Morning Ed: Education {2018.05.07.M}

[Ed1] An interesting look at the economic impact of place-based scholarships (basically, attend a public school here get a college scholarship). If it’s most likely to be used by wealthier parents, could we essentially bribe our way into economic integration?

[Ed2] We may be over-estimating the economic importance of college by underestimating the importance of working in college. I have an aversion to working in college, but if this is true my concerns may be misguided.

[Ed3] Maybe? My take is if you have the opportunity to go to a truly elite college (a list that includes five or maybe ten) then you should do it if you are trying to enter a competitive field, but beyond that I’m not sure how much it’s worth going too deeply in debt over.

[Ed4] I scoffed at first on reading why the DOJ is scrutinizing “early admissions” processes, but reading the article they kind of do have a point. It seems to me a lot of these can maybe be addressed without getting rid of the policy altogether.

[Ed5] Have we failed to make gains in reading because we’re not doing enough social studies?

[Ed6] I (weirdly?) don’t have a big problem with this insofar as they actually release the results. Data is good!

[Ed7] Sigh. France is mandating school for children start at three.

[Ed8] The story of a Russian infiltrator! Except he was mostly interesting in gaming his way in school. Reminds me of an episode of Numb3rs.

[Ed9] Some YouTube stars are facilitating academic cheating. Falls into that uncomfortable category of illegal behavior almost nobody defends.


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Will Truman is the pseudonym of a former para-IT professional who is presently a stay-at-home father in the Mountain East. He has moved around frequently, having lived in six places since 2003, ranging from rural outposts to major metropolitan areas. He is also on Twitter. ...more →

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30 thoughts on “Morning Ed: Education {2018.05.07.M}

  1. Ed3: I think the underlying problem is that most eighteen-year-olds don’t have the foggiest notion of what they are going to do with their lives. Does it make sense to go into debt to attend a “better” school or take a free ride at a less prestigious school? Given that the piece’s author is now a tenured academic, it almost certainly was. (In related news, my niece the musicologist just got a tenure track position. Does her PhD. being from Harvard have anything to do with this? Of course it does.)

    The thing is, for the vast majority of careers that require, for good or bad reasons, a college degree, where that degree is from doesn’t mean diddly. For one of those careers, taking the debt rather than the free ride would be insane. To put it another way, taking on the debt followed by going into one of those careers means years of debt payments before you can really begin your financial life. There is no single correct answer here.

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      • Of course, there are other ways to get those high end government jobs.

        What the top end schools do is offer a short path or a leg up. The number of career paths that are truly restricted by Alma mater is very small.

        One could even make the argument that the benefit of a leg up such places offer is detrimental since an awful lot is assumed about the quality of people who graduate from a top school*.

        *There are exceptions, like MIT, which maintains a solid reputation as being exceptionally challenging.

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    • The way that the educational hierarchy works, chances are that she would not be a tenured professor or even an adjunct professor if she went to the University of Florida. Academically and socially, Cornell is the most prestigious university.

      Most people really do not think that actively about the school they go to. The ones that consciously think I want to go to SLAC or an Ivy or a big-party school are doing more thought about this than other eighteen year olds.

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      • The way that the educational hierarchy works, chances are that she would not be a tenured professor or even an adjunct professor if she went to the University of Florida. Academically and socially, Cornell is the most prestigious university.

        Hence my story about my niece and what would be an absurd Ph.D. were it not from Harvard. Similarly with law. If your ambition is to work in BigLaw then [you are nuts] taking on debt to get a HYS degree is perfectly rational. If you don’t get into HYS but your LSATS are just almost good enough, my recommendation would be to go to the highest ranked school that offers you a full ride, as contrasted with taking on the debt to go to whatever school is just below HYS.

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    • I’m not sure how to evaluate Ed3. If the author is tenured academic the college granting her PhD is the important one. Was that Cornell? Would she have had no chance of getting into Cornell if she’d gotten her bachelor’s at Univ of FL?

      I made the opposite calculation. Michigan State offered me a full ride and I grabbed it. I graduated at the top of my class and despite MSU not being remotely Ivy League, I got offers and active recruitment for graduate programs from places as prestigious as Stanford. However, I then made the decision based on program rather than prestige and went to Va Tech because it had a whole cohort of top faculty in my field of interest, plus a NASA-sponsored research center, while Stanford’s engineering dept at the time had only a single graduate course available in the discipline.

      A PhD from Stanford would have looked quite impressive and maybe opened other doors for me, but the one I got provided both a better grounding and a huge range of connections to others in my specialty. Ultimately, I think the latter is worth more.

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      • I then made the decision based on program rather than prestige and went to Va Tech because it had a whole cohort of top faculty in my field of interest, plus a NASA-sponsored research center, while Stanford’s engineering dept at the time had only a single graduate course available in the discipline.

        Prestige versus program works differently on the graduate level, and I suspect differently in STEM than in the humanities. In this context, prestige has little to do with the “Wow!” factor of the name of the school, as perceived by the general public. It is not uncommon for some school most people have never heard of to have a top-rated program in some very specific field. The people in that field know this, but there may be decision-makers such as a hiring committee who aren’t in the loop, so if that “Wow!” school also is good in your field, so much the better.

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  2. Ed9: One of the problems with cheating is that if assignments are intelligently developed (which I try to do), their aim is to teach something and cheating students don’t get experience in that thing (e.g., I have students write a small research proposal with background and proposed budget, something most of them will have to do at some point on the job). Cheating your way through this (which is harder to do than some open-ended topic) is harder, but I’ve still caught mostly-plagiarized papers.

    But I’ve heard LOTS of people say it’s the professor’s responsibility to do hard-core vetting (I do check my papers for plagiarism but there is no way, not without going to some expense and a lot of effort to try to see if they’ve been ghost written). Or they say we need to make such utterly left-field assignments, and change them every semester, so no one could possibly cheat and…..you know? They don’t pay us enough for that. And I think it’s partly the students’ responsibility not to cheat. So these kinds of channels, the sites that claim it’s “plagiarism free” (when really they provide sample papers that the students could totally just take and use), all of that, grinds my gears.

    Maybe not illegal, but certainly not cool.

    I don’t know what the answer is. I had someone tell me “do all your writing assignments as in-class blue book things but (a) I am NOT reading the crappy spidery handwriting of 25 students – already my eyesight is bad enough and (b) there’s no way for people to do background research, which nearly all my assignments require. And also (c) then you run up against the person who points out they have dysgraphia and either it’s painful for them to write or they need extra time and….

    I dunno. I tell myself I’m teaching for the people who give a crap but I have an awful lot of people who are trying their damnedest to make me give way more fish than I have to give about the people who don’t give a crap, who just want to get that piece of paper by any means necessary, and get out. And while I do give some fish about that, I don’t have infinite fish to give.

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    • Don’t worry too much about it. Your job is to teach the willing. You don’t have the resources to deal with Jokers and it’s not your job.

      On that subject, it’s intern season again and if they can’t produce then it’s no job for them. It’s assumed some Jokers will get this far, by the end of summer we’ll know who is who. One (amazingly) has already managed to get himself fired before his first day of work.

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  3. Ed1: I suspect that creating economic and racial integration is going to involve bribery of some sort. The current liberal paradigm is essentially calling for middle class and upper middle class White Americans to sacrifice themselves and their families for the sake of greater justice. Many seem to even to deny to the psychic benefits of doing the right thing. This might be the just solution based on history but it isn’t how humans operate.

    Ed5: Yes. Reading isn’t about accumulating data. The real skill is in how you can analyze and argue with information.

    Ed7: Its France. Universality and uniformity have been considered important cultural hallmarks since the French Revolution. This isn’t going to change.

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  4. Ed-2 My son worked all the way through college, while being music director of the college radio station and was on track to graduate early. He also had a nice social life and never lacked for girlfriends. It is all in how you approach things, knowing your limits that early is not a bad thing. What catches most people is not having the ability to balance these things.

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    • Yes. And also sometimes bosses learn they can get away with stuff they might not. I remember a case of a student calling me up, in tears, the day of an exam, because her boss declared that one of the cash-drawers had come up short the day before, and so he was calling ALL employees in, not just those working then (though my student was) and issued the vague threat that if they were absent for ANY reason they’d be considered guilty and fired and he suggested he’d send the cops after them. Probably not legal, but when you’re 20 and trying to pay your way through college…

      I told her to just take some deep breaths and that she could come in that afternoon after the meeting and make up the test in my office hours.

      (And yes, she had paperwork to show me later so I knew it wasn’t a made-up excuse)

      I also had a student whose boss kept expecting more and more of him, telling him he was a good employee and he trusted him, and I really wondered if the boss was trying to get the guy to flunk out of the Conservation program (this job was in a totally different field) so the guy wouldn’t graduate, get a better job offer, and leave that job. I mean, there’s another, and much-more-above-board way to get a good employee to stay on, but apparently the boss was too cheap to do that.

      I find I have had to be increasingly flexible about things like make-ups and missed class because some of the bosses here have, in recent years, adopted the policy of “we’re not going to be flexible for you to attend class” and that’s a horrible policy, but I also think the problem is it’s hard to find good workers and they don’t want their responsible workers graduating, getting offered a higher-paying or more-enjoyable job and leaving.

      But it sucks when you’re a professor and are juggling five people’s schedules and having to stay extra-late to give make-up tests, and when you see people do worse in a class because of stuff they’ve missed.

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      • (And yes, she had paperwork to show me later so I knew it wasn’t a made-up excuse)

        I think I have previously told about the time in college I missed the final exam because I had misread the schedule. One of the other students came by my apartment afterwards to check up on me. Everyone knew I wasn’t the sort to just blow it off, so they were worried. And by “everyone” I include the professor. So I hurried to his office and made my mea culpa, mea maxima culpa. He handed me the final and sent me to the library. The key here, and this is part of what I tell high school kids going off to college, is that the prof actually knew me, and knew that I didn’t pull this kind of stunt. Your grandmother’s funeral is a great excuse, but you only get to use it twice.

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        • Yes. If a student has shown themselves responsible in the past I am much more willing to go “Yes, of course you can have a make up”(also especially she called me BEFORE the exam; I can’t tell you how many people just miss it, and then three days later are like “I can has exam naow?” despite my “I need to know by the day of the exam at the latest” policy)

          It’s the people who always seem to skip without explanation, or who ask for the moon with no good reason (for me to set up a lab again a week later just so they can do it – my labs are about 1% of the grade apiece) that I am less willing to say “yeah, sure” and more willing to demand documentation.

          I also once had a student sleep through a final – this was someone who had always been to class, was earning an A (the final was enough that skipping it would lower her grade). She came in to the secretary in tears later that day – her roommate had turned off her alarm. The secretary called me at home, I made arrangements for the student to take the exam the next day (I live only 2 miles from campus but it seemed like the student was in no emotional state to take the exam at that point) and everything was good.

          (Seriously, what a jerk move: turning off your roommate’s alarm when you know she has an 8 am final….)

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        • I had a girlfriend decide she wanted to take off the entire week before finals. I told her it sounded like a bad idea and she said she needed the break.

          Turns out she misread when the finals were and took off finals week instead. Much unhappiness followed and I lost track of her when she needed to move back home.

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  5. [Ed1] If you want integration to work, you have to give the people being integrated a task that the do together with some success. Bribing might work to get their attention, but it isn’t what builds a sense of “us”.

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  6. Ed9: What is the point of an education, again? If it’s to signal to a potential employer that you can get the job done, then lemme say that using this service will do that.

    Now, I’d probably want to make sure that any Social Studies teacher I was hiring did not use this service for his or her Social Studies-adjacent courses… but if I found out that a programmer I had hired used this service for his or her Social Studies-adjacent courses? I’d probably find a way to not make a big deal out of it.

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  7. Education (PDS): This is pretty big development, at least for Massachusetts:

    Higher education institutions in Massachusetts have a legal duty to prevent students from killing themselves, and academic and support professionals can now be sued if they fail to act after learning a student was considering suicide, the state’s highest court ruled Monday.

    The ruling came in a wrongful death lawsuit filed by the family of Han Duy Nguyen, who was a 25-year-old graduate student at the Sloan School of Management when he jumped to his death in 2009 11 minutes after being read the “riot act” by an MIT professor about his rude behavior towards colleagues.

    Presumably will mean more proactive expulsions.

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    • I think I’m glad I carry “umbrella insurance” for personal liability.

      (I have referred students to campus counseling when they talked about self-harm, but I’ve never actually strong-armed someone there. The one person I did follow up with, they got help and got their meds adjusted and wound up doing better. The other person dropped out later so I don’t know what happened there)

      I suspect this will mean additional training sessions and responsibilities on the professors now. And maybe the staff, too. I’ve said on occasion that maybe some basic psychology coursework will become necessary for anyone going into any kind of teaching…

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      • If you read the Boston Globe article you will find that the ruling is not so dramatic as is suggested. The court ruled that the school was not liable in the case under consideration, but left open that it might be under a different fact set. If the kid had told a professor he was going to commit suicide, the professor probably would have had a duty to mention this to campus mental health services. This is not nothing, but it is far short of the professor being liable should anything bad happen.

        Also, any Plaintiff’s lawyer would sue the school. There are tactical reasons why the professor might be named as a co-defendant, but it is the school that has the deep pockets.

        Which isn’t to say that an umbrella policy isn’t a good idea, particularly if you own your house, but this is largely for unrelated reasons.

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          • Only the profs and the dean, or in addition to the school. The key phrase is “jointly and severally liable.” That is to say, had the plaintiff been awarded damages, all the defendants would be equally on the hook. In practice this would mean it was the school, assuming it was also a defendant. I can’t think why it wouldn’t be.

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        • Yeah. I originally took it on because my house is on a slight hill, and there are concrete steps down to the street, and the local skateboard kids LOVE those steps, and I’m not aggressive enough to go out and scream at them every time they are on them, but I suspect if one fell and broke an arm, the parent might try to come after me.

          I was also told once – when I was set to have a student in my class who threatened to “sue” every time they didn’t get what they want (they had an attorney on retainer!) that I should just let it roll off my back and that if they actually DID sue, as long as I was doing my job and abiding by my syllabus, the university lawyers would have my back.

          Still I worried. (This was a student with multiple accommodations, and it was back before we had a very good DC person to explain to faculty what was and was not required). Fortunately,t hey dropped before class started but yeah. I have had some students who made my life hell by going to an admin and telling tales, and the admin believed them until my chair stepped in and said “that’s not happening.”

          So I am a little gun shy about all those things.

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          • Regarding those steps, they aren’t the cause for concern that popular imagination would have them to be. Those kids are trespassers. The duty you owe them is much less than what you would owe someone you invited onto the property. If they break a leg while engaging in a hazardous activity while trespassing, that’s on them. (Also, a broken arm isn’t actually worth all that much. Your homeowner’s insurance most likely is ample. A broken neck, however…)

            For that matter, you wouldn’t be on the hook even if someone you invited broke his arm , assuming that the steps are in good condition. If that partially broken step you had been meaning to fix, but hadn’t gotten to breaks all the way, that would be a different matter.

            The point being that “you can be financially ruined if anything bad happens on your property” is a myth. You have certain duties, but they are pretty common-sense. (What, I was supposed to cover that abandoned well ? Who could have guessed?)

            The umbrella policy is a good idea, but not really for stuff like that. Where it is great is if you have a really bad day while behind the wheel and kill someone.

            Also, your policy likely covers you if you are sued for defamation. So go crazy!

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      • “I suspect this will mean additional training sessions . . .”

        Presumably in Massachusetts, yeah. Colleges don’t know anything themselves, they only know what their employees know, so there would be a need to connect individual knowledge for collective responsibility. Increased knowledge though will create increased obligations to act. Still, I think the incentives will be to terminate/fire troubled students.

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  8. Ed3: I think it is beyond 5 or 10. A lot of people go to college because of location and a way to anchor themselves. So if you want to be in NYC and can’t get into Columbia, there is the New School, NYU, and Fordham, among others.

    Plus there are a lot more colleges with very loyal alumni networks than the HYPS level. My Alma Mater was about two levels down from HYPS (meaning still hard to get into) and it still helped me and people see it as impressive.

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