Abolishing standard English shortchanges students

A group of English professors has demanded an end to standard English, claiming that doing so will help students “unlearn white supremacy” (“ ‘Black linguistic justice’ : Professors demand end to standard English as the norm,” The College Fix, Aug. 20).  They reject the argument that standard English is necessary for success after graduation.

I wonder if they realize the harm they are doing to the students they claim they are trying to help. Dumbing down standards in the name of justice is counterproductive because it deprives students of the knowledge and skills they need for upward mobility.  It also reinforces the soft bigotry of low expectations.  Blacks are capable of handling rigorous academic work.  But if academia capitulates to the professors’ demands, it will set back years of progress.

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The downside of charter schools

The media are enchanted by charter schools, reporting only their successes compared with traditional public schools. But there is another side of the story that parents need to keep in mind before enrolling their children (“Charter Schools Have Failed (And We Need to Stop Funding Them),” The Progressive, Aug 20, 2020).

More than one in four charter schools close after just five years in operation, according to the Network for Public Education.  After ten years, 40 percent are shuttered.  When charter schools close, what happens to their students?  When they enroll in traditional public schools, which by law must accept them at any time in the school year, they find themselves disengaged.  Their grades suffer and they feel disoriented.

I mention all of the above because I think it’s time for a more balanced picture of charter schools to be presented to taxpayers.  Until now, all they have heard is positive news.  I support parental choice, but greater transparency is necessary if parents are to make the right decision.

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Getting real about academic ability

Once in a long while, the truth emerges about education in this country (“ ‘The Cult of Smart’ Review: Social Justice Goes to School,” The Wall Street Journal, Aug. 19). The reality is that not all students possess the same capacity to excel in school no matter how much help they are given. Intrinsic differences exist and are not amenable to significant change.

When I was an undergraduate at the University of Pennsylvania, I remember my Psychology 1 professor’s stressing the importance of little “g.” Yes, socioeconomic factors explain in part differences in scholastic achievement.  But they do not play the exalted role that many people believe.  Look around. There are students who come from dire poverty and yet excel academically.  By the same token, there are students who come from affluence and yet are thick as a brick.

It’s time we accept these realities and accord vocational education the stature and respect it deserves. Learning a trade can mean a fulfilling and prosperous life.  The wage premium historically attached to a college degree is much less today after the cost of attending a four-year institution is fully factored in.

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College football cancellation is blessing in disguise

Covid-19 has shut down college football, leading to cries of despair (“As College Football Games Vanish, So Do Their Millions,” The Wall Street Journal, Aug. 17). They range from the loss of seeing their teams clash to the loss of millions of dollars in revenue for individual schools.

Yet I think what is happening is long overdue.  The fact is that athletic departments at most schools do not share their revenues with academic departments.  The money is simply reinvested in upgraded and expanded facilities and the like.  We’re not talking about chump change here.  Pac-12 athletic departments generated $1.3 billion in revenue in 2018-19, according to the Department of Education.

I understand the argument about the positive lessons taught by varsity athletics.  But when the cost of tuition remains sky high, I think that athletic revenues should be plowed back into the general fund to award grants to deserving scholars.  As things stand, athletics occupy far too great a place in academia. The argument that without varsity football alumni would cease writing checks is false.  For example, the University of Chicago abolished varsity football years ago.  It has not suffered at all.  The truth is that football is the tail wagging the dog in higher education.

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When online instruction is breach of contract

The pandemic is forcing less than a quarter of the nation’s 5,000 colleges and universities to offer in-person instruction.  In response, some parents are suing for breach of contract (“As Colleges Move Classes Online, Families Rebel Against the Cost,” The New York Times, Aug. 15).

I’m not a lawyer, but I think they have a case.  They paid for face-to-face instruction, but are not getting what they signed up for.  They at least deserve tuition rebates, increased financial aid and reduced fees. But instead, they are getting nothing. Rather than do what is right, several institutions have moved for dismissal.  Worse yet, some have even increased prices, arguing that if not they will have to lay off faculty.

This is an unprecedented period in higher education in this country.  I’ve written before that a bachelor’s degree is no blanket guarantee of a well-paying job.  Perhaps more and more high school students and their parents will begin to rethink their plans in light of the new realities.

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Black privilege in college admissions

A two-year investigation by the Justice Department found that Asian and White applicants have only one-tenth to one-fourth the chance of being admitted to Yale University as Black applicants with comparable academic credentials (“Yale Accused by Justice Department of Discriminating Against Asian American and White Applicants,” Time, Aug. 14). Although Yale denies claims of discrimination, the evidence to the contrary is clear.

As a private institution, Yale can admit whomever it wants.  But it can’t have it both ways.  Since it accepts millions of taxpayer dollars each year, Yale has to comply with Title VI of the Civil Rights Act.  Although the Supreme Court has ruled that universities can consider race as one factor in admissions, what Yale has done goes way beyond that.

The Supreme Court needs to finally clarify the issue.  Reverse discrimination is as unacceptable as traditional discrimination.

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Sexual-assault rule on campuses passes muster

At last, a bit of good news from higher education.  A federal judge upheld the new grievance procedures for handling sexual-assault complaints on college campuses (“DeVos’s Sexual-Assault Rule Prevails,” The Wall Street Journal, Aug. 13).

What is now required is that both accuser and accused receive the same notice of allegations, can cross-examine witnesses and have the right to appeal. Formerly, accusers had the upper hand because due process was absent. As a result, campuses were the scene of kangaroo courts.

Nevertheless, I continue to believe that sexual-assault complaints should be handled by off-campus police who have been far better trained to investigate such matters.  When the reputations and lives of young people are on the line, the stakes are too high for anything less.

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More Black teachers needed

Studies have repeatedly shown that Black students learn best when they are taught by Black teachers (“Want to Support Black Students?” Invest in Black Teachers,” Time, Aug. 11).  That’s not surprising because teachers and students share a similar culture.

Black teachers also hold Black students to higher standards than their White counterparts.  That’s important if we want to avoid shortchanging them in the name of equity.  Yet Black teachers are harder to recruit and retain than in the past because there are far more opportunities for them in the private sector.

When I was working on my California teaching credential at UCLA in 1963, I became close friends with a recently retired major in the Air Force. As a Black officer, he had several lucrative offers in the corporate world but decided on teaching.  Too bad there are not more like him.

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Entry to medical and legal professions on same page

Competition to become doctors and lawyers has long been intense.  Two recent developments in California attempt to remedy the situation (“Want to Be a Doctor? Take Your Chances in a Closed Room With Strangers,” The New York Times, Aug. 8).

The associate dean for admissions at Stanford’s School of Medicine said that the school will rely on factors other than scores alone on the Medical College Admission Test.  Her reason is that the test does not measure such things as a bedside manner.  But I wouldn’t be at all surprised if increasing the number of Black and Hispanic medical students wasn’t also a consideration.

Weeks earlier the California Supreme Court said it will lower the cut score on the state’s bar exam, which is widely considered the toughest in the nation. Perhaps it did so in part because the ability to negotiate settlements, which constitutes a large part of the work of lawyers, is not assessed by the bar exam any more than the MCAT measures a bedside manner. In lowering the cut score, the California Supreme Court was also determined to increase the number of practicing Black and Hispanic lawyers.

I agree that neither the MCAT, the LSAT or the bar exam can possibly assess the ability of practitioners to be successful in their respective fields.  But all are needed to ensure minimal competency.  Just be aware of their shortcomings.

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Racial grievances will pervade ethnic studies

Requiring all students to take a class in ethnic studies before graduation is well intentioned.  But I’ll bet that the classes will stress victimization, particularly of Blacks (“The Resilience of the Black American,” The Wall Street Journal, Aug. 7).

That’s unfortunate because it’s only one side of the story. There are many examples of Blacks who have succeeded by performance rather than by protest.  “Hidden Figures” is about three Black female mathematicians who were instrumental in John Glenn’s orbiting the earth aboard Friendship 7.  Then there are the Golden 13, the group of Blacks who became naval officers in 1944.

My point is that by focusing only on systemic racism, these courses shortchange precisely the students they are intended to help the most.  Black students need positive role models to emulate.

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