Category: Education

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On the Colloquy: Perspectives on Fisher v. University of Texas at Austin

Just in time for oral arguments in Fisher v. University of Texas at Austin, the online companion to the Northwestern University Law Review is pleased to feature an article by Professor Ellen Katz entitled Grutter‘s Denouement: Three Templates from the Roberts Court. Katz argues that while Fisher is widely expected to end the race-based affirmative action in higher education upheld in Grutter v. Bollinger a decade ago, it remains to be seen exactly how the Roberts Court – which has not been shy about voicing its hostility to race-based criteria in a variety of contexts – will express its condemnation. In particular, Katz identifies three very different ways in which the court may resolve Fisher, each based on one of the Court’s previous approaches to disavowing precedent.

Earlier this year, the Colloquy featured an essay by Professor Allen Rostron entitled Affirmative Action, Justice Kennedy, and the Virtues of the Middle Ground. In his article, Rostron notes that critics have condemned  the failure of Justice Kennedy – who often casts the decisive vote in ideologically charged chases – to establish clear rules of law through his opinions. Rostron argues that in Fisher, however, Justice Kennedy’s irresolute nature may prove to be a blessing, in that it may help him accommodate the American public’s conflicted feelings about racial preferences while simultaneously forcing serious thinking about how racial components of affirmative action can be phased out in a manner that will minimize disruption and bitterness.

Read these articles and more on the Colloquy.

 


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Stanford Law Review Online: The Violence Against Women Act and Double Jeopardy in Higher Education

Stanford Law Review

The Stanford Law Review Online has just published an Essay by Andrew Kloster entitled The Violence Against Women Act and Double Jeopardy in Higher Education. Mr. Kloster argues that proposed changes to the Violence Against Women Act have potentially serious implications for persons accused committing sexual assault in university proceedings:

The reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA), set to expire this year, has elicited predictable partisan rancor. While there is little chance of the reauthorization being enacted by Congress so close to an election, the Senate draft includes a provision that raises interesting issues for the rights of students involved in sexual assault disciplinary proceedings on campus. The Senate version of VAWA could arguably condition a university’s receipt of federal funds on a requirement that the university always provide an appeal right for both accuser and accused. Setting aside the massive rise in federal micromanagement of college disciplinary proceedings, the proposed language in VAWA raises serious, unsettled issues of the application of double jeopardy principles in the higher education context.

He concludes:

Whatever the legal basis, it is clear that both Congress and the Department of Education ought to take seriously the risk that mandating that all universities receiving federal funds afford a dual appeal right in college disciplinary proceedings violates fundamental notions of fairness and legal norms prohibiting double jeopardy. College disciplinary hearings are serious matters that retain very few specific procedural safeguards for accused students, and permitting “do-overs” (let alone mandating them) does incredible damage to the fundamental rights of students.

Read the full article, The Violence Against Women Act and Double Jeopardy in Higher Education at the Stanford Law Review Online.

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Affirmative Action and Merit

The Supreme Court is set next week to hear the affirmative action case of Fisher v. University of Texas at Austin. Many people are troubled by affirmative action because they are convinced that it means less qualified (non-white) students are admitted over more qualified (white) ones. To them, that just seems unfair. (One may wonder how it compares to the unfairness of a public education system that generally offers much better schooling to suburban (white) students.)

In any case, how reliable is their measurement of merit? As an initial matter, if diversity in itself is valuable, then the ability to add to it makes you more qualified then someone who cannot. Of course, what people usually have in mind are test scores, grades, and recommendations. Yet do the best grades and recommendations, for example, necessarily go to the best students? Studies on unconscious biases suggest the answer may be no. Take the most recent entry in a long series of studies revealing that identical qualifications are evaluated differently based on the race or sex of a candidate. In this randomized double-blind Yale study, science professors were asked to evaluate men’s and women’s resumes. The resumes were exactly the same except that some bore a man’s name (John) and some bore a woman’s (Jennifer). Both men and women rated the male candidates higher, and were willing to pay them more. Again, these were the exact same resumes. It is not a huge leap to think the same kind unconscious bias regularly occurs in classrooms across the country — and this is only one way that unconscious bias might lead to unfair assessments.

Granted, affirmative action may be a crude way to compensate for structural inequality and unconscious biases. But realistically, what are the alternatives?

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Is IP for People or Corporations?

Another day brings another cornucopia of exciting and important comments on my book, From Goods to a Good Life: Intellectual Property and Global Justice. I thank Professors Molly Van Houweling, Jessica Silbey, Michael Madison, and Mark McKenna, and earlier Concurring Opinions commentators —Professors Deven Desai, Lea Shaver, Laura DeNardis, Zahr Said, and Brett Frischmann—for reading my book so carefully, and engaging it so helpfully. I focus here on Professor Van Houweling’s framing of an important issue arising in the discussion.

Professor Van Houweling has provoked stimulating discussion with her astute observation of two competing visions of intellectual property within the emergent “capabilities approach” school of intellectual property we identified earlier this week. Professor Van Houweling contrasts Professor Julie Cohen’s alternative justification of copyright as a tool for promoting corporate welfare (sustaining creative industries), with my attention to intellectual property laws as tools for promoting livelihood and human welfare (sustaining human beings in their quest for a good life).

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Overlong Resumes, Redux: What Would Alex Kozinski Do?

By way of seconding Gerard’s comments regarding resume (and CV) creep and its baneful effects, let me share with you the rather short resume of an incredibly well-accomplished person: Alex Kozinski, circa 1984, as he was applying for a position on the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit.

Note that Judge Kozinski’s resume back then (as taken from the files of the Reagan Library) was all of two pages long, and that he didn’t go on and on explaining precisely what he did as a clerk for Chief Justice Burger, Judge Kennedy, or even as a judge on the Court of Claims. He didn’t even mention that he was once a contestant on “The Dating Game.”

Given that it’s interviewing season, this also might provide a good opportunity for me to offer a couple of resume tips to law students. I enjoy reviewing students’ resumes, and see a number of recurring errors along with what I consider to be poor judgment calls. I’ll offer a few suggestions, for what they’re worth, after the jump.

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School Rankings and the Diversity Penalty II

A couple of weeks ago I wrote about how my colleague Tim Glynn and I recently examined elementary and high school rankings in Illinois, New Jersey, and Ohio, and sampled school report cards from 18 states. Our analysis, available here, demonstrates how rankings penalize socioeconomic and racial diversity and are biased toward wealthier and Whiter schools.

My prior post explained that because most ranking metrics fail to account for the achievement gap, wealthier and Whiter schools will almost always outrank diverse schools.  The post also hypothesized about how the choices parents make based on these ratings help fuel neighborhood and school segregation.  Now I want to discuss how alternative rankings could dampen the diversity penalty’s damaging effects.

People are drawn to the bottom-line assessment of quality that rankings provide, which means that rankings are not going to just disappear.  But there is plenty of room to improve how school rankings and ratings are calculated.  And herein lies a powerful opportunity to counteract the diversity penalty.  As research by Michael Saunder and Wendy Nelson Espeland demonstrates, one way to mitigate the harm caused by influential ranking systems is to offer competing rankings.  When a marketplace is crowded with multiple ratings, it is too loud for any single rating system to carry the day.  No single ranking system will appear authoritative because each just offers information that conflicts with that offered by others.

Right now readers are probably thinking that they can’t swing a dead cat without hitting a school ranking.  There are national ranking entities like SchoolDigger and GreatSchools, local magazines with “Best Schools” issues, and even some state department of education websites that provide ordinal ranks or allow users to compare one school to another.  The problem, however, is that almost all of these ranking systems use metrics that ignore the achievement gap. The marketplace thus becomes an echo chamber in which wealthier and Whiter schools are rewarded and diverse schools are penalized.

The key, then, is for states to develop truly alternative rankings—ones that are sensitive to the socioeconomic and racial composition of schools.  These rankings would neither penalize nor reward demographic diversity.  Instead, they would measure a school’s overall quality by comparing the performance of each of its students against the average performance of the student’s demographic peers across the state.  Indeed, New Mexico has already started down this road by including a variant of this methodology in its school assessments.

You can read more about this sort of methodology in our article.  To be clear, however, these alternative rankings would not freeze expectations for any subgroup of a school’s population.  On the contrary, a school’s ranking would benefit from better outcomes for students on both sides of the achievement gap, as well as from outperforming other schools in narrowing the gap.   These competing rankings would encourage parents to dig deeper to determine whether a school is right for their children.  That analysis would benefit students, schools, and communities alike.

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School Rankings and the Diversity Penalty

Those in legal education are familiar with the deleterious effects of the U.S. News rankings, but have not paid much attention to similar popular rankings of elementary, middle, and high schools.  Because perceptions of public school quality often dictate where parents of school-aged children choose to live, these rankings are tremendously important.

My colleague Tim Glynn and I have recently examined rankings by private entities of schools in Illinois, New Jersey, and Ohio, and sampled school report cards from 18 states.  Our analysis, available here, demonstrates that school rankings are neither accurate nor neutral measures of quality.  Instead, rankings penalize socioeconomic and racial diversity and are biased toward wealthier and Whiter schools.

Most rankings use a student body’s overall performance on standardized proficiency tests to gauge school quality.  This ignores the achievement gap—the well-documented phenomenon that, on average, wealthier students outperform poorer students on these tests and Asian and White students outperform Black and Hispanic students. The achievement gap is not inevitable, and educators are working hard to close it.   But while the gap persists, wealthy and White schools will almost always have higher aggregate proficiency scores and thus outrank schools with a diverse mix of students.  And that’s true even if a particular school serves each subgroup of its student population better than the higher ranked schools do.

This diversity penalty exists across popular school ranking systems in all areas of the country. Consider the website SchoolDigger and its rankings of New Jersey and Illinois high schools.  Millburn High School—located in an affluent northern New Jersey town and often described in the media as one of the best high schools in the state—ranked 22 for tested year 2010.  (The top spots were held by magnet schools that pre-select their students based on academic achievement.)  The high school in neighboring South Orange-Maplewood—a far more socioeconomically and racially diverse community—ranked 179.  But isolating performance at these two schools by demographic subgroup creates a very different impression of relative school quality. For example, when the two schools are re-ranked based just on the test scores of White students, they are in a virtual dead heat.  The high school in Montclair, another nearby diverse community, performs comparably.  Similarly, in Illinois, New Trier Township High School—which draws students from several affluent Chicago suburbs—ranked fifth for tested year 2010.  Nearby Evanston High School—located in a far more diverse community—ranked 126.  But when the two schools are re-ranked in ways that account for the achievement gap, they are essentially tied.  Oak Park & River Forest High School, another diverse Chicago suburban school, is competitive as well.  This pattern repeats itself in different years and different states and for elementary schools as well as high schools.

Parents should care about more than just the performance of their child’s demographic peers.  But rankings that rely on aggregated scores are a misleading indicator for all demographic subgroups, including low-income students and historically-disadvantaged minorities.  The problem is not that disadvantaged subgroups drag down aggregated test scores.  Rather, by lumping all students together without regard for socioeconomic and racial differences, rankings reveal little about how a school actually serves its student population.

Because of the achievement gap, diverse schools in which both disadvantaged and advantaged students outperform their demographic peers will often still have lower aggregated proficiency scores—and hence lower rankings—than schools with mostly wealthy and White students. The rankings therefore penalize diversity and reward wealth and White racial homogeneity.  Parents who rely on rankings will conclude that wealthy and White schools are better, even when the statistics show their children would do just as well or better in a diverse school.

Many parents see the value of diversity and would happily opt for schools that are both diverse and academically strong.  And integrated learning environments benefit all students.  But popular school-ranking systems suggest, contrary to reality, that academic strength and diversity seldom co-exist.  When parents choose school districts based on rank, those with means will select away from diverse schools and the neighborhoods in which they are located.  This distortion of local housing markets contributes to school and neighborhood segregation and may help explain why highly diverse communities are so rare.

School report cards contain data about demographic subgroup performance, and some private ranking systems also make this information available.  But because the disaggregated data is usually buried beneath the headlines, many parents do not focus on it. Moreover, disaggregated data does not provide what many parents want—a bottom-line assessment of overall school quality.

Given their popularity, rankings are not going to disappear anytime soon.  The question, then, is how to dampen their damaging effects.  More on that in a later post.

 

 

Penn State Scandal: Could a Corporate Compliance Model Have Prevented It?

The Penn State scandal has become ever more shocking with each new revelation. My colleague Kathleen Boozang argues that it is time for higher ed to learn from other large enterprises about the importance of compliance:

It appears that even now, Penn State lacks a compliance program, the creation of which Special Investigative Counsel Freeh’s Report recommends. Previously limited to financial fraud and HR issues, a June 21, 2012 posting by Penn State’s internal auditor announces a poster redesign advertising its hotline number, to which any ethical or legal concerns can now be reported.  Important will be training throughout the university regarding the law’s protection of whistleblowers, about which, according to Freeh’s Report, top university leaders were unaware.

While it is stunning that, even now, Penn State has not advanced further in setting up these protective measures, it is fair to say that much of higher ed has been slow to adopt compliance best practices common to the healthcare sector and most business entities.

In related news, the Institute of Internal Auditors met in Boston last week. It looks like they will need to play an increasing role in the higher education setting, especially if internal compliance methods are not mere “rituals of verification.”

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In Favor of Long Views Over “Win” Cultures

Thinking a bit more about recent UVA events, I think that a deep problem with current approaches to education is not just market myopia but a distaste for any long-term project. We live in a quick-fix, I know the answer, will give results, and obtain a “win” culture. It has its arrogance just as academia has its arrogances. The “win” culture wants the rush of snark and deliverables already known. Whether they wish to admit it, some academics play into this model. Vaidhyanathan’s points about dwindling funding are dead on correct. Private and public funding is in peril. The world looks to the U.S. for models of public education while we eviscerate it. The business mentality and newspeak have no place for the work that plods, tests, fails, but in aggregate discovers new things, nurtures counter views, and happens to train people how to think beyond three bullet points. Recent works by Julie Cohen and Brett Frischmann lay the foundation to show how and why thinking beyond simplistic market models leads to outcomes we want. I think part of what they are reacting to is a failure to have a vocabulary beyond markets. In some cases it may be as simple as looking beyond one notion of the market. In others scholars are developing ways to understand what lies beyond our current thinking. In both cases, people are offering new metrics to evaluate and appreciate what is important for society and individuals but is not captured in market-speak.

A question that lurks here is why. Why are we having to remind people about the importance of education, how public institutions feed society at large, and the needs of humans as they develop? Saying that we are not getting what we want from current approaches is not a good answer. It tells us that something is broken. But turning to systems that may be excellent for some things but quite poor at others speaks of a desire to do anything for the sake of action without thinking through options. In business, the quick outcome and need for speed may be real (although there are many examples of rapid deployment that fall on their faces). In our public and personal lives, a little patience would help. There are many reasons to be suspicious about government, corporations, academia, and any group. That has been and is our world since at least the start of our country. For public institutions and a better civic life, we need to show people why truths we hold self-evident are ones others do too. Right now, a bunch of people lamenting and decrying failures does little to change things.

For example, all citizens who think that public education is something that should be free, need to explain who pays. And they need to realize that by voting to cut funds from education (yes mucking with taxes and not voting for increases means you failed to pay for your community goods), they drive to a world where they may not have access to the resources they need. Saying we will not fund until we get what we want is useless. Saying these are the hard outcomes and needs we see for education is a place where educators can and should engage. For those who think that education will undergo some mild re-tooling and continue as before, I direct you to this article “The Prospect of Western Europe Collapsing Like Eastern Europe.”

Put differently, I don’t think civic goods are a luxury. I think we are treating them that way. Society’s interest in self-congratulatory, near-term “wins” is part of and fuels the shift to business-style myopia. There is a literature from scenario planning that explains how that approach is not great for companies either. Yet, companies struggle with that information and research. I think most of us would prefer a society that has a shot at long-term success over short-term satisfaction. Then again it took some dreams and Joseph to have the ancients think about planning and cycles. As we are not in an age of dream interpretation, it is up to us to remember and to explain why should be planning for the long haul. As always, let the games begin.

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Did you miss it? The power of curiosity and schoolboy naivety

I have been traveling and storing up some blog material. So I apologize if you have seen some of these stories, but in case not; here goes the first one. According to the Ottowa Citizen “An Indian-born teenager has won a research award for solving a mathematical problem first posed by Sir Isaac Newton more than 300 years ago that has baffled mathematicians ever since.” The problem was “to calculate exactly the path of a projectile under gravity and subject to air resistance.” The student’s response to there was no solution was “well. there’s no harm in trying.” Man, I love that reply. It probably did not hurt that he learned calculus at 6. To me, however, I think the attitude is a big part of the success. It reminds me of tinkering. In story or research it is the willingness to say “What if” and see where it takes you. There are of course times when those who came before can tell you with good reason not to pursue something. But the cases where the question is known but no one has figured out how to solve it, the will to say let me give it try is hugely important. Even if you don’t succeed, what you discover along the way may be fruitful. Anyway, I rather liked the breakthrough and that youthful inquisitiveness won the day.