Tuesday, June 30, 2015

School's Out for Summer

This is the final post before ECA shuts down for the summer, featuring some news updates and brief comments.

1)    I always appreciate reader feedback, and want to respond to Nola Lynch’s comment posted on the blog yesterday.  She found a distinction I made between consultants and counselors “extraneous,” and objected to my lumping all educational consultants together, including those who are members of IECA and HECA.  The comment may have been extraneous, but I was struck by the fact that the Boston Globe story described those who advise Asian-America students to appear “less Asian” as consultants. 

What I didn’t intend at all was a comment about the independent consultant community at large.  I think of our independent colleagues as being college “counselors,” and had actually forgotten that the C in both IECA and HECA stands for consultant rather than counselor. I plead ignorance rather than malice. My issue was with those whose advice is solely about strategy and gaming the system, a danger about which all of us need to be vigilant, regardless of our title.

2)    Steve LeMenager’s comment alludes to the unhealthy obsession with prestige and branding in college admissions and in our society, and a recent Washington Post story exposes the dangers.  A student at an elite magnet school falsely reported that she had been admitted to a unique program that would allow her to spend two years at Harvard and two years at Stanford.  She also reported that Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg had personally called her to encourage her to go to Harvard.  The story received media coverage in her native Korea, referring to her as the “Genius Girl,” only to be exposed as false.  The unfortunate incident followed another Post story about a student from the same school who had earned admission to all eight Ivies.  Is that something worth celebrating or reporting as news?

3)    At the end of a monumental week of decisions by the U.S. Supreme Court, the Court announced yesterday that it will take another look at the case of Fisher v. Texas, which it considered two years ago.  At that time the Court sent the case back to the U.S. Court of Appeals Fifth Circuit asking it to consider whether the UT-Austin affirmative action plan satisfies the legal demand for “strict scrutiny.” The Fifth Circuit approved the Texas plan last year by a 2-1 margin.  Will news of the scandal where the President’s Office at UT-Austin ordered students with connections admitted influence the way the Supreme Court reconsiders Fisher?

4)    On Friday the U.S. Department of Education announced that it will back away from its plan to rate colleges.  The Department will produce a website with lots of data for consumers but will not include ratings.  Avoiding the temptation to rate colleges is a good decision.  Today the Federal government; tomorrow U.S. News?

5)    Sweet Briar College in Virginia will remain open for at least another year under the terms of a settlement brokered by Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring between the College’s Board and a group of alumnae that had filed suit arguing that the closing of the college violates the trust that established Sweet Briar.  Saving Sweet Briar, the alumnae group, will contribute $12 million under the terms of the agreement, and the college will get a new Board and administration. I wrote about Sweet Briar’s closing as a case of institutional euthanasia, and I worry that the settlement is only prolonging the college’s demise, but I admire those who have worked to keep Sweet Briar alive and wish them success.

6)    The June 6 administration of the SAT was marred by a printing error that resulted in students having five minutes less on two sections.  The College Board has since announced that neither of the two affected sections will be scored, but that the error won’t impact the validity of student scores.  The College Board and ETS are easy targets, and there are plenty of folks glad to see them squirming after a screw-up.  There have been calls for everything from giving a free summer re-test to refunding part of the test fee because of the fewer questions to cancelling scores for any student who asks. The CB has responded by offering free registration for October for any student who took the June test.

The College Board’s confident assurance that the validity of a student’s scores are unaffected by the two missing sections begs the question, Why is the test so long?  If scores are unaffected by those two sections, then why do we need those two sections to begin with? The answer may be for PR reasons.  Nearly thirty years ago an admissions dean friend who was active with the College Board told me that it had the technology to give the SAT on a computer with the ability to produce accurate scores with only three questions (how you answered the first question would determine what your next question was).  What kept them from introducing the new test were concerns that the public would lose confidence in the SAT (that would never happen).  So is making the SAT long and arduous tied to building the brand?

7)    This morning’s “Around the Web” section of insidehighed.com lists the most recent post as one of its two selections, the sixth time ECA has been included.

ECA is headed off to summer vacation, remembering the wisdom of Alice Cooper (“School’s Out for Summer”) and Porky Pig (“That’s All, Folks”).  We’ll be back in September.


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