Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Like Match but Different

We have all been subject to the concept of social mismatch. Be it in jobs, friendships, marriages and yes in education.  Finding the right match is not a social app that can suddenly eradicate all your warts, scars and bruises with the perfect photoshop.

Even the best and the brightest can find themselves in a precarious position when they are now with all those who are also the best and brightest. I can imagine some of this is why the Ivy League is such a douche filled pool of assholes.

But the inartful term of Justice Scalia and his remarks about students not being in the right school environment due to their color and in turn the expectations they have at schools that have admitted them solely because of color is of course offensive, racist and well once again the reliance upon some bogus study by an "expert" deemed by the court as knowledgeable and therefore valid.  We have heard this in many forms I think Eugenics comes to mind.

I look back to my College years and think I was not ready for College at all.  I went at first away from home and hated every minute of it.  That led to the year of living badly. Then I went to community college for the summer while awaiting transfer to the University closer to home. I had some good times, some not good, and frankly I finally figured it out as I was 20 by then and at a much better place to grasp the concepts and needs of school.  I was not an over achiever by any means but I made it out maybe just a little wiser.  But  most of my real learning and understanding came later when I went back at age 30 and realized what bullshit a lot of higher ed is.  It is interesting, don't get me wrong, but it is not all that and a bag of chips.  It is what YOU make of it and you alone.  I had some Professors who were amazing and generous but I can count them on one hand and the rest their names I don't recall in the same way they did not know mine at the time.

There was a puff piece on a local radio station on a school I taught at years ago and frankly it neglected to look at the root problem that led that tree to wither and die over the years.  The current fertilizer is money and an expensive International Baccalaureate program designed to push the underachieving and offer hope and opportunity to those who would like their school to be more and them to have more.  It is the American Dream that they shove down our throats like Mary Poppins does with a spoonful of sugar.

That being said I think that this has been a long line of fixes in a school within a very divided city and in a State that has underfunded (like others) education for decades. And what it does prove that with resources, aka, money, graduation rates improve as does ambition.  Hope springs eternal.

What was not said is how many actually achieved that illustrious degree and how many simply managed to earn  the regular high school degree and pursue higher education or alternative education, such as vocational or even some community college course work?  Then there is the matter of  test results and the reality of the student population at large - from drop out rates, to inflated degree stats (as that is what you do when you add a new program you get transfer kids who quickly enter as the requirements to finish may be easier  or less effort or in fact that across the country grad rates are up except ironically in the state) as  none of  those issues were discussed as it was a puff piece to make people feel less guilt.  We are sure that poor kids don't do well because schools are bad because of the Teachers and that it is just make the schools better (and that is usually thought of us as charters but at least this proved nope just the regular school can do it) and the Teachers younger, TFA'ers or people who are just willing to work harder. 

 The reality is that the school has done better with veteran teachers and the turnaround has largely been the new recruits, and that too was quietly ignored or unaddressed in the program. But the one Teacher they did focus on is a former Chicago Teacher and she is no newbie to the field.  I have subbed for her and yes she has them looking at a much higher workload but as a sub it was difficult for me to actually tell if they were managing to successfully accomplish this.  It is one thing to ask students to do it another if they fully grasp it.   I saw very little evidence of the latter and as a sub it is hard to know that but on average I do get kids to work which I do look at  and I found a few who simply struggled to even write a sentence on a paper with their name to turn it in (something I ask students to do as a way of reconciling attendence and accountability - the work or lack thereof speaks volumes vs me playing beat cop, adversary and nag. Frankly as a sub it is not worth it.) And to be fair it is a problem I find quite a bit in many schools so this is no different but what was odd was that while the Teacher had expectations of which they were familiar and I noted,  they simply had one thing to do, the reality is that few did.  So I question the truth behind that story, not the Teacher's version but the Reporter. 

This story and reporter also neglected to mention that the Principal who helmed this "turnaround" is leaving at the end of this month and going onto a new job in the city which has nothing to do with public education at the K-12 level, he is administering the new city Pre-K program of which he has neither experience nor education for it.  Is that a mismatch?

**I have been told that my vague references distract from my veracity and in turn makes my comments "incoherent."  Here is the why I don't name names and point fingers: There is no reason to do so, my experiences are mine and mine alone.  I cannot assume nor presume that others feel the same nor do I expect them to.  It is why I make my comments as just that, and they are not intended to be judgmental as that does not serve anyone.  I  assume that they have the best of intentions at all times regardless of how others perceive it. Education is already chalked to the brim with judgment wielding assholes who are sure they can fix all societal ills in one fell swoop.  I can assure you I am not one of them.  I worked in the school in the 90s. I saw many good and many exhausted people trying to save that school.  There have been numerous attempts over the years and all of them failed for one reason or another as the problems in the community are systemic beyond the walls and that it will require a larger scale effort to truly build a student population that will exceed and in turn excel

As for Scalia I just laugh at the man who sits next to Clarence Thomas and I think "yes that explains it all."

I think this explains mismatch theory quite well and who wulda thunk it it is from a Lawyer.

A legitimate reason for disputes over mismatch

Justice Antonin Scalia’s inartful effort to raise the issue of mismatch in the Fisher oral argument last Wednesday generated two waves of responses. In the first wave, dozens of web commentators and several public figures (including Sen. Harry Reid) denounced the comments as condescending and racist. In the second wave, many leading news organizations (commendably) published stories pointing out that Scalia was actually referring to actual research and ideas developed in briefs filed in the case (including one by me). These stories generally gave some explanation of the mismatch hypothesis, but then, very often, quoted “experts” who dismissed the idea as either wholly discredited or at least undercut by a vast array of evidence.

The Chronicle of Higher Education offered this quote from Matt Chingos of the Urban Institute: “The serious question [about mismatch], Mr. Chingos said, is whether colleges’ affirmative-action policies admit students who are not likely to succeed there. ‘There is no high-quality empirical evidence in support of that hypothesis,’ he said.”

The New York Times quoted Oren Sellstrom, of the Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights, as saying “there is a vast body of social science evidence that shows exactly the opposite of what the mismatch theory purports to show, that actually minority students who benefit from affirmative action get higher grades at the institutions they attend, leave school at lower rates than others, and are generally more satisfied in higher education…” The Times did not cite any specific evidence in support of mismatch.

(The Times also published a letter coauthored by William Bowen — a former president of Princeton and a leading scholar on affirmative action — that “there is an abundance of empirical evidence refuting the mismatch hypothesis and no credible evidence supporting it.”)

The Guardian reported, “[E]xperts said Scalia’s comments are couched in the so-called ‘mismatch theory’, a controversial concept that has been ‘thoroughly discredited,’ said Richard Lempert, law professor at the University of Michigan. (Lempert was also recently prominently quoted in the Times dismissing mismatch.)

Statements of this kind about mismatch research are, of course, widely at variance with the facts. The dominant finding by a long series of impressive studies published over the past several years is that mismatch is real and occurs in many different contexts. Efforts by investigative teams that reach across different perspectives, like the Journal of Economic Literature study that I discussed last Thursday, conclude that, while much remains unknown, there is quite substantial evidence for some types of mismatch and the phenomenon should be viewed seriously.

Why, then, do reporters both fail to discuss the evidence on mismatch and let broad claims from the anti-mismatch camp stand unrefuted? There’s an obvious answer here: The “mainstream media” see affirmative action (including racial preferences) as closely intertwined with racial inclusivity and racial healing, and thus something difficult, and even risky, to seriously question in one’s reporting. There’s also the widespread journalistic habit of quoting strong, bold statements and giving short shrift to nuanced discussion.

But I think there are two other phenomena that complement media skittishness: the complexity of mismatch research, and the conscious strategy of academics who oppose mismatch on ideological grounds. I’ll address the second point — the strategy of pro-affirmative action academics — in my next post. Below are some thoughts about the complexity issue.

A useful way to think about mismatch is in terms of “first-order” and “second-order” effects. First-order effects are specific phenomena that could happen directly to a student place in an environment with mostly academically stronger students; second-order are more conditional, indirect consequences.

Nearly all mismatch literature implicitly or explicitly concerns one of three “first-order” effects. (1) Learning mismatch occurs if a student actually learns less in a classroom because, for example, the professor is pitching her teaching to students with greater academic preparation. (2) Competition mismatch occurs if a student is learning well but nonetheless gets relatively low grades simply because of the strength of the competition, and consequently becomes discouraged or concerned about her academic future. (3) Social mismatch can occur because of the tendency of students to form friendships with other students who have similar academic backgrounds or performance; if a school uses large preferences that correlate strongly with race, then social mismatch can produce racial self-segregation.

The best example of a “second-order” mismatch effect is college graduation. A student might experience any or all of the “first-order” effects described above, but still graduate from college if, for example, the college has a very high graduation rate (i.e., it’s hard to flunk out), or strong academic support services (a supplemental class for students having academic difficulty will, almost by definition, avoid mismatch), or if students switch from hard majors to soft ones.

This context helps to at least partly explain why the two sides of the mismatch debate can talk past one another. The evidence on first-order effects is pretty overwhelming. Learning mismatch has been demonstrated in randomized experiments and is at the heart of the finding that large law school preferences seriously damage one’s chances of passing a bar exam on one’s first attempt (bar exams are one of the rare examples in higher education where even an imperfect measure of learning exists).
The much lower grades that result from large preferences probably mostly reflect competition mismatch; this association has been shown repeatedly and is conceded by most scholars.

Very high rates of minority attrition in the sciences probably reflect both “competition” and “learning” mismatch, although the half-dozen peer-reviewed studies that demonstrate science mismatch have not tried to parse out the two distinct effects. Social mismatch has also been convincingly demonstrated in both a randomized experiment and in longitudinal research.

I can’t claim to have encyclopedic knowledge of all these literatures, but I think it is safe to say that 90 percent of the peer-reviewed studies testing these first-order effects that has found evidence — usually very strong evidence — of mismatch.

The same can’t be said of research on second-order effects. The evidence on graduation, in particular, is very mixed. Even in the case of law school mismatch, evidence on graduation effects is weak in the 1990s data and would almost certainly be even weaker today, as graduation rates at most elite schools has edged closer and closer to 100 percent. There are undoubtedly many students –especially low-SES students — attending community colleges who would improve their chances of graduating if they could go to a four-year-college instead, even if with an admissions preference.

Thus, often when an academic argues that mismatch is “not a problem,” he or she is thinking of the research on graduation or some other second-order effect, while scholars who believe mismatch needs to be addressed will usually cite some first-order effect in evidence. In this sense, the disagreement is bridgeable (as reflected in the Journal of Economic Literature piece).

It remains the case, however, that scholars who believe mismatch is real tend to far more measured and nuanced in their claims than the often fervent, and absolutist, anti-mismatch scholars. Even the most eminent members of the anti-mismatch camp often go wildly beyond the evidence — something explored in detail in my next post.

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