Thursday, July 3, 2014

Hobby-Lobby Hyperbole

The sea of misinformation on the Supreme Court decision this week was really quite something to witness. The Facebook kerfuffling, the twitter conniptions, and the endless rants and tantrums from the left are of heroic proportions.  And mostly wrong.

Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg lays it on thick in her dissent and she seems to knowingly pave the way for this sweeping misunderstanding with her immature hype.   At 81, I guess she figures she has nothing to lose, but seriously?    Her opening words: "In a decision of startling breadth, the Court holds that commercial enterprises, including corporations along with partnerships and sole proprietorships, can opt out of any law (saving tax laws) they judge incompatible with their sincerely held religious beliefs."   This is not an opinion based on law and it is her lack of judicial disposition that is most disturbing .  She uses inflated phrases like - "Unleash havoc...." and   "radical purpose".   This kind of shrill bombast you might expect on a sports page, or some middle-aged homemaker's blog, but not from a Supreme Court Justice.  It is very disappointing.  Plus, she's wrong.

The decision applies only to closely held corporations and the majority merely said that Hobby Lobby could refuse to pay for four kinds of contraception.  Nothing, nothing, stops the employees from buying their own supplies.

I am willing to bet dollars to donuts that Ginsburg has never run a business.  When the founder of a closely held corporation sacrifices all her time, all her money, and possibly all her health to build something from the ground up, it, in very large measure, is her and it embodies her values and investment.  The last thing she expects is some over-reaching government telling her why her religious conscience is irrelevant.

Ginsburg also finds it awfully inconvenient that many American citizens still have a religious conscience.  In her frustration with this troublesome truth, she temporarily trades her legal reasoning for her political passion. I do not think Supreme Court Justices are supposed to do that.  Yep, if Ginsburg had her druthers, she would much rather obliterate the liberty of those with a religious conscience.

On this Independence Day, as a country, we really ought to remember what our Founding Fathers fought to achieve.  The Revolution, the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution are all at odds with what Ginsburg said, because she does not remember that individual liberty and, especially, religious liberty is germane to this decision.

No one is stopping anyone from acquiring what ever kind of birth control is wanted.  Amen.

I am so insulted by the implication in all of the protests and strident stink I have seen - evidently, women are helpless babies.  Women are so very helpless that when an employer removes some forms of birth control from the menu of refundable medical expenses, they become defenseless, pathetic victims who see misogynistic boogey-men everywhere, and they can  no longer figure out how to find birth control?

Does Ginsburg and do the shrieking feminist lemmings who are parroting her dissent think that women are this stupid and helpless? 

Employers don't give us floss.  Do our teeth fall out?

If the state does not pay for birth control, is there no other way to take care of this business?

Ginsburg can only see one thing -  a transfer of power away from the bureaucrats and regulators and into the hands of people who actually produce value and income.  Oh, well, we sure can't have that, huh?

Religious liberty might be inconvenient, Justice Ginsburg, but America had better hope that it never, ever becomes irrelevant.

Friday, May 9, 2014

Shame, Shame, Shame on this Rutgers University junta....

Rutgers University now holds the most dubious honor of rejecting America's first female African-American Secretary of State and first female African-American National Security Advisor as commencement speaker. This comes as a result of one of the most conspicuous moves of any single-agenda, left-leaning group of students and faculty ever. Condoleezza Rice withdrew from her commitment to speak at the Rutgers University commencement amid faculty-led controversy and objection. Congratulations, Rutgers.  Your myopic, narrow, hissy-fit will be a stain on your history forever more.   

Let me take a minute to thank the President of Rutgers who worked hard to ignore the small group of harpies and hotdogs who had their way in the end.  Also, I apologize to all of my friends who have students at Rutgers.  I am certain that they are among the majority of students and faculty at Rutgers who knew they were lucky to get Condoleezza Rice as commencement speaker.   

Professor Rudolph Bell and other small-minded professors (who one can only hope will be in an unemployment line somewhere soon) actually helped people organize the tragically confused and surprisingly small group of student protesters. It is so nice to have liberal professors remind us that the marketplace of ideas is not the Rutgers way.

Of course, forever the class act, Condi Rice decided to give them the heave-ho.  Way to go, Condi. 

To the cry-babies and buffoons who caused Ms. Condoleezza Rice to withdraw:

1. No one takes you seriously and no one is stupid enough to believe that this was anything more than political zealotry gone wild with even more disturbing religious undercurrents. 

2. If you are going to hold the former Secretary of State Rice accountable for her actions a decade ago, would you hold Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to the same standard I wonder? 

3. Here is what you have proven:  Overly-zealous politically motivated enclaves in American universities have more throw-weight than any other constituency.  Forget about acknowledging outstanding women in government.  Forget about acknowledging superior, scorching-smart black American women.  The most important measure of worth as a citizen in your university-world is whether or not that citizen has offended your very narrow, un-American, left wing faculty and its groupies.

I am so glad that Condoleezza Rice took the high-road but I am not surprised.  She has distinguished herself again and again and again as an individual who will not be pulled down by haters and who will not be put down by her lessers.  

Thursday, May 8, 2014

Yet Another Common Core Smack Down

I love this Common Core moment!  George Will echoes many of the points I made a few months ago about the creepy use of the word "align".  He sees the clear and present danger that Common Core represents and responds with a powerful smack-down.  Thank you, George.
 Juan Williams:  “And, I don’t think it’s out of place for our governors, for our school leaders, local school leaders, to say, ‘Here are the common standards that we want them to achieve'  The military’s on board, the Chamber of Commerce is on board, even Condoleeza Rice and the Council of Foreign Affairs are on board.”
George Will’s response is powerful, even connecting the lies told about Common Core to those  lies told about Obamacare by beginning with a play on words of Obama’s ‘Lie of the Year.’
        George Will: They’re all wrong, and here’s why.
“The advocates of the Common Core say, ‘If you like local control over your schools, you can keep it. Period. If you like your local curriculum, you can keep it. Period.’ And people don’t believe them, for very good reasons.”
“This is a thin end of an enormous wedge of federal power that will be wielded for the constant progressive purpose of concentrating power in Washington, so that it can impose continental solutions to problems nationwide.”
“You (common core supporters) say it’s voluntary. It has been driven by the (federal government’s) use of bribes and coercion in the form of waivers from No Child Left Behind or Race to the Top money – to buy the compliance of these 45 states, two of which – Indiana, and I believe, Oklahoma – have already backed out, and they will not be the last.”
“Watch the verb ‘align’ in this argument. They’re going to align the SAT and the ACT tests with the curriculum. They’re going to align the textbooks with the tests. And sooner or later, you inevitably have a national curriculum that disregards the creativity of federalism.”
“What are the chances (speaking to Juan Williams) that we’re going to have five or six creative governors experimenting with different curricula, or one creative, constant, permanent Washington bureaucracy overlooking our education?”
“We’ve had 50 years now of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act – 50 years of federal involvement that has coincided with stagnation in test scores across the country.”

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

The Congressional Award Program for Youth

Have you ever wondered how you can get your teen recognition for doing good things, even if these things don't include finding a cure for cancer, developing a new technology, or writing a NYT best seller before the age of 16 ?

Then you should check out The Congressional Award Program.

Two of my kids did this program and received the Congressional Gold Award.  This included ceremonies in DC, meetings with senators and congressmen, internship opportunities, and membership in a community of youth who are on the road to success.  My 3rd teen is in the middle of earning this award now.  The youngest eagerly awaits his turn.

Students must be 13.5 years old to begin.  Enrollment costs $15.   It takes a minimum of 24 months to complete the program.  The good news is that most of what a student needs to do to earn the Gold Award falls into the category of stuff they are probably already doing.

To achieve the Gold, a student needs to log 200 hours of physical fitness, 200 hours of personal development, 400 hours of community service and a few days and nights away from home immersed in a culture different than his own. (You do not have to go far; you just have to do something that challenges you.)

This program really does teach a teen how to set goals and stick to them.  At a time when so many outstanding teens maneuver to check all of the boxes for extraordinary (and somewhat clich├ęd) activities on their march toward acceptance to the universities for the best and the brightest, this program focuses on the straightforward work of sticking to some goals over a period of a few years.

The other students we met at the award ceremonies were all stand-outs and most of them were actually headed to good schools.  No surprise - it turns out that a kid who hangs in there, working on goals over a long period, also has what it takes to gain entry to his top choice school.  But the Congressional Award Program is not an achievement test.  Top grades are not uncommon among the candidates, but they are by no means required to earn the Gold Award.  What a teen does need to get the Gold Award is sincerity and resolve.

                                 Here's John getting his gold medal in 2011 from the only
                                 Congressman who can make him (John) look short (!)

Below is Nora getting her gold medal in 2013!

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Ivy League + Top University Acceptance Rates - 2014

Business Insider published the new undergraduate acceptance rates 2 weeks ago and since then many others who chronicle elite university acceptances have weighed in with opinions on the insanity.  Despite the prospect of crushing debt paired with a very uncertain job market, more kids than ever are trying to get into the very best schools.

The 2014 Acceptance Rates at the most competitive universities in USA are:

Stanford University                               5.2
Harvard                                                5.9
Yale                                                      6.72
Columbia                                              6.94
Princeton                                              7.28
MIT                                                       7.7
Caltech                                                  8
Brown                                                   8.6
University of Pennsylvania                    9.9
Duke                                                    10.7
Dartmouth                                            11.5
Vanderbilt                                             12
Amherst                                                13
Cornell                                                  14
Swarthmore                                          17

Some of the non-Ivies are harder to get into than the Ivies - Stanford, MIT, and Caltech, for example. These schools attract students who have remarkable achievements in math and science.

If you ever doubted the desirability of the prestigious "8" Ivies - the statistics below should prove just how many are clawing to get in:

Brown University — 30,291 applicants (2,619 accepted)
Columbia University — 32,967 applicants (2,291 accepted)
Cornell University — 43,041 applicants (6,025 accepted)
Dartmouth College — 19,235 applicants (2,220 accepted)
Harvard University — 34,295 applicants (2,023 accepted)
University of Pennsylvania — 35,788 applicants (3,551 accepted)
Princeton University — 26,607 applicants (1,939 accepted)
Yale University — 30,922 applicants (1,935 accepted)

Holy Cow.  

Why the numbers of applicants keep increasing is outlined nicely in this recent New York Time article:  

Among the reasons cited the top culprit is the applicant pool.  It is not unusual for qualified students to apply to ALL of the schools listed above.  This introduces many inefficiencies to the acceptance process.  It also results in a good student often attending a school that is not a good match.  It would be much better if students took time to fully investigate the schools, find a match, focus on that school exclusively, and then apply under a restrictive early admissions process.  With so much competition for so few spots, it is a fierce contest indeed.  I think the applicant pool is waiting for the universities to blink first.  I suspect that students (and their exhausted parents) are thinking:  "Save us from ourselves, please.  Do something!"

In a recent post on a yahoo group I follow closely, one parent suggested that the top universities develop a software program as an intelligent buffer between them (the schools) and the applicants. Applicants who are determined to apply to all of the best schools would have to rank their top three picks.  Let the software do the rest.  Theoretically, this would produce more precise placements for those who are attractive to ALL of the schools, leaving more openings and reducing some of the scrambling that occurs in April.

My Big Idea:   I think the top universities should include a question designed specifically to find the most committed kids.  This essay question would be:  "How many times have you visited this university (include dates) and what were the highlights of your visit(s)?  If you have not explored the campus of this university, why not?"  Most universities claim that they do not track official visits.  That is, they say that they don't go through their records to see if you attended an official tour.  Many do not even have a formal sign-up for their tours.   I think this is a mistake. Why ignore data that can help discern the "sincerity factor"?

Bottom line:  If applicants do more homework, become more focused in their search, and select more sincerely, and if universities used the important information that this sincerity reveals, everyone would be happier and the bottle-neck would be loosened.  Of course, not all kids would be truthful, and, true,  internationals would have a special challenge, but surely this question would help eliminate the birdshot approach?

Saturday, April 12, 2014

Homeschooler's Guide to the Middle School Galaxy

This post is for the many, many homeschool families who ask me about the middle school years and how best to prepare for high school when a competitive college admission is the ultimate goal.

I've met many parents of middle school students who feel stranded.  They want to be prepared for the high school years that are skulking around the corner.  They want to get this right, but they're unsure.   School administrators, grandparents, and well-meaning friends offer  "do this, do that" sound bites.  But, inertia and uncertainty prevail.

There are two distinct phases of home education, after the elementary years wind down: The Interrogatory Phase (middle school) and the Execution Phase (high school).

It is in the Interrogatory Phase that you learn what you will be doing in the Execution Phase.  The Execution Phase is a terribly busy time and as the name implies, you are putting into action all of the plans you made in the late middle school years.  If you wait until high school to ask the important questions, you will find yourself bogged down, confused, and feeling rather ineffective.

What happens in the Interrogatory Phase other than school?

                                                         Figure out your kid

What does my student love best and where does he/she excel?   For example:  Does she like to build things?  Is he quick with his math?  Does she read above grade level?  Can he write better than most boys his age?  Do topics in science, music, art, or history hold her attention more?

It might seem like a lot to know about your student but if you pay close attention to your days, the answers are there.  Your goal is to get an academic lock on your student and know his strengths, weaknesses, and special interests.  Pay attention to your student's skill set and talents.  These are the headwaters from which good things can flow.


For an objective "stock-taking", you'll need to test. I am not a big advocate of testing, especially in elementary school, but by middle school you really need to get a fix on how your student measures up against the general population.  We are not very good scorekeepers for our own kids.

(There are many online resources for testing your student in the privacy of your home, if you prefer.  A google search will reap a harvest of them.) 

1.  You can have your older middle school student take the PSAT or the SAT.  Scores prior to 9th grade are purged - no one but you will ever see them.  You don't have to get upset with low scores here because you will adjust down for his/her age.  For example, if your 7th grade student has an SAT math score of 500 - you should be very encouraged; that is quite good for that grade level.

2.  There is also a test called the SSAT (not administered by the College Board).  The SSAT is similar in shape to the SAT, is geared toward the middle school student, and it will give you a projected SAT score, depending on the age of your student when he takes this test.  The SSAT is a personal favorite of mine.

What does this testing accomplish?
1. You will have a reality check.
2. You will know where you need to concentrate your efforts.
3. If your student has real strength in one area, it will be revealed and you may have a ticket to gifted learning programs.
4. Since all of these achievement exams are (at minimum) 3 hours long, your student will know ahead of time what it feels like to sit through this endurance test.  Better your kid do this before it counts than do it for the first time when it really does count.


Is my student ready for high school?  Is he ready to work hard?  Does she know how to manage her time?  Does he know why he needs to do all of this work?  Are we on the same page?    

Most students do not know what they want to do with their lives.  But, they should still have goals. Without goals, how will you get them to study into the late hours of the night and on weekends when that time/need arrives.  It is very hard to push a kid who does not have a shared vision of excellence and achievement.  To instill this desire in your student, he must see the goal(s).  You should do college tours.  It might sound foolish to traipse across the campus of Columbia University with a middle school student - it is not.  Pick a beautiful day, travel without time constraint on a day when classes are in session, jump in to an organized tour or just walk the campus and hang in the nearby eateries to get a sense of the intellectual energy and excitement that you will find everywhere.   If you can get your student excited about attending ONE college, ANY college, then you are on the "go" square of the game board.  You can build goals from there.  Without this, you will find yourself parroting admonitions which will fall on deaf ears.  A student needs a tangible goal, especially if no particular career goal is present.  Invest in your student's enthusiasm.

Does my middle school student even KNOW what hard work looks like?

This is critically important.  Your daughter might view 20 math problems per week as punitive.  Your son might think that a weekly 250 word essay is pure torture.  Most middle school students need to calibrate what they think is hard work to what hard work actually is. They need good models.  Middle school students who want to land in a competitive college need to meet other students with similar goals..  Your job is to find them. The homeschool community is filled with success stories.  Find the families who have high-achieving kids.  Ask them what they did.   If your 12 year old son or daughter sits down with a 21 year old who has a proven academic track record and they hear it straight from the source, they will never forget it.  It is golden.
To find peers, try to get your middle school student into one high-achieving program, whether online or through your local community.

                                                        From Ideas to Action Plans

During the Interrogatory Phase of the middle school years you should try out different things.  This takes time but it is worth it.   If math seems to come easy, find a math club.  If your student loves science, do science fairs.  If writing is at the top of the list, find contests and competitions to enter.  Your goal is to get some traction.  Once that happens you will see real progress. Advice for mom - get on numerous homeschool discussion loops and scour the digests from these groups nightly.  This is how you learn about cool, local opportunities.  You will  have to make a regular investment of time to do this research.  Here is a terrific website with lists and lists of competitions in science, art, history, math, computers and writing. A good place to start -
This list includes a good number of competitions for middle school students.

If a student is preparing to compete for something  - anything - he will be more focused.  Then you (mom) can reverse-engineer your school year around this event.  Big events like these actually ADD structure to your year.

                                                           Plan, Plan, Plan Some More

Once you have gathered up activities, events and competitions, you are one easy step away from creating a calendar for the year with clear goals mapped out.  Keep going with this.  Do a hypothetical 4-year high school plan.  Involve your middle school student in this.    Of course, this plan is going to morph.  But if you have no plan at all, you are bound to fall short of a high standard.

                                                                Broaden Horizons

A desire to achieve and the determination to do hard things  won't come out of thin air.  You need to nurture it.  There are wonderful educational events run by Learning Unlimited throughout the year.  Middle school students can take exciting classes on the campuses of some of the best universities in the country for as little as $30 for a full weekend of amazing courses.  No grades are given.  University students volunteer to teach. Often a middle school student discovers an entire field of science or language they did not even know existed. Inspiration is everywhere.  Do this!  Do it as often as you can.  Get on the mailing list.  Have it on your calendar.  The MIT and Yale programs are especially good.

                                                                Your Leadership

Many years ago a homeschool family asked to meet with me.  Mom and dad could not get their kids to read books. They wanted advice.  Most home educating families know that in order to be poised for the academic world kids need to read  - a lot.  They need to read hard stuff and they need to read often.  These parents were worried.  Their kids did not have dyslexia or ADHD. They were neurotypical kids.  "Why can't we get them to read?" they lamented.    I asked them what they (mom and dad) were currently reading, looking high and low for a sign of books.  "We don't read, we don't have time for it."  Hmm.

The prescription is simple.  Kids will read more if you have a set reading time and lead by example.  Kids will also read in the absence of other forms of entertainment and if most table top surfaces hold a small stack of interesting books.

If your middle school kids are glued to glowing rectangles, have technology free hours built into the day and have good books ready to fill the gap.  It is harder now than it ever was before to encourage kids to read books.  The glowing screens hold far more appeal.  We cannot extricate ourselves from these devices entirely but we can claim back a few hours a day - this is a reasonable goal.  Lead the way on this.

                                               ~          ~          ~          ~          ~          ~

The middle school years are a period of intense mentorship.  It is during these years that you can establish that you and your student are on the same team.  The road to excellence is arduous, but it is made easier when the prize is clear, the goals are reasonable, and your leadership is obvious. You got this !   Godspeed !

Sunday, March 16, 2014

The Doubleplusgood New SAT Duckspeak

In the past several days I have read so many articles and heard so many talk-show discussions on the big SAT changes announced by the College Board, that I just had to tune out.   I hit my doublethink quota on day two.  By day three after the announcement, I had to shut down or risk becoming a doubleplusgood duckspeaker.

The Ministry of Plenty (aka The College Board) has made adjustments to this famous test and presumably it will benefit the proletariat, the commoner, the peasants, the hoi-polloi.  Color me skeptical, but I’m not ready to jump for joy just yet.

The SAT has been long-detested by many.  It is especially abhorred by those who take it unprepared.


There are five things about the SAT that students hate:

1.  Math problems are presented in a tricky way.
      2.  An essay must be written in 25 minutes.
      3.  The vocabulary is arcane.
      4.  The critical reading passages are dense and, again, the questions try to trip up the test  taker.
      5.  The test is almost 4 hours long.


The new SAT promises to be less tricky, although now for some sections of the math, a student may not use a calculator. I don’t see how this can help anyone except the students who are very competent with math and who do not need a calculator.  I think that the academically disadvantaged student is going to struggle without a calculator.  Also, if the math is to be more like ACT math, then it will include more trigonometry.  Again, I ask, how is this going to help the academically disadvantaged students?

The essay is now optional, but this only helps students who are not applying to selective colleges.  Those colleges are going to require the essay.  Students aiming at schools that are traditionally hard to get into will still write the essay; everyone else won’t have to.  What does this tell you?  The bar has lowered – true.  But for whom?  Less selective schools have claimed that they do not look at the writing score anyway, which is just appalling because the writing score is NOT just the essay.  Included in that score (through multiple choice questions) is the demonstrated ability to write a grammatically correct and properly punctuated sentence.  It doesn't get much more basic.  However, now that the essay is optional, students least inclined to learn to write will eagerly skip it altogether.  Yet the students who have been groomed and propped up for entry to an outstanding four year college will continue to hammer away on their writing, and they will write that essay.  I see a widening gap here, not a leveling field.

When it comes to vocabulary, if high school students were reading Dickens, Melville, Conrad, Tolstoy, Hawthorne, Eliot, Faulkner, Joyce and Solzhenitsyn – as they should be – they would have no trouble whatsoever with arcane vocabulary on the SAT.   The trouble is not arcane vocabulary.  The trouble is the trash that passes for literature in our public schools.

If the new critical reading questions include primary source documents from US history, which is something the College Board promises, then bravo.   However, this would include The Federalist Papers, John Locke, and Thomas Paine.  It surprises me that anyone would consider this a leveling of the playing field.  Students studying AP US History will be pleased.  Students who already possess outstanding critical reading skills will be pleased.  Other students should be warned – these questions could be quite difficult.  Current critical reading scores have fallen behind scores from 35 years ago and we can thank technology for that.  Free technology.   For example, the free technology that provides cell phones to all students whose families receive any kind of welfare.  FACT: The more our kids text and tweet and fool around on phones, the lower those critical reading scores will be. 

From the college-board website:  Students will encounter challenging texts and informational graphics that pertain to issues and topics like these in the Evidence-Based Reading and Writing section and the Math section. Questions will require them to read and comprehend texts, revise texts to be consistent with data presented in graphics, synthesize information presented through texts and graphics, and solve problems based in science and social science.
This sounds more like college-level analysis to me.  I love it, but it will NOT be easier than what is on the test now.

Finally, no one has said anything at all about these changes shortening the test.  If you are skipping the essay, then your test will be "about" 3 hours long.  For everyone else it will be "about" 3hours and 50 minutes long.  It is not shorter. 


Although the College Board has marketed this as something that will help impoverished students, this I do not believe.  I think these changes will keep the struggling students in the hole they are in, while it will be neutral (or helpful) to kids born into success and who have prepositioned assets in place from day one to ensure a trajectory to academic success.

The College Board certainly wants to capture more of the testing market.  They have been losing market share to the ACT.  So this new SAT is more like the ACT.   The College Board wants to make more money.  This I believe. 

David Coleman, President of The College Board, is in very deep on the Common Core Initiative and he cannot afford to have states pulling out of this preposterous homogenization project.  He said himself that the new SAT will be alignedto high school curriculum – a long, slow curve ball to keep states on the Common Core bus.  The new SAT is the Common Core’s pimp. Coleman has a side-business - If you are really curious about his actions as president of The College Board, you ought to read about the goals of this business of his. 

Anyone who thinks that our best interests or the best interests of those living in poverty are being served by David Coleman and The College Board needs some kind of reality triagecare. 

A steady decline over the past few decades in academic performance from the students in our country speaks all of the truth that any parent, student, or politician needs to hear.  There is no government program, no free access to test prep, no elimination of hard vocabulary words, and no hand out that can stem the tide.   The problem is foundational and organic and so must be the solutions.  These solutions will be born in the family unit, not a township, state, or federal unit.  It does not take a village to raise a child; it takes a village to betray a child.

Have you ever wondered why the explosion of free online courses and free test preparation hasn't had an impact on knowledge and test scores?  The more free stuff we throw at the problem, the further away we move from getting at the real culprit.  A student has to have the time and the desire to use the free help.  It's just that simple.

The US is loath to speak plain truth and we are all handicapped by this.  Alas, the truth will never buy votes.  The truth will never get the wheels of commerce turning.  Only fantasy does this and it does it so very well.

With the new SAT - The kids of the 1% are going to continue to do quite well.  Everyone else: you are in a world of doublespeak insanity.  Do not listen to policymakers.  Take the high road and choose to do hard stuff every day.  Then you can create your own path to excellence.
The new SAT is not doubleplusgood.  It’s doubleplusungood.


Notes:  Some of the terms used in this essay are from George Orwell’s, 1984, which may or may not be part of the Common Core, but it is part of my curriculum.

Newspeak terminology:
Duckspeak- a Newspeak term meaning literally to quack like a duck or to speak without thinking.
Doublethink- the act of ordinary people simultaneously accepting two mutually contradictory beliefs as correct.
Doubleplusgood– to say that someone or something is the best.
Doubleplusungood– to say that someone or something is the worst.
Ministry of Plenty – In 1984, The Ministry of Plenty is in control of Oceania's planned economy, where the central theme is that a poor, weak populace is easier to rule over than a wealthy, educated and powerful populace.

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

That dang SAT ....

A friend of mine shared this article.  It appeared yesterday in The New Yorker.

It is a good read and I do admire this mom's pluck.  But, I think what she details in this article reveals more about the American "school-conditioned" thinking than it does about the SAT.

The author of the article sets out to conquer the SAT herself in order to motivate her kids.  It backfired.  My hat is off to her for even trying!  (I really have to meet this mom!)   I've been humbled multiple times by questions on this exam.

Couple of facts:  The SAT (while we all hate it) actually does a good job at predicting a student's success in college.  These words from Duke University sum it up well:  The SAT I measures verbal and mathematical skills that are important for college success; as such, it furnishes colleges with a relatively easy and inexpensive way to acquire information about students’ abilities in these areas. Colleges also respect the SAT I because it provides a yardstick with which to compare applicants from different high schools and communities.

So why are there SO MANY articles ridiculing the SAT?   The answer to this, I think, is simple statistics.  Look at the distribution of SAT scores for college bound students in 2013:

494 students scored a perfect 2400
6,600 students scored 2000
20,063 students scored 1510
20,394 students scored 1400
18,561 students scored 1300
10,360 students scored 1100

1,660,000 students took the test in 2013.  The average score was 1499.

When there are so many more students doing poorly on this test, there will be many more writers denouncing it openly.  I have never heard a student who scored high on this test doubting its virtues.  If you examine the drop-out and transfer rates at highly competitive colleges, it is remarkably low.  Most of those high-scoring students seem to be where they belong.   Even more interesting is the fact that transferring to less competitive colleges is most common in students whose SAT scores were borderline in the first place. We do not have to like these facts but we should not, as a culture, look for ways to make the test easier.

The problem does not begin with this test.  The problem begins with unrealistic expectations in parents and students.

For over a decade I have heard parents tell me that their kids go to "one of the best public schools in the state".   I  marvel at this statistical impossibility and the naivete that clings to it.

In fact, engaged parents who have used their public schools should not encounter any surprises when the time comes to have their kids take the SAT.  They should have looked up the average SAT scores for their local public schools and they should know what the predicted outcome is long before they are dealing with their own teenager's preparedness for this exam.  If a parent has high hopes for her student, then she should have this student on board the same cruise ship she is on before he begins high school.  There would be fewer surprises and less frustration and discord.

There is nothing wrong with the SAT, other than the fact that it is hard.  But, it does not test a student on the specific curriculum  used in her school.  It tests the student's ability to think.  This is why a good high school student can get a lousy score.  A kid who gets straight A's at Joe Jones High School is not necessarily going to do well on this reasoning test.

Will rich families with plenty of $$ to toss into SAT Prep get a better result?  Maybe.  But, remember - all the money in the world cannot purchase a kid's cooperation.  It cannot purchase a shared vision.  It cannot purchase determination in a kid.  But any parent can plant these seeds early on in a kid's life.

Academically successful families tend to spend LOTS of time, beginning in elementary school, bringing their kids into the fold - preparing them for academic leadership - molding them to stand out by committing to the very hard work of being better.  These kids start high school with clear goals, fully participating parents, and a family culture of excellence through tremendous focus and effort. These families are never caught off guard. These families do not rely solely on what their public school tells them. They send their kids to the public school -  but they lead their kids.  They do not abdicate to weary counselors or distracted administrators. Most importantly, the kids want the same things as their parents - they are on the same team.  THIS is the goal.

There are many things a parent can do, regardless of income:

1.  Engage early - don't be caught off guard.
2.  Have reasonable expectations.  Not every kid belongs in college.
3.  Do your own research on the SAT scores of the students in your local schools.
4.  Get your kid on your side - work as a team

Much can be learned by looking at the habits of families with academically successful children, but, of course, academic success is only one kind of success.



Regarding The College Board's announcement today (March 5th) on the big changes planned for the SAT beginning in Spring 2016 I the only one suspicious about the potential connection to the national conflict over Common Core Initiatives? The Common Core is an effort to standardize curriculum in all states in the union.  Individual states are fighting this.  David Coleman's side-business could be deeply affected if most states are not on board the common core wagon.  So, as president of College Board, he aligns the SAT to "curriculum"?  (Rather than have it remain the reasoning test that it has always been.)  Sounds like a chess move to me.  Mr. Coleman's side business is: :: About Us

That's right - only 24 hours after posting the above, the College Board announces sweeping changes!  David Coleman says it is to help the underprivileged.   What?  I doubt that.  Most of the math section must be done without a calculator, now.  How will this help, exactly?  Were calculators holding these kids back in some way?     I think the changes have more to do with David Coleman's other business ....his deep involvement with Common Core.

The College Board:  Magnanimous or Megalomaniacal ?  (You probably won't see these vocabulary words on the "new" SAT.   I think the latter - for what it's worth.)