo." Her review predicts that Color and Money "will certainly shape future debates" on the affirmative action issue.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

New Study Suggests Poverty Takes Toll on Children's Brains

A new neurological study of children from different socioeconomic backgrounds has found evidence that being raised in poverty may hurt the development of the brain region responsible for problem solving and creativity.

The researchers behind the study, slated for publication in the Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience, say they are hopeful that the lower brain function they have identified in many low-income children can be prevented or reversed. Accordingly, they are collaborating with other neuroscientists who use games and other stimuli to improve the functioning of the brain region in question--the prefrontal cortex--in school-age children.

Nonetheless, the researchers--all from the University of California at Berkeley--say their study's findings provide reason to worry that the environmental conditions experienced by low-income children pose a serious risk to their educational development.

"This is a wake-up call," says one of the study's co-authors, Robert Knight, the director of Berkeley's Helen Wills Neuroscience Institute. "It is not just that these kids are poor and more likely to have health problems, but they might actually not be getting full brain development from the stressful and relatively impoverished environment associated with low socioeconomic status: fewer books, less reading, fewer games, fewer visits to museums."

The researchers conducted the study by using electroencephalograph, or EEG, to measure the brain activity of two groups of 9- and 10-year-olds--one from low-income backgrounds, the other from high-income backgrounds. None of the children involved had neurological damage or prenatal exposure to drugs and alchohol, but the brains of those from lower-income backgrounds were slower to exhibit responses to stimuli flashed on a screen in front of them.

Mark Kishiyama, a cognitive psychologist who is the study's lead author, says the electrical activity in the brains of many of the children from lower socioeconomic backgrounds actually bore some resemblance to the activity in the brains of adults whose prefrontal lobes have been damaged by strokes. "This difference may manifest itself in problem solving and school peformance," he says.

Studies of animals have shown that their prefrontal cortexes can be affected by stress and environmental deprivation. And other studies of humans have shown that children from lower-income backgrounds tend to get significantly less stimulation in early childhood than those who are more privileged.

The good news offered by one study co-author--Thomas Boyce, a pediatrician and developmental psychobiologist--is that it might be possible to improve the brain development of low-income children through steps as simple as encouraging their parents to engage them in conversation more often.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Study: Blacks Reap Smaller Gains from Majors in Lucrative Fields

A new study that tracked minority college students over time found that black students who majored in high-paying fields reaped smaller financial gains than comparable Asian- and Hispanic-American students when they entered the job market.

As discussed in more depth in an article on the Chronicle of Higher Education news blog, the study tracked about 350 students who had applied for the Gates Millennium Scholars Program for low-income minority students and had gone through its selection process. If found that the salary premium that Asian- and Hispanic-American students received from majoring in science, technology, mathematics, or engineering was 50 percent higher than what black students who had majored in those fields were earning soon after college. Asian- and Hispanic-American students also reaped a higher salary premium than did black students for majoring in professional fields such as business or law.

The researchers behind the study--Tatiana Melguizo, an assistant professor of higher education at the University of Southern California, and Gregory C. Wolniak, a research scientist at the National Opinion Research Center--found some evidence that variations in occupational choices might help explain the gaps. They did not look into whether discrimination played a role because they did not have sufficient data matching students with their employers.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Conservative Advocacy Group Demands Admissions Data from UCLA

The Pacific Legal Foundation--a prominent conservative advocacy group--is demanding that the University of California at Los Angeles produce applicant data that might show whether it is considering race in admissions, in violation of a state ban on the practice.

As reported in an article on The Chronicle of Higher Education news blog, the foundation sent a letter to UCLA last month demanding a host of information under the state's open records laws. Among the documents that it requests in its letter are undergraduate applications (with all personally identifying information removed) from students seeking admission to the Classes of 2005 through 2008; records giving the identities of all applications readers, the scores they gave each application, and their reasons for deciding to admit or reject each candidate; and all handbooks and other documents designed to guide applications readers.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Post-Election Analyses: Obama's Coattails Saved Affirmative-Action Preferences in Colorado

Ward Connerly's crusade against affirmative-action preferences suffered its first major defeat at the polls on election day, as Colorado voters narrowly rejected his proposed ban on the use of such preferences by public colleges and other state and local agencies.

A look back at what happened in Colorado suggests that Connerly's opponents would be mistaken in concluding they have clearly turned the tide against him, however.

For starters, the measure was defeated by an extremely narrow margin: 50.7 percent against, 49.3 percent for. It was not until several days after the election that state election officials concluded that it had, in fact, lost.

More importantly, as a Chronicle of Higher Education analysis of the election results points out, political scientists and other experts believe Barack Obama's campaign played a substantial role in the measure's defeat. Not only did the Obama campaign's formidable advertising blitz and ground game turn Colorado from red to blue--allowing him to win 53 percent of the popular vote--it also brought to the polls a lot of people who had not voted in past elections. They included black and Hispanic voters and college students, populations that have been strongholds of support for affirmative-action preferences when similar measures were voted on in other states.

Kenneth Bickers, a political-science professor at the University of Colorado at Boulder, told the Chronicle: “This election brought out people who in most typical elections wouldn’t be voting.”

For his part, Connerly told the newspaper: “If the vote was held tomorrow with no Obama money and no Obama on the ballot, we’d win, 60 to 40."

A similar measure easily passed with nearly 58 percent of the vote in Nebraska, which remained solidly red as 57 percent of its voters backed McCain.

Connerly's opponents managed to keep such measures off the ballot in Arizona, Missouri, and Oklahoma, through concerted efforts to block his petition-gathering efforts and to challenge the legitimacy of the petitions he submitted. He told the Chronicle he already has a new effort underway to get such a measure on the Missouri ballot, in 2010. He said he also may give Arizona and Colorado another shot down the road.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Report: Disadvantaged College Students Least Likely to Be Exposed to Best Education Practices

The Association of American Colleges and Universities has issued a report concluding that the students most likely to benefit from several highly effective educational practices--those who are black, Hispanic, and "first generation"--are the least likely to be exposed to such practices while in college.

The report, discussed here in The Chronicle of Higher Education, notes that while 57 percent of white students have internships their employers view as highly desirable, only 46 percent of black and Hispanic students have comparable internship experiences. And while 36 percent of seniors whose parents had gone to college say they had to complete a capstone course or project integrating and applying what they have learned, just 29 percent of first-generation college students report having a capstone assignment. The lower a student's achievement levels when beginning college, the report says, the greater benefit he will get from the practices it describes.

Carol Geary Schneider, AACU's president, says the research contained in the new report shows that "we know what works, but we just aren't providing it to all students who could benefit."

Only 17 percent of all college freshmen take part in "learning communities," in which they take two or more linked courses together, even though involvement in such groups has been shown to improve retention, the report says. Just 19 percent of college seniors report having worked with a faculty member on a research project, even though students who have had such an experience report educational benefits such as a greater capacity for deep, integrative learning.

The author of the report is George D. Kuh, director of Indiana University's Center for Postsecondary Research.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Hear Peter Schmidt Interviewed by the San Diego Union Tribune

Color and Money author Peter Schmidt was extensively interviewed by Chris Reed, an editorial writer for the San Diego Union Tribune, in September. A recording of the interview has now been posted online here.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

New Efforts to Help Black Males Focus on the Positive

Color and Money author Peter Schmidt extensively documents pragmatic, research-based efforts to help black males succeed in college in a new article in The Chronicle of Higher Education.

The article does not gloss over the educational problems of black boys and men. It notes that black males graduate from high school and attend and complete college at disproportionately low rates and that black men are outnumbered by black women in colleges by a ratio nearly two to one, the highest level of gender imbalance of any racial or ethnic group. It cites a recent analysis by Shaun R. Harper, an assistant professor of higher-education management at the University of Pennsylvania, finding that fewer than a third of black men who enter four-year colleges as freshmen graduate within six years. Tellingly, Sterling H. Hudson III, dean of admissions and records at Morehouse College, is quoted saying "We really have to scour the entire country to seat a freshman class of 750 to 800 students."

But the article also offers plenty of reason for hope, documenting several efforts to research programs billed as helping black males succeed and to replicate those that are found to be having an impact.

It notes, for example, that University System of Georgia reports that its African American Male Initiative helped increase the system's enrollment of black male students by nearly 25 percent from 2002 to 2007, and that efforts are underway to determine which of several programs established as part of the initiative are having an impact.

Meanwhile, the Student African American Brotherhood, a national group that promotes mentor relationships and has chapters at more than 100 two-year and four-year colleges, is evaluating its programs' effectiveness with the help of a $725,000 grant from the Lumina Foundation for Education.

Mr. Harper of the University of Pennsylvania is involved in two separate ambitious undertakings. With a Lumnia grant he is overseeing a four-year effort by six yet-to-be named colleges to collaboratively work to improve the education outcomes for their black male students. On top of that, he has spent much of the past three years studying the attitudes and habits of more than 200 academically successful black male undergraduates at 42 public and private colleges.

One of the article's key conclusions is that efforts to help black males succeed in education institutions need to be mindful of the importance of support from their homes. It cites research by Mr. Harper and by Freeman A. Hrabowski III, president of the University of Maryland-Baltimore County, showing that most academically successful black males share a common background trait: parents who consistently express high expectations.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Public Law Schools in Arizona and Nebraska Accused of Bias Against White Applicants

The Center for Equal Opportunity has issued reports accusing the law schools of the Arizona State University, the University of Arizona, and the University of Nebraska of systematically rejecting white applicants in favor of much weaker applicants from certain minority groups.

The center’s analysis of student data from the Arizona law schools concludes that — controlling for year of admission, test scores, grades, state residency, and sex — the odds ratio favoring black applicants over white ones at Arizona State’s law school exceeds 1,100 to 1, while the ratio favoring black applicants over white ones at the University of Arizona’s school exceeds 250 to 1. (More details are available here on the Chronicle of Higher Education blog.) The center's analysis of data from the Nebraska law school, discussed in more detail here, says the odds favoring black applicants to the law school over white applicants with the same academic profiles are 442 to 1.

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Peter Schmidt in USA Today: The Affirmative Action "Wedge" Splits the GOP, Too

When John McCain voiced opposition to affirmative action preferences last summer in an interview with ABC's George Stephanopoulos, the conventional wisdom among many pundits was that he was bringing up a wedge issue long used to divide Democrats along racial lines.

In an analysis recently published in USA Today, Peter Schmidt, the author of Color and Money, makes the case that the affirmative action issue divides Republicans as well--enough so to discourage the McCain campaign from drawing much attention to his stand.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Did Elite College Lacrosse Contribute to Our Economic Crisis?

One of the key findings of Color and Money is that selective colleges serve as a sorting machine, playing a key role in determining who rises to positions of leadership and makes big bucks in places such as Wall Street. In examining the inefficiencies of that sorting machine, Color and Money cites a wealth of research showing how selective colleges lower the bar for students who have cash or connections or can play a sport well. Left largely unexplored by the book is the question of what mayhem can result when elite college degrees are conferred upon people who really are not very bright, helping them go on to land jobs where they can do things like, well, make decisions that will profoundly effect our economy and help determine whether our retirement funds will grow or disappear.

With our economy being described as teetering on disaster, it is instructive, therefore, to read this Wall Street Journal article, passed along by an appreciative and alert Color and Money reader. It describes how many major Wall Street investment firms, including Bear Sterns and Lehman Brothers, maintain their own lacrosse teams and are happy to recruit young men skilled in the sport. It cites the old joke "the only way to get a job on Wall Street is to have high test scores or play lacrosse," suggesting that skill in the sport not only opens the doors of selective colleges, but the doors of firms that recruit employees from them.

Given how much investment bankers make, one suspects that Wall Street lacrosse players have plenty of cash on hand should they choose to hire strippers for their team parties.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Feds to Colleges: Don't Consider Applicants' Race Unless Diversity Is "Essential" to Your Mission

As discussed in depth here on the Chronicle of Higher Education blog, the Education Department's Office for Civil Rights has sent colleges a letter telling them they may not consider race in admissions unless it is “essential” to their “mission and stated goals.”

The NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund has responded by accusing the federal government of overstating the limitations placed on race-conscious admissions policies by the U.S. Supreme Court in its 2003 rulings involving the University of Michigan's chief undergraduate program and law school. “There is no reason for such clarification at this time,” a statement issued by the group says. “Rather, it seems that more than five years after those decisions, OCR is issuing this letter to further its efforts to subvert and give unnecessary pause to higher-education institutions that are pursuing a racially diverse student population in a constitutional manner."

For their part, few college lawyers have said much in protest of the new federal guidance, which they generally see as reflecting their own interpretation of the Supreme Court's rulings.

Friday, September 19, 2008

New Congressional Caucus To Advocate for Colleges Serving Black Students

More than two dozen members of the U.S. House of Representatives have banded together in a new caucus to promote the interests of historically black colleges and universities and other higher-education institutions classified as predominantly black. Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson, a Democrat of Texas, says she and two colleagues, Rep. James E. Clyburn of South Carolina, a Democrat, and Rep. John J. Duncan Jr. of Tennessee, a Republican, founded the group “in order to create a bipartisan dialogue in Congress that will focus on the legislative priorities of our nation’s HBCU’s.” Full Chronicle of Higher Education news blog coverage of this development is available here. The new effort was announced this month at a breakfast staged by the United Negro College Fund.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Researchers Sue California Bar for Data on Law School Graduates

Two researchers who question the benefits of affirmative action are asking the California Supreme Court to force that state’s bar to release years of data showing how law-school graduates of different races and ethnicities perform on their bar exams. The lead plaintiff in the suit, filed last month, is Richard H. Sander, a professor of law at the University of California at Los Angeles who has already produced controversial research concluding that race-conscious admissions policies hurt many black law students and lawyers, by setting them up to perform poorly in their chosen field. Full Chronicle of Higher Education blog coverage of the suit is available here.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Study Finds Blacks, Hispanics, Women Take Longer to Earn Doctorates

A new report from the Council of Graduate Schools suggests that blacks, Hispanics, and women are less likely to earn their PhDs partly because they end up taking longer to get through doctoral programs.

While 23 percent of whites or Asian Americans who earned doctorates within 10 years did so after the seventh year in doctoral programs, 27 percent of blacks and 36 percent of Hispanics who earned doctorates within a seven-year period.

Women are three percentage points less likely than men to complete their doctorates than men in 10 years, but the gap would be even wider if not for women's persistence in such programs. Six years into such programs, women are nine percentage points less likely to have earned their PhDs. The gap narrows as women stick it out and finish sometime after the seven-year mark.

William B. Russel, dean of Princeton University's Graduate School, told The Chronicle of Higher Education that a disproportionate share of minority students enter doctoral programs academically and, in some cases, culturally unprepared for the demands that will be placed on them, causing them to fall behind early on.

Pamela J. Benoit, dean of the Graduate School at the University of Missouri at Columbia, told the newspaper that the report's findings highlight the need for student-retention efforts to take into account where students are in their doctoral studies. "There is a real difference between issues that have to do with early attrition and late attrition," she said. Students who drop out of such programs early on may do so because they chose the wrong programs or lacked access to strong mentors, while students who abandon their quest for a doctorate late in the process often do so because of some conflict with a faculty adviser or a dissertation committee.

The report is titled Ph.D. Completion and Attrition: Analysis of Baseline Demographic Data From the Ph.D. Completion Project. A Chronicle of Higher Education article on it is available to Chronicle subscribers here.

Monday, September 1, 2008

Election Year Reality Check: Here's a Formula for Measuring the Political Clout of the Rich

We sometimes hear people lament that our federal government does not care much about the little guy, that a rich man’s vote seems to carry a lot more weight than a poor man’s. Candidates for Congress and the presidency often claim they will look out for ordinary Americans, but, once in office, they are almost always accused of catering to the mansion-and-Mercedes crowd.

Are complaints that the rich rule the nation the product of excessive cynicism? How much truth is there to them?

Martin Gilens, an associate professor of politics at Princeton University, sought to find out in a study first released as a working paper in August 2004 and later published in the Public Opinion Quarterly. He looked at the views Americans expressed toward various possible changes in federal policy in surveys conducted from 1992 and 1998 and checked whether the federal government ended up heeding the survey respondents’ wishes. He then broke down the results by income group, focusing his attention mainly on those whose incomes were at the 10th percentile (meaning they had less money than about nine out of ten Americans), those at the 90th percentile (who had more money than about nine out of ten), and those who were squarely in the middle, at the 50th percentile.

In aggregate, Gilens found, a policy that was overwhelmingly favored by people with incomes in the 10th through 50th percentile was about twice as likely to be implemented as a policy that was overwhelmingly opposed by them. A policy that was overwhelmingly favored by people at the 90th percentile was, by comparison, four times as likely to be implemented as a policy that they overwhelmingly opposed.

It’s wrong, however, to look at such numbers and conclude that the wealthy had about twice as much clout as those who are working- or solidly middle-class. That’s because on many questions—such as whether the federal budget should be balanced—both the rich and the poor held very similar views. It’s entirely possible that the government was carrying out the wishes of the poor simply because the rich wanted the same thing.

To get a clearer picture of which income groups had how much clout, Gilens looked at about 300 survey questions dealing with areas of substantial disagreement between the wealthy and poor. They included, for example, questions such as whether the government should enter free trade pacts like NAFTA, and whether it should cut capital gains and inheritance taxes. On such questions, Gilens found, the government’s actions were strongly correlated with the desires of the wealthy, but largely ignored the views of both the poor and middle class. A policy strongly supported by the wealthy was six times as likely to be implemented as a policy that the wealthy strongly opposed. A policy strongly supported by middle-income Americans was only 1.3 times as likely to be implemented as a policy they strongly opposed, and the views of the poor appeared to have almost no bearing on the government’s decisions at all.

Of course, it was possible something besides money was at work. Because both wealthy people and key decision-makers in government tend to be highly educated, maybe what they had in common was being smart and well-informed. But when Gilens tweaked his analysis to compare the highly educated of every income group, he found that money, in itself, still played a key role in determining whether people’s wishes were heard.

Gilens says the key advantage the wealthy have in shaping policy is the wherewithal to donate to parties, candidates, and interest organization. One might wonder, however, if the vast personal wealth of many in top positions in government also plays a role, and the picture would be different if more lower- and middle-income Americans stood a chance of rising to positions of power.

Gilens writes: “There has never been a democratic society in which citizens’ influence over government policy was unrelated to their financial resources. In this sense, the difference between democracy and plutocracy is one of degree. But, by this same token, a government that is democratic in form but is in practice only responsive to its most affluent citizens is a democracy in name only.”

A footnote of interest to readers of Color and Money: Gilens found that the poor were more likely to support affirmative action than the wealthy. The finding, he says, is not simply a reflection of the fact that black people are disproportionately represented at the bottom of the economic ladder. Other studies have found that poor white people are more likely to support affirmative action than people who are white and wealthy.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Ballot Measures to Ban Preferences Certified in Nebraska, Rejected in Arizona

As discussed in depth here on the Chronicle of Higher Education news blog, Arizona's secretary of state has decided that the backers of a proposed ballot measure curtailing the use of affirmative-action preferences have failed to gather enough valid petition signatures to get it on the ballot. The campaign on behalf of the measure is combing through the rejected signatures to try to find enough good ones to challenge the state official's decision.

Meanwhile, Nebraska's secretary of state has determined that the campaign on behalf of such a measure in his state has indeed gathered enough valid signatures for it to be on the ballot in November.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Barack Obama Praised for Nuance in His Views on Affirmative Action

As discussed by Peter Schmidt here on the Chronicle of Higher Education Campaign U blog, Barack Obama has been winning praise from both the right and the left for his willingness to inject the issue of class into the affirmative action debate. Among those giving him credit for raising the level of the debate are the anti-affirmative-action crusader Ward Connerly and John Payton, president of the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund.

On the Republican side, John McCain has declared his support for a proposed Arizona ballot measure that would ban the use of affirmative-action preferences by public colleges and other state and local agencies. But, in explaining his position, he has said he is opposed to "quotas", which the Supreme Court took off the table 30 years ago. As Color and Money makes abundantly clear, an awful lot has happened since that time.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Watch Peter Schmidt on C-Span's Book TV

C-Span's Book TV interviewed Peter Schmidt last fall at the National Press Club's book fair. C-Span now has the interview posted in its video archives, available for viewing here.

Monday, August 11, 2008

"Learning Communities" Found to Help Disadvantaged Students

A recently published study says community-college students who are low-income and academically unprepared appear to benefit from being placed in effective "learning communities" where they take classes together and can give each other support.

Two Syracuse University-based researchers--Cathy McHugh Engstrom, an associate professor of higher education, and Vincent Tinto, a professor of education--conducted the study by surveying and tracking the progress of students at 13 community colleges around the nation. They compared 1,600 low-income and unprepared freshmen who been placed in learning communities, taking remedial classes together, with nearly 2,300 who had not been placed in such groups.

In an article published in the journal Opportunity Matters the two researchers say they found that the learning-community students were more likely than the others to report feeling engaged in their studies, and were more positive than the others in their perceptions of how much encouragement they received on their campus and how much they had intellectually progressed.

The researchers caution in their article that the learning-community programs they studied were by no means representative of all such programs. To be included in the study, the programs had to focus on teaching basic skills and had to serve the full spectrum of students widely regarded as "at risk," including those who had low incomes, or were members of minority groups, immigrants, or members of the first generation of their families to attend college. Perhaps more importantly, all of the community colleges involved had previously gathered some evidence demonstrating that the programs on their campuses were effective in helping academically unprepared students.

The Chronicle of Higher Education offers more details on the study, as well as similar research dealing with four-year colleges, here.

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

New Report Looks at How Lack of Accumulated Wealth Hurts Black Families

A new report from the Center for American Progress suggests that the United States' black population has much less upward economic mobility than its white population largely because it has more trouble accumulating wealth from one generation to the next..

Much other research on economic mobility has focused on income, but that's only part of the picture. When it comes to dealing with dealing with economic setbacks such as the loss of a job, or making a long-term investment in your child's future by ponying up money for college tuition, it matters to have money in the bank or other forms of built up equity.

Moreover, wealth, education, and income all build on each other. The more money families have saved to finance tuition, the more likely children are to get a degree that will land them a lucrative job, enabling them to sock away money to send their kids off to college.

The center based its analysis on family-wealth data gathered from 1984 to 2003 as part of the Panel Study of Income Dynamics, a national study that follows families and individuals over time. The researchers looked at people who were from 6 to 21 in 1984 and measured their family wealth then and their own wealth in the 1999-to-2003 period, when they were 24 to 40 years old.

As discussed in more depth in a Chronicle of Higher Education article, white children born to wealthy families are much more likely to become wealthy adults than black children born to such families, the center's analysis found. Among those born to families in the top fourth of society in terms of accumulated wealth, 55 percent of white children and 37 percent of black children grow up to be in the top fourth as adults. At the other end of wealth distribution, 35 percent of white children and 44 percent of black children born to families in the bottom fourth end up in the bottom fourth as adults, the report says.

Although the researchers did not specifically study what factors account for the black-white gap in wealth accumulation, their report suggests that discrimination in housing, employment, and other areas plays a role. The report also notes that black families in the top fourth tend to be in the bottom of that category, making it more likely, simply as a statistical matter, that they would fall into a lower bracket if they lost any wealth at all.

Similar conclusions were contained in a recent report on upward mobility published by the Economic Mobility Project—a collaborative involving the American Enterprise Institute, the Brookings Institution, the Heritage Foundation, and the Urban Institute.

That report, by Bhashkar Mazumder, an economist, said the entire black-white gap in upward economic mobility can be explained by gaps in academic-test scores. Both black and white children with the same test scores experienced similar rates of upward mobility, and there was no racial gap in economic mobility among white and black people who had finished four years of college.

Monday, August 4, 2008

Don't Count on Remedial Programs to Help Minority Students Catch Up

Two yet-unpublished studies hold bad news for anyone looking to college remedial programs to help minority students overcome whatever education deficits they may have.

Based on examinations of the long-term educational success of students who entered college with comparable levels of academic preparation, both studies found that going through remedial programs really does not make much of a difference. Students who were thrown straight into regular academic classes where they were likely to feel over their heads were about as likely as students in remedial classes to achieve key educational goals such as earning a four-year degree.

The studies, discussed here in a Chronicle of Higher Education article, focus on students who were at or near the cut-off for assignment to remedial education programs. In doing so, they avoid a conundrum that has undermined several other similar studies: Simply comparing the academic fates of all students in remedial programs with those of all students not in such programs is unfair to the programs themselves, because most members of the first group enter college in much worse shape than most members of the second.

Such a research approach had one key drawback: It prevented the researchers from determining whether remedial classes help those students who enter college so academically unprepared they stand virtually no chance of going straight into regular academic classes.

Moreover, because the studies use statewide data and base their conclusions on average performance levels for the different populations studied, they likely obscure substantial variation in the quality of remedial programs. Their conclusions that remedial programs do not make much difference is likely based on data from some programs that actually do help students, as well as some programs that do harm.

One of the studies, of nearly 100,000 Florida community-college students, was conducted by Bridget Terry Long, an associate professor of education and economics at Harvard University, and Juan Carlos Calcagno, a senior research associate at the Community College Research Center at Teachers College. Among its findings, it concluded that students who took remedial classes ended up earning more credits over all, but not significantly more credits that were college-level.

The second study, based on Texas data, was conducted by Isaac McFarlin Jr., a research scientist at the University of Texas at Dallas and a visiting scholar at the National Poverty Center at the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor, and Francisco (Paco) Martorell, an associate economist at the RAND Corporation. It did not find any evidence that students who took remedial reading or mathematics classes were more likely to earn a college degree than comparably prepared students who went straight into academic classes.

In a third study discussed in the same Chronicle article, Ms. Long and Eric P. Bettinger, an associate professor of economics at Case Western Reserve University, tracked the long-term progress of 28,000 Ohio college students and actually did find benefits from participation in remedial classes. Ms. Long told the Chronicle that the discrepancies between the Ohio study and the others may be due to the narrower subset of the population that the Ohio study covered. It was limited to traditional-age, full-time students who had taken the ACT and either attended a four-year college or indicated on their application to a two-year institution that they planned to complete a four-year degree. The bottom-line conclusions she derived from both of her studies, as well as the Florida research, was that the effect of college remedial programs on most students "is either slightly positive, slightly negative, or zero."

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Campaigns for Preference Bans in Arizona and Nebraska Submit Petitions

As reported in some depth here on The Chronicle of Higher Education news blog, the campaigns for ballot measures to curtail affirmative-action preferences in Arizona and Nebraska say they have gathered enough petition signatures to put the proposals before voters. If elections officials declare enough of the petition signatures valid, both states will likely join Colorado in voting this fall on measures barring public colleges and other state and local agencies from granting preferential treatment based on race, ethnicity, and gender. As discussed extensively in the book Color and Money, similar measures have passed easily in California, Michigan, and Washington State.

Looking Back on Bakke

Color and Money author Peter Schmidt has commemorated the 30th anniversary of the Supreme Court's landmark Bakke affirmative action decision with two articles that have generated a lot of discussion in higher-education circles.

In an article published in The Chronicle of Higher Education, "'Bakke' Set a New Path to Diversity for Colleges," he takes on the question of whether the Bakke ruling diverted colleges onto a dead-end path by forcing them to adopt a new rationale for race-conscious admissions policies--the purported educational benefits of diversity--that would prove difficult to defend in the legal and political arenas as time went on.

In an article published in The Wall Street Journal, "America's Universities Are Living a Diversity Lie," he describes how most colleges continue to have race-conscious admissions policies for reasons the Bakke decision was supposed to have taken off the table, such as a desire to promote social justice. He also discusses how colleges have yet to produce solid research conclusively demonstrating that such policies have educational benefits for all students.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

University of Michigan Avoids Any Big Diversity Drop from Preference Ban

Back in 2006, when Michiganders were voting on a proposal to ban public colleges and other state and local agencies from using affirmative-action preferences, the University of Michigan warned that the passage of such a measure would lead to a huge drop in black, Hispanic, and Native American enrollments on its Ann Arbor campus. The university issued similar warnings in previous years when its ability to use affirmative-action preferences was being challenged in court.

Preliminary admissions numbers for the coming fall recently released by U of M show that such predictions have not come true. In the first full admissions cycle after it was precluded from considering applicants' race, the share of its incoming freshman class that is black, Hispanic, or Native American fell from 10.85 percent to 10.47 percent--a decline, yes, but small enough to go largely unnoticed.

A statement issued by the university described several steps it had taken to try to maintain racial and ethnic diversity. Its undergraduate-admissions office hired additional employees, expanded its hours of operation, and used Descriptor PLUS, a geodemographic search tool developed by the College Board, to identify high schools and neighborhoods that are underrepresented on its campus. The university also stepped up its outreach in communities such as Detroit. (See full Chronicle of Higher Education blog coverage, with a link to the university's statement, here.)

Given that the University of Michigan's enrollment has never been as racially diverse as the state it serves, it's worth asking why Michigan did not take such steps earlier. As the book Color and Money discusses in depth, it often has taken the shock to the system delivered by ban on affirmative-action preferences to get colleges to get serious about finding workable alternatives. When they do get serious, the workable alternatives suddenly appear.

Special News Bulletin: Not All Asian Americans Are Alike!!!

A report released this month by a collaborative involving the College Board and two New York University institutes tells the world what just about anyone who reads a newspaper or even leaves their house has known for decades: the stereotype of Asian Americans as the "model minority" is horribly simplistic. While some segments of the Asian American population, such as those whose families came over from Japan or India, are doing incredibly well in educational and economic terms, others, such as Vietnamese, Laotian, and Cambodian Americans, are struggling with low education levels and high levels of poverty.

The report offers valuable demographic information about various segments of the Asian American population, but it is also missing a few things. It says little about how colleges tend to lump all Asian American populations together--by giving them just one "Asian American" box to check on applications--and then, often, hold them to admissions standards that are every bit as high as, if not higher than, those applied to white students. In its discussion of affirmative action, the report made no reference to a recent study (discussed here) that found Asian American enrollments rose at several elite public universities after they were barred from considering applicants' race.

Chronicle of Higher Education coverage of the report is available to subscribers here.

A Dissident Voice Roils a Disney World Diversity Conference

This year's National Conference on Race and Ethnicity in American Higher Education witnessed some excitement beyond what was promised by its locale, Disney World.

One of the nation's leading proponents of diversity in higher education, Evelyn Hu-DeHart, director of Brown University's Center for the Study of Race and Ethnicity in America, delivered a speech taking conference attendees to task for not doing more to advocate for black, Hispanic, and Native American students and faculty members. She went so far as to suggest that colleges let people attend this attend this annual conference—typically held in family-friendly tourist destinations—to reward them for not making waves.

Calling herself "a hard-nosed critic from the inside," Ms. Hu-DeHart said, "Let's face it: Diversity has created jobs for all of us. It is a career. It is an industry."

"We do what we need to keep our jobs," she said. "But as long as we keep doing our job the way we are told to do it, we are covering up for our universities."

"You all are covering up," she said. "You all are complicit in this."

She alleged that people who work in college offices dealing with diversity and minority issues help their institutions create the impression that they are far more concerned with diversity and equity than is actually the case. Her advice to the college chief diversity officers in the crowd? Quit and renegotate your contract to give you more power.

Chronicle of Higher Education subscribers can find full coverage of her speech here and an analytical story following up on the conference here.

Thursday, June 5, 2008

New Federal Report Sheds Light on Hispanic Immigrants' Education Problems

A new report from the U.S. Department of Education finds that the nation's rapidly growing Hispanic population is having some serious academic problems, mainly due to the difficulties many Hispanic immigrants are having in assimilating.

As of 2007, just 34 percent of the nation's Hispanic population in the 25-to-29 age bracket had completed at least some college, compared with 66 percent of white and 50 percent of black U.S. residents in the same age group, the report found. Although Hispanic people have made some gains in this area since the early 1970s, their progress has been slower than that of other groups, so that gaps between white and Hispanic students have widened.

Where the report differentiates between native and foreign-born Hispanics, its findings make clear that many of the educational problems being broadly attributed to the Hispanic population are mainly the problems of Hispanic immigrants. In looking at the Hispanic population in the 16-to-24 age range, for example, the report finds that 12 percent of those born here, and 36 percent of those born abroad, have left high school with neither a diploma or GED.

Hispanics born outside the United States account for 7 percent of the nation's 16- to 24-year-old population, but they make up 28 percent of all U.S. residents in that age group who are not enrolled in high school and have not earned a high-school diploma.

Friday, May 23, 2008

Report from Women's Advocacy Group Threatens to Derail Efforts to Help Troubled Boys

The American Association of University Women, an advocacy group, made a big splash in the national media this week with a report arguing that the "boys' crisis" in education is a myth.

Instead of offering new research, the report provided the AAUW's take on research already out there. It omitted any discussion of statistics showing that boys are far more likely than girls to be suspended or placed in special education or to commit suicide. It did not find much cause for alarm in data showing that men now account for just 43 percent of bachelor's degree and 41 percent of master's degree recipients, that boys and have significantly lower grade-point averages than girls, and that black women outnumber black men on selective college campuses by a factor of about 2 to 1. Noting that there is not much of a gap in the academic performance of upper-middle-class white boys and girls (the children of much of its membership), it suggested that the gender gaps in other segments of the population should be attributed to class and race. It cited rises in the raw numbers of boys achieving at certain levels to say we should not fret over drops in the percentages achieving at certain thresholds, and cited increases in the grade point averages of boys in asserting that the persistent gap in the grades of boys and girls is not an issue.

Many journalists wrote stories publicizing the report's findings without much in the way of rebuttal or critical analysis. Among the high-profile pieces drawing public attention to it were a front-page story written by Valerie Strauss of the Washington Post, as well as stories by Tamar Lewin of the New York Times and Queenie Wong of the McClatchy Newspapers.

Other education journalists chose to ignore the report as a work of advocacy with dubious scientific value. Instead of giving the report news coverage, USA Today published an editorial saying the AAUW "seems intent on trying to debunk something that's virtually irrefutable: that men are falling behind women at all levels of education, and that this is creating societal problems that need to be addressed." (Richard Whitmire, an editorial writer at USA Today and president of the National Education Writers Association, subsequently explained his objections to the report--and criticized much of the coverage of it--here in an online review of journalism published by USC's School of Communications.)

Ronald Bailey of Reason Magazine wrote a blog post suggesting that the AAUW objects to the idea of a boys' crisis because it "threatens the perks and programs of entrenched victims groups." Among the other bloggers who criticized the study were Marty Nemko, a contributing editor at U.S. News and World Report, and Alexander Russo of This Week in Education, who threatened to trigger a gender war among education writers with a post titled "Women's Group Says Boys Not In Crisis; Female Reporters Agree."

Sorting through this controversy is important. Not only has the AAUW's report received a lot of public attention, the group has wielded a lot of influence over education policymakers in Washington in the past and, depending on what happens in the November elections, could do so in the future.

Back in the early-to-mid 1990s, the American Association of University Women was known mainly as the driving force behind widespread fears that girls were the ones in crisis. As a reporter for Education Week, Color and Money author Peter Schmidt not only analyzed the AAUW's research on schoolgirls, but obtained many of the group's internal documents shedding light on its motives and methods. His reporting on the subject for Education Week is available only to its subscribers, but he holds the rights to reproduce an article summarizing his findings which he wrote for The Weekly Standard. Given its potential to inform the current debate, it's published in full below:

THE PHONY WAR ON SCHOOLGIRLS: A MYTH EXPOSED by Peter Schmidt 07/08/1996, Volume 001, Issue 42

America's girls are said to face a grave threat: their schools. Word has it that hordes of sexual harassers prey on girls in classrooms and corridors; that teachers routinely ignore or mistreat them; that sexist textbooks degrade them; that gender-biased tests underrate them; and that the entire elementary and secondary education system conspires to break their spirits, cripple their self-esteem, and curtail their careers.

This is the news that certain feminist advocates, with the help of the media, have spread. As a result, "gender bias" has emerged as one of the main concerns of the school-reform movement. School districts have come under pressure to eliminate policies and practices that cannot be deemed "gender neutral." Colleges and universities have been overhauling their education departments to ensure that they are not training tomorrow's teachers in the use of gender-biased instructional methods. States have passed laws designed to promote gender equity and crack down on in-school sexual harassment (even when the alleged perpetrators are children in first or second grade). The previous Congress also joined the crusade, voting to amend its chief school- funding bill with language enlisting various federal programs in the battle for gender equity.

It seems an unquestionably noble cause, the rescue of schoolgirls. But the truth is that girls do not need to be rescued. The much-bemoaned schoolgirls crisis is largely a hoax. By most academic and social measures, the nation's girls are doing fine, and it's the boys we should be worried about.

So where did this widespread misperception come from? It came not from a consensus of education researchers, but a slick public-relations campaign mounted by the leadership of a single advocacy group, the American Association of University Women. The AAUW commissioned, published, and hyped the three reports on schoolgirls that sounded the alarm in the popular media; these reports compose the bible of the ongoing crusade. The AAUW has also taken the lead in lobbying for a policy agenda meant to remedy the problems alleged in its reports.

While the group's leadership insists it mounted its campaign out of a sincere concern for girls, its own literature betrays ulterior motives: ideology and self-interest. AAUW officials had resolved to instill the belief that schools discriminate systematically against girls long before much of anything besides feminist theory told them this was so. Soon, they came to see a crusade as a way to raise their organization's profile, recruit new members, and solicit new donations.

The AAUW issued the first of its three reports, "Shortchanging Girls, Shortchanging America," in 1991. The report found that girls' self-esteem plunges during adolescence and that schools bear much of the blame. A 1992 report, "How Schools Shortchange Girls," concluded that girls are the victims of severe educational discrimination that affects their marks, course selections, and career possibilities. A 1993 report, "Hostile Hallways," exposed what the AAUW described as "a sexual harassment epidemic" in schools.

The organization touts these reports as authoritative and unbiased, pointing to a dearth of public criticism as evidence of their validity. Anne L. Bryant, the AAUW's executive director, said in 1994 that she could count the reports' critics' on two hands, and those tended to be "a few academics and news commentators--mostly men."

But critics there are. One of them is Diane S. Ravitch, head of the Education Department's research branch under George Bush, who accused the AAUW of selective interpretation of data. Another is Chester E. Finn Jr., who held the same post under Ronald Reagan and called the group's research "a deflection from what is really wrong in education and a focus on a bogus problem." Still another is Joseph Adelson, editor of the widely used Handbook of Adolescent Psychology, who described the AAUW effort as "a propaganda machine that does not seem to respond to any contrary evidence."

If other educators as social scientists have accepted the AAUW's reports at face value, it is perhaps because they have been lulled by the group's reputation as venerable, staid, and mainstream. Established in 1881, the AAUW was old-line and hardly at the vanguard of feminism at the time of its centennial. The average age of its members was 55, and many had rebelled against the group's decision to support abortion rights. The AAUW was founded specifically to advocate on behalf of women who were being denied access to higher education. Having all but won that war, it was suffering a rapid decline in membership and was under pressure to prove its relevance.

So the timing seemed right when, in the mid-1980s, the group discovered Harvard psychologist Carol Gilligan and other feminist scholars who had tapped into a hot new field: bias against girls. By June of 1989, AAUW leaders had begun to view the lives of schoolgirls through a feminist lens. In a pamphlet issued that month, they lamented the fact that girls and boys tend to take different courses and get slightly different grades, pointing to gender bias as a prime culprit. Citing the work of Gilligan and others, the pamphlet posited that girls favor cooperation over competition and thus fail to thrive in the competitive, male-centered environments found in most schools. "The structure of lessons and the dynamics of classroom interaction all too often create an environment alien, if not hostile, to girls," it said. The pamphlet urged members to pressure teachers, local school officials, and university education departments to embrace instructional methods certified bias-free.

Fourteen months later, a second pamphlet proclaimed that the schools' white-European-male-dominated curricula must be replaced by books and lessons "that show women and minorities as doers, leaders, and decision-makers." The pamphlet assured AAUW members that their group "was exerting every effort to bring the needs of women and girls to a central position" in the national debate over school reform.

The first big report came in January 1991. Based on a survey of about 3,000 children conducted by the polling firm Greenberg-Lake, it said that girls undergo a dramatic and disproportionate loss of self-esteem during adolescence--due largely to the way they are treated in schools. "Girls aged eight and nine are confident, assertive, and feel authoritative about themselves," the report said. "Yet more emerge from adolescence with a poor self-image, constrained views of their future and their place in society, and must less confidence about themselves and their abilities."

The report linked much of this deterioration to girls' difficulties in math and science. "Of all the study's indicators, girls perceptions of their ability in math and science had the strongest relationship to their self-esteem; as girls 'learn' they are not good at these subjects, their sense of self-worth and aspirations for themselves deteriorate."

Ordinarily, the results of such studies first appear in social-science journals, where others in the field can examine methodologies and conclusions. The AAUW eschewed this approach and chose instead to distribute a spiffy summary directly to the popular media. From a public-relations standpoint, the strategy paid off. The nation's journalists eagerly repeated the report's most alarming conclusions without bothering to check them out. The AAUW's subsequent literature boasted that the survey "shook America's consciousness and had a far-reaching impact."

One journal that showed some skepticism was Science News. In its March 23, 1991, issue, it noted that the AAUW's researchers had depended on students to assess their own thoughts and feelings and thus had based their conclusions on a form of data notoriously unreliable and difficult to interpret. It also faulted the researchers for not bothering to locate and survey high-school dropouts, who are disproportionately male and whose answers would likely have painted a less rosy picture for boys.

In Science News and elsewhere, social scientists also questioned the the way in which the AAUW solicited and interpreted children's answers. The survey presented children with such statements as "I am happy the way I am" and asked them to choose the best response in a continuum generally ranging from "always false" to "always true." The researchers then threw out those responses in the middle--which they held merely to signal the respondent's uncertainty--and drew conclusions based on the number of children who expressed strong feelings. Such methodology may work well in anticipating election returns, but it can lead to tenuous and subjective findings when used in studies of human behavior.

Moreover, readers of the AAUW report might have gotten the impression that self-esteem has been clearly defined and shown to have an impact on student achievement. In fact, it has not. Experts on the behavioral sciences say self-esteem has not established definition, is almost impossible to measure, and has not been shown to lead to or stem from academic success. If high self-esteem leads to high academic achievement, why is it that black males in the AAUW survey were the most self-assured while, at the same time, the most at-risk academically? If lower self-esteem breeds academic failure, why do Asia's relatively humble children routinely clobber our own on international comparisons of academic achievement? And if girls are giving up on themselves academically, why are more women than men enrolling in colleges and graduate schools?

But the AAUW publicized its report as if its starkest conclusions were beyond doubt. That June, it launched its "Initiative for Educational Equity," and elaborate effort to prod federal, state, and local authorities to purge schools of gender bias. The heads of the AAUW's approximately 1,700 local branches received packets from the national office telling them how to mobilize members to demand such change. The packet included a guide for hosting round-table discussions to ensure the AAUW's "visibility as the leader on educational equity issues."

The national leadership's vision of a "gender-fair" education system left little to chance. Under the proposed new order, states would not certify prospective teachers and school administrators unless they had taken courses on gender-related subjects such as new research on women. Teacher-training programs would tell prospective pedagogues that they "must not perpetuate assumptions about the superiority of traits and activities traditionally ascribed to males in our society." School systems would evaluate administrators, teachers, and counselors based on their efforts to promote and encourage gender equity.

And schools would have to submit to annual evaluations conducted with the assistance of the AAUW's new "Gender Equity Assessment Guide," which asks: Are girls equally represented in all classes, sports, and activities? Are " multicultural and gender sensitivities . . . raised in every aspect of the curriculum?" Are procedures in place "to review textbooks, teaching methods, and curricula for gender-role stereotyping?" Do the school's health-care providers offer a "full range of reproductive health services?" Etc. The answer, of course, must be yes, and woe to the school official who might defend the standard curriculum or express fear that offering a "full range of reproductive health services" would spark a parent rebellion.

The AAUW's second report, "How Schools Shortchange Girls," attempted to explain exactly what makes the status quo so destructive to the women of tomorrow. Conducted under contract by the Wellesley College Center for Research on Women, it concluded, based on a review of 1,331 previous studies, that schoolgirls are the victims of profound gender bias at all grade levels. Teachers lavish substantially more attention on boys, it said. Textbooks erode girls' enthusiasm for learning by downplaying the achievements and experiences of women. Schools avoid discussing health-related topics, such as birth control, that are especially crucial to girls' development. Although girls enter school on the same footing as boys, they fall behind in key subjects because of their second-class treatment, and then on top of it all, they are asked to take standardized college-admissions tests that are biased against them.

Unfortunately, the report shortchanged its readers by presenting only half the picture. It failed to note that much of the extra attention that boys get from teachers comes in the form of scoldings and reprimands. It disregarded Education Department statistics showing that girls have almost caught up to boys in science and mathematics and are doing much better than boys in reading. It glossed over the fact that girls have substantially narrowed the gender gap in college-entrance test scores and are actually more likely than boys to complete high school and obtain college or graduate degrees.

The report gave no clue that boys generally receive lower grades on their report cards, or that boys are far likelier to be suspended or held back a year, or that boys account for two-thirds of children in special-education programs. Attempting to portray boys as youth's favored gender, brimming with confidence and self-esteem, the AAUW also failed to account for the particular self-destructiveness of adolescent males: Not only are boys two to four times likelier to commit suicide, depending on their age, they also stand much greater risks of being murdered, killed in car accidents, or incarcerated later in life, according to data compiled by the National Center for Health Statistics and other federal agencies.

The AAUW and its researchers denied any sort of bias. "Advocating for girls and women's rights is important, but our business is not advocacy, our business is research," asserted Susan McGee Bailey, executive director of the Wellesley center. Journalists once again took the AAUW at its word and gave currency to its claims. Educators scrambled to show worried parents that they were attentive to the problems described in the report, which was accompanied by an "action guide" telling AAUW members how to whip up public support for certain school reforms.

"The early reports are in and it's clear that the 'Initiative for Educational Equity' is the right issue at the right time for the AAUW," boasted a new letter to AAUW branches. Instead of suggesting how to help girls, the accompanying instructional packet described how to capitalize on the popular appeal of the crusade to help the AAUW. Branch leaders were urged to ask themselves: "How will Initiative efforts help our branch achieve membership growth, visibility, and fundraising goals?"

Much of the packet read like a training manual for door-to-door salesmen. It advised branch leaders: View everyone you meet in the course of the gender- equity campaign as a target for membership recruitment. Invite them to branch meetings where you can get their addresses and phone numbers and fellow members can chat them up. Push them to join and, "if possible, take their checks on the spot." When networking with other educational organizations or women's groups, ask for their membership or donor lists. "The overarching strategy is to turn every activity into a membership recruitment opportunity," it coached.

In June of 1993, the AAUW issued its explosive third report, "Hostile Hallways." Its shocking conclusion: 85 percent of girls have experienced sexual harassment in school. In a survey conducted by Louis Harris & Associates of 1,630 8th-through 11th-graders, 65 percent of girls complained of having been touched, pinched, or grabbed in a sexual way, and a fourth of the girls who reported being sexually harassed identified teachers or other school employees as the perpetrators.

But, perhaps due to the seriousness of its allegations, educators and social scientists seemed less inclined to accept this third report on its face. They argued that the AAUW had defined "sexual harassment" too broadly and thus risked trivializing the problem. In many cases, the alleged transgressions were unwelcome comments, jokes, gestures, or looks.

Skeptics asked, Were girls being subjected to a teenagers' Tailhook or just horseplay, adolescent taunts, and the awkward romantic overtures of unpopular boys? Albert Shanker, president of the American Federation of Teachers, complained that the report blurred the lines "between acts that are criminal and acts that are merely rude" and paved the way for schools to adopt new codes of conduct conveying the message that students "have an absolute right never to be offended." The report appeared to assume that the unsavory behavior it described was the product of a sexist society. Conservative scholars and pundits have posed an alternative explanation: that such behavior is actually the bitter fruit of the sexual revolution that feminists helped bring about.

But the AAUW stuck by its guns and called on schools to crack down on sexism. The crusade rolled onward, drawing new support and gaining ground on several fronts. In some school districts, the AAUW forced more changes in education policy in the space of a few short years than had advocates for black children in forty. Philanthropies and government agencies poured money into new programs for girls. All-girls private schools enjoyed a dramatic upsurge in popularity -- as did women's colleges such as Wellesley. A few public schools set up separate classes for girls, even as women's-rights groups elsewhere were trying to block districts from forming experimental academies for black males.

By now, other groups with more overtly feminist agendas were getting into the act. Inspired by the AAUW's research, the Ms. Foundation for Women launched "Take Our Daughters to Work Day." Its curriculum included handouts that lionized Anita Hill and Gloria Steinem and sought to teach children a litany of widely disputed statistics, telling them, for example, that a woman earns 71 cents to a man's dollar and that "10 percent of American women are lesbians." One handout listed a court's ruling that a lesbian couple comprised a "family of affinity" as a key historical event of 1992.

The effort was soon joined by the National Education Association. Working with the Wellesley College center, it produced Flirting or Hurting, a 106- page guide instructing teachers of 6th-through 12th-graders how to fight student-to-student sexual harassment. The authors, both from Wellesley, were Nan Stein, who had recently contributed to the book Transforming a Rape Culture, and Lisa Sjostrom, who had written both the Ms. Foundation's curriculum and a primer called The Mother Daughter Revolution Reader's Companion Guide. Among Flirting or Hurting's admonishments: "When a target complains about being sexually harassed, it should not be within the purview of school staff members to decide whether or not the situation being described constitutes sexual harassment."

In April of 1993, the AAUW proudly announced that Congress had been moved to respond to its "irrefutable" evidence of extensive gender bias in schools. Flanked by officials of the AAUW and other women's groups, the Congressional Caucus for Women's Issues announced an ambitious package of House bills dubbed the "Gender Equity in Education Act." Education Week placed the annual cost of the measures at $ 360 million -- three times what the Education Department was spending on school desegregation and nearly half again its budget for bilingual education and immigrant programs. The proposed legislation created an Office of Gender Equity and funded the recruitment of female math and science teachers. Later that summer, members of the Senate offered a similar group of bills.

Congressional support was overwhelming. Elsewhere, however, the fanfare, rhetoric, and additional federal spending associated with these measures caused the gender-equity crusade to pop up on conservative radar screens. Barbara J. Ledeen, executive director of the Independent Women's Forum, denounced the legislation as "feminist pork" and asserted that its underlying philosophy demeaned women by viewing them as victims.

But the most visible critic was Christina Hoff Sommers, a Clark University philosophy professor whose new book, Who Stole Feminism?, debunked the AAUW reports and an assortment of other statistics popularized by feminists. She blasted the AAUW studies as biased "advocacy research" and alleged that the federal legislation they inspired "will enrich the gender-bias industry and further weaken our schools."

Sommers's book attracted wide-spread attention and secured her a place on the talk-show circuit. Outraged, the AAUW became part of a coordinated effort to attack her credibility. "We need to respond and respond loudly," the liberal media-watchdog group Fairness & Accuracy in Reporting said in a letter mailed to AAUW officials and other feminist activists. Both FAIR and the AAUW sent formal complaints demanding retractions from Simon & Schuster, Sommers's publisher. When Ann Bryant took to the radio to defend the AAUW studies against Sommers's criticisms, an interoffice memorandum urged her staffers to flood the talk show's switchboard with sympathetic questions and comments. "Men usually dominate as call-ins, so we need all the friendly calls we can get," implored Gabrielle Lange, an AAUW public-relations official.

Eventually, gender-equity legislation was passed into law. Since then, however, the new Republican-led Congress has come under pressure from conservatives to repeal some of its measures. Rather than simply defend the AAUW's reports, gender-equity crusaders have been questioning the motives of the critics by asking, What difference does it make if the AAUW's research was flawed? What is important, they argue, is that the reports succeeded in making the nation aware of the educational needs of girls. Only a sexist reactionary would fret over the veracity of reports that so clearly serve the best interests of girls.

Logic of this kind is seductive to those prone to confusion about ends and means. This is because it ignores the harsh truth that our public schools have finite resources with which to address overwhelming demands. Far from fully meeting the needs of all students, most school administrators wrestle with the dilemma of how to apportion neglect. And hard decisions should be based on accurate information, not propaganda.

The AAUW has a point when it says that girls lag behind in science and math and that schools should be doing more about it. But instead of directing its energies toward changing the way these subjects are taught, the AAUW decided that a complete transformation of the school culture was required. The sweeping and diffuse education-policy agenda that it subsequently adopted seems more concerned with having schools produce feminists than with having them produce new generations of female doctors and engineers.

And given that our education system seems to be having enough trouble teaching the basics, parents might question whether schools should be in the business of quizzing students on the glories of Anita Hill or disciplining them for sending a valentine to the wrong classmate. The AAUW, aware that many children learn traditional notions of gender from their parents, has been promoting the slogan "Raise boys and girls the same way." The slogan tips the organization's hand and reveals its true agenda: not a laudable quest for basic fairness, but a radical desire to create a society in which the concept of gender no longer applies. Such thinking ignores both the biological basis of gender and the wishes of many parents, who would rather raise boys as boys and girls as girls and feel it is their prerogative to do so. Even those parents who accept the AAUW's philosophy and want to raise boys and girls the same way often find that doing so is impossible, if not downright cruel to the children.

If the gender-equity crusade were truly motivated by an earnest concern for all children, rather than feminist ideology, one might expect its leaders to be concerned with the serious problems that plague boys. For the most part, they aren't. The AAUW has not just diverted attention from the problems of boys, it appears to have opened the door to outright discrimination against them. One AAUW pamphlet asserts that even when all children are treated exactly the same, "there may be a negative impact on girls because they may experience it differently than boys."

The sorriest truth is that the reforms inspired by the crusade may actually harm the education of both boys and girls. "There is reason to fear [that] such programs and policies will deepen gender stereotypes, 'water' down the curriculum, label girls as having 'special needs,' and ultimately cheat all students," warned Roberta Tovey, a writer and teacher from Boston, in The Harvard Education Letter last year. In pushing for the equal representation of girls in all classrooms, the AAUW may, perversely, be putting schools under pressure to assign more girls to low-level compensatory and special-education classes, where they are now out-numbered.

If the AAUW genuinely wants to rescue girls, it can start with this: by sparing those, girl and boy, who risk being trampled by its crusade.

Monday, May 19, 2008

High-School Exit Tests Don't Boost Academic Performance, Study Says

Nearly half of the states require students to pass a test to graduate from high-school, based on the assumption that students should demonstrate some basic level of academic ability if their diplomas are to mean anything.

But, as reported here in The Chronicle of Higher Education, a new study of the impact of exit tests on student achievement suggests that being able to pass them does not really say much. The reason? Those states that adopted fairly tough tests soon found themselves besieged by the angry parents of children who did not pass, and responded by making the tests a lot easier. Other states felt no need to lower the bar because they had not set it very high in the first place.

One consequence of such actions is that the exit tests do little to drive schools to improve student achievement. When it comes to their scores on federal reading and math tests, students in states with high-school exit exams have not performed any better over time than those students who live in states without them.

Given that many of the students who fail the exit tests drop out of high school without ever getting their diplomas, the authors question whether the social benefits offered by the tests outweigh the costs.

The authors of the study, the results of which have been peer-reviewed and accepted for publication in the journal Educational Policy, are Eric Grodsky, an assistant professor of sociology at the University of California at Davis, Demetra Kalogrides, a graduate student in sociology at that campus, and John Robert Warren, an associate professor of sociology and a director of undergraduate studies at the University of Minnesota-Twin Cities.

In a separate study published in January in the journal Sociology of Education, Grodsky, Warren, and Jennifer C. Lee, an assistant professor of sociology at Indiana University at Bloomington, found that people who earned their diplomas in states with high-school exit tests did not earn higher incomes than people who earned their diplomas elsewhere, and were no more likely to complete college or be employed.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Report Says Improving Black College Graduation Rates is Mainly a Matter of Commitment

Colleges already know the way to close gaps in black and white graduation rates, but most continue to lack the will to bring the necessary educational improvements about, according to a report recently released by Education Sector, a Washington-based research group.

"While more research in this area is certainly needed, the biggest challenge in better serving minority college students is not creating new knowledge about how to help them; it is creating new incentives for institutional leaders to act on the knowledge that already exists," says the report, written by Kevin Carey, Education Sector's research and policy manager.

"If there is a single factor that seems to distinguish colleges and universities that have truly made a difference on behalf of minority students, it is attention," the report says. "Successful colleges pay attention to graduation rates. They monitor year-to-year change, study the impact of different interventions on student outcomes, break down the numbers among different student populations, and continuously ask themselves how they could improve."

The report identifies several institutions--including Florida State University and the University of Alabama--where black students are at least as likely as their white peers to earn degrees in a timely manner. It says nothing is preventing other colleges from adopting the strategies such institutions have used to great effect, such as aggressively intervening to help students who run into trouble in the beginning of their freshman year and placing students in "learning communities" where they offer each other support while taking courses together.

Nationally, black students at four-year colleges have a six-year graduation rate that is about 20 percentage points lower than the six-year graduation rate for white students.

A Chronicle of Higher Education article summarizing the report's key findings is available to subscribers here.

Color and Money Author Wins National Award for Coverage of Minority Issues

Peter Schmidt, the author of Color and Money, has won a prestigious national award for his coverage of minority issues as a senior writer for The Chronicle of Higher Education.

Lincoln University, a historically black institution located in Missouri, bestowed a Unity Award for education reporting on Schmidt for a series of stories on affirmative action at colleges. Lincoln University annually confers its Unity Awards in Media on journalists to honor them for outstanding coverage of issues affecting minority groups and people with disabilities.

Thursday, May 8, 2008

Ward Connerly's "Super Tuesday" Campaign Suffers Another Setback

Just a few months ago, the prominent affirmative-action critic Ward Connerly seemed confident that he could get five states to vote this November on ballot measures barring public colleges and other state and local agencies from granting preferences based on race, ethnicity, or gender.

As of this week, however, the best result he can hope for is to score wins in three.

On Sunday, his campaign organization in Missouri conceded that it would not be able to meet a deadline for submitting enough petition signatures to get proposed ban on the November ballot in that state. With his Oklahoma organization having similarly abandoned its efforts in that state last month, Mr. Connerly is now left with three remaining targets: Arizona, Colorado, and Nebraska.

The campaign organization in Colorado has already submitted its petition signatures for counting. Mr. Connerly says he remains confident he will get measures on the ballot in Arizona and Nebraska, and he has vowed to continue his fight in Missouri and Oklahoma in the coming years.

Political analysts had predicted the measures would pass easily in all five of the states--provided, that is, they got on the ballot. As discussed in early blog postings here, however, Mr. Connerly ran into a tight deadline for gathering signatures in Oklahoma, and his Missouri campaign ran into massive resistance from state officials who sought to alter the measure's wording and local pro-affirmative-action activists who hit the streets to insert themselves between those circulating the petitions and potential signers.

A full Chronicle of Higher Education story on the latest Missouri development is available to its subscribers here.

Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Twenty-fifth Anniversary of "A Nation at Risk" Brings Reports Bemoaning Lack of Progress

Education historians say the event most responsible for the birth of the nation's current reform movement was the 1983 publication of the report "A Nation at Risk." Issued by the National Commission on Excellence in Education--a panel appointed by the education secretary at the time, Terrel H. Bell--the report attracted widespread media attention and inspired countless school-improvement efforts with its warning that the United States is headed for deep trouble as a result of the mediocre performance of its public schools and their students.

Anyone born when "A Nation at Risk" was issued is now about old enough to have earned an advanced degree. But two new reports released this month, on the 25th anniversary of the issuance of that landmark study, suggest that it is far more likely that anyone born then dropped out of college or never even made it through high school.

The first of the two reports, titled "A Stagnant Nation" and published by the advocacy group Strong American Schools, concludes that efforts to carry out the recommendation of "A Nation at Risk" have been "stymied by organized special interests and political inertia." (The Chronicle of Higher Education blog has a summary followed by lively comments from readers available here.)

The second of the two reports, written by a long list of prominent education experts and titled "Democracy at Risk," calls on the federal government to greatly increase its spending on teacher training, education research, and other efforts to improve schools. As noted in a Chronicle summary of its key findings, it says: “For an annual investment of $4-billion, or less than what we are currently spending per week in Iraq, the nation could underwrite the high-quality preparation of 40,000 teachers annually (enough to fill all the vacancies that are filled by unprepared teachers each year), seed 100 top-quality urban teacher-education programs, ensure mentors for every new teacher hired each year, provide incentives to bring expert teachers into high-need schools, and dramatically improve professional-learning opportunities for teachers and principals."

Both new reports offer food for thought to interested in improving college access.

Monday, April 28, 2008

Journal of American Professoriate Gives Color and Money a Favorable Review

Color and Money has just been given a positive review in the latest issue of Academe, the magazine published by the American Association of University Professors.

The reviewer--Paula M. Krebs, the magazine's editor--finds some flaws in the book but reaches this bottom-line conclusion: "Peter Schmidt’s nuanced account of the class and race politics behind how affirmative action became a way to provide 'diversity' experiences for privileged white students is sobering for anyone who cares about educational access in the United States for students who are not both white and rich."

The full review is available here.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Hillary Clinton Ducks Discussion of Affirmative-Action Preferences in Philly Debate

Hillary Clinton has spoken out strongly in favor of race-conscious college admissions policies in the past. When the University of Michigan affirmative action cases came before the U.S. Supreme Court in 2003, she went so far as to sign on to a friend-of-the-court brief that--even in the eyes of education researchers who support race-conscious admissions--greatly overstated what research says about the educational benefits of such policies.

When the topic of race-conscious admissions policies came up in the April 16 Democratic debate in Philadelphia, however, she let Barack Obama take a few steps out on that limb and then refused to follow. He stated a position that is actually more centrist than the ones she has expressed in the past--saying that some affluent young black people, such as his own children, perhaps should not be given extra consideration. Ms. Clinton then positioned herself to the right of him by giving an answer Ward Connerly could endorse, refusing to talk about affirmative-action preferences at all and instead focusing on the need to make college accessible for all Americans.

As Color and Money discusses at length, the Clintons have long had an ambivalent relationship with affirmative action and the broader cause of racial integration. When they first moved to Washington DC, they refused to enroll their daughter Chelsea in the heavily black and Hispanic DC public schools, choosing instead to enroll her in a highly exclusive private school, Sidwell Friends. In winning election in 1992, Bill Clinton did not reiterate the Democratic Party's support for affirmative action. When up for reelection in 1996, he avoided expressing opposition to the Proposition 209 ban on affirmative-action preferences before voters in California, for fear of losing that state. At the same time, however, Bill Clinton appointed a staunch advocate of affirmative action and integration, Norma Cantu, to head the Education Department's civil-rights office. And, based on a sweeping review of federal affirmative action policies, he famously declared that the federal government's approach to affirmative action should be "mend it, don't end it."

As described in this Chronicle of Higher Education blog post on the Philadelphia debate, Hillary Clinton had been a fairly strong supporter of the use of racial preferences by colleges prior to the Pennsylvania contest, which is expected to hinge on the votes of blue-collar whites. It will be interesting to see how she answers questions on the subject if she stays in the race through the upcoming primaries in North Carolina, Kentucky, and Puerto Rico.

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

University of Texas at Austin Sued for Reviving Race-Conscious Admissions

A federal lawsuit filed April 7 alleges that the University of Texas at Austin cannot legally return to using race-conscious admissions because it had found alternatives that producted satisfactory levels of diversity on campus.

The plaintiff in the lawsuit is a white woman who applied in January for undergraduate admission at UT-Austin and was rejected despite having a 3.59 GPA, solid SAT scores, and a record of participation in extracurricular activities in high school. She is being represented by the Project on Fair Representation, a Washington-based organization that has been pushing the Bush administration to weigh in against UT-Austin's policy.

As discussed at length in Color and Money, Texas public universities were barred from considering race and ethnicity under a 1996 ruling by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit in the case Hopwood v. Texas. Black and Hispanic enrollments plunged, but then seemed--at least for the most part--to rebound after lawmakers passed a measure guaranteeing students in the top 10 percent of their high school class admission to the Texas public university of their choice.

In 2003, the Supreme Court essentially invalidated the Hopwood decision by upholding the use of race-conscious admissions in its ruling in Grutter v. Bollinger, involving the University of Michigan law school. But in that ruling, the Supreme Court also held that colleges must consider alternative ways of achieving diversity on campus before they resort to using affirmative-action preferences.

UT-Austin returned to using race-conscious admissions in 2005. The new lawsuit against it probably will hinge largely on the question of whether the alternatives to preferences used by the university in the wake of Hopwood produced sufficient levels of diversity.

"The top-10-percent plan has proven more successful in achieving diversity than did race-based affirmative action," Edward J. Blum, the director of the Project on Fair Representation, argued in a Chronicle of Higher Education interview. "Because of that, we believe the University of Texas is foreclosed from even considering a student's race."

Oklahoma Anti-Preference Measure is Scuttled

Foes of affirmative-action preferences have quietly abandoned their effort to get Oklahomans to vote to bar public colleges and other state and local agencies from considering race and ethnicity in admissions, employment, and contracting decisions.

As summarized here on The Chronicle of Higher Education blog and reportered here at greater length in Tulsa World, the campaign on behalf of the measure, the Oklahoma Civil Rights Initiative, filed a motion in the state Supreme Court on April 4 asking that it be withdrawn from consideration.

The campaign needed 138,970 valid signatures to get the measure on the ballot. Largely because Oklahoma law gives referendum advocates just a 90-day window for circulating such petitions, the advocates of the Oklahoma measure gathered just 141,184 signatures, leaving them little buffer room if significant numbers are challenged. Oklahoma's Secretary of State subsequently spotted large numbers of duplicate or otherwise suspicious signatures on the ballot measure, suggesting that it might be in trouble if someone combed through it carefully.

The motion filed by the campaign says: "Based of the number of signatures delivered to the Secretary of State, the validity rate for the signatures would need to be in excess of 90 percent, which is a statistical impossibility given historical validity rates and the limited time to verify the signatures."

The abandonment of the Oklahoma campaign is not expected to have a significant impact on efforts to put similar measures before voters in Arizona, Colorado, Missouri, and Nebraska.

Saturday, April 5, 2008

Parental Income Plays Big Role in Determining Payoff from a Bachelor's Degree, Study Finds

Many studies have documented the long-term economic payoff from a bachelor's degree. But they have tended to lump such degree recipients together, comparing the average incomes of all people with bachelor's degrees to the average annual incomes of all people without them.

Reality is a lot more complicated than that. The truth is that the economic payoffs from a bachelor's degree vary greatly depending on parental wealth, according to study findings recently presented by Marvin A. Titus, an assistant professor of higher education at the University of Maryland, at the American Educational Research Association conference in New York.

The study is discussed in greater depth here on The Chronicle of Higher Education news blog. It's bottom line is that, while people from poor backgrounds greatly increase their earning potential by getting a bachelor's, they're unlikely to earn more than people from wealthy backgrounds, including those who never went to college.

Titus calls for more research on how people acquire the "social capital" that keeps the rich ahead of the poor and influences long-term earnings.

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

Education Researchers Say Trends Such as Increased Reliance on the SAT Work Against Minorities

The United States appears to be gaining little ground when it comes to closing the education gaps that leave selective colleges relying on race-conscious admissions policies to prop up minority enrollments, according to a panel of scholars who presented research findings in New York last month at the American Educational Research Association's annual conference.

Among the studies discussed at the symposium was an analysis of College Board data which concluded that elite colleges have undermined their own efforts to promote diversity in recent decades by giving much more weight to applicants' SAT scores. The authors of the study--Catherine L. Horn, an assistant professor of educational leadership and cultural studies at the University of Houston, and John T. Yun, an assistant professor of education at the University of California at Santa Barbara--found that the share of seats at top colleges going to students with exceptionally high SAT scores has increased dramatically in the past 20 years. Although the number of students taking the test and posting high scores has grown, the researchers say the bigger driving force behind the trend they document is a desire by colleges to improve their rankings in college guides--by U.S. News and others--that consider the average SAT scores of colleges' students in judging selectivity.

Among other researchers who spoke at the symposium, Michal Kurlaender, an assistant professor of education at the University of California at Davis, presented an analysis of federal data showing that the share of black and Hispanic college students who end up earning bachelor's degrees by age 30 actually declined over the past three decades. Donald E. Heller, a professor of education at Pennsylvania State University and director of its Center for the Study of Higher Education, presented an analysis showing that only a few states notable for their small minority populations have managed to close the gaps between the races in terms of high-school and college completion.

The bottom-line question that the symposium tackled was whether Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Connor was correct in predicting, in the court's 2003 Grutter decision dealing with college affirmative action, that the educational gaps between the races will be eliminated in 25 years (or by 2028). The consensus among the researchers here: No chance.

A Chronicle of Higher Education article discussing the symposium in more detail is available to subscribers of the newspaper here. All of the research presented at the symposium is included in a forthcoming book, Realizing Bakke's Legacy, being published by Stylus Publishing in commemoration of the 30th anniversary of the U.S. Supreme Court's landmark 1978 decision Regents of the University of California v. Bakke.