Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Some Thoughts on Ivy League Admissions-And Affirmative Action- for Donald Trump

Some Thoughts on Ivy League Admissions- and Affirmative Action-- for Donald Trump
Professor Mark Naison
Fordham University

Donald Trump’s comments that Barack Obama didn’t have the grades to get into Ivy League
Schools shows a profound ignorance of the admissions policies of those institutions. According to Bowen, Shapiro et all who thoroughly researched the admissions policies of elite universities in the US ( and whose conclusions can be found in their 2002 book The Game of Life: College Sports and Educational Values) the greatest admissions advantage at those schools goes not to children of alumni, or underrepresented minorities, but to recruited athletes! Not only are their twice as many recruited athletes as underrepresented minorities at these schools, but the admissions advantage accruing to an athlete, whether male or female, is twice as powerful as those given to a minority or a “legacy”.

We are not talking about a small number of students here. At most Ivy League schools, close to 20 percent of the undergraduates are recruited athletes, and at Williams College, they
constitute 40 percent of the student population. Given the variety of the sports encompassed, which go from lacrosse, to golf, to tennis to sailing, to soccer, to hockey along with softball, baseball, basketball and football, it turns out that the overwhelming majority of beneficiaries of
“sports affirmative action” are white. Not only are these athletes admitted with significantly lower grades and SAT’s than the university mean, but their grades in college tend to be lower than those of their fellow students. Nevertheless, their incomes after college are no lower than those of their fellow students because a large proportion of them go into careers in the financial sector, which go out of their way to recruit “Ivy league athletes” as key components of their work force.

The populist resentment of allegedly “undeserving” minorities who push hardworking white students out of top college- which Trump is exploiting with his rhetoric- turns out to be misplaced. To put the matter bluntly, there are a lot more white hockey and football players who get into Ivy League schools with SAT’s below the school norm than there are Black and Latino students from the inner city. As someone who spent more than 15 years coaching athletes from diverse racial and class backgrounds in Brooklyn in the 1980’s and 1990’s, I know this from personal experience as well as research. One young woman I worked with, a nationally ranked tennis player who was highly recruited by every Ivy League college, actually got a letter from Harvard telling her that her target SAT score for admission was 1100! Another young man from our community, a highly recruited left handed pitcher, was told that his admission target for Princeton was 1200, with an expected verbal score of 600 because “Princeton has a lot of reading.” Needless to say, both of those young people were white!

So much for “undeserving minorities” pushing white kids out of top colleges! To put this in perspective, I have taught African American Studies at Fordham for more than 40 years and talked to hundreds of Black and Latino students about their college recruitment experiences. Not one of them has mentioned being given SAT targets that low for admission to Harvard, Yale or Princeton!

Donald Trump needs to find a new subject for his demagoguery. If Barack Obama got into Columbia with lower grades and SAT’s scores than the college mean, he was only one of many students- the vast majority of whom were white- who fell into that category. And his success, along with so many others so admitted, should be a warning that traits measurable on standardized tests are not the only indicators of talent and potential that should be considered for university admission. When Ivy League schools admit students, irrespective of the scores they register on standardized tests, they almost never drop out, and usually achieve professional success after graduation. Whether these schools should have as much power as they do in American society is another question, but none of the students they bring in are programmed to “fail.”

Columbia College chose wisely in admitting Barack Obama. His admission was only one small part of a broad policy for creating a student body diverse in talent as well as cultural background from which far more whites than ethnic and racial minorities were beneficiaries

Mark Naison
Aprl 27, 2011

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Teaching Is Relationshp Building

Teaching is Relationship Building-Something School Reformers Often Forget Dr Mark Naison Fordham University One of the most pernicious examples of the tunnel vision of school reformers is the “school turnaround” concept incorporated in the Obama Administration’s “Race To the Top” legislation and currently being implemented in school districts throughout the nation. “Turnaround” strategy proposes that a school designated as “failing”-invariably on test scores- be closed and either replaced with a charter school or reopened as a new school, in the same facility, with a different principal and no more than fifty percent of the current teaching staff. Not only does this concept presume that “bad teachers” are the primary cause of a school’s alleged failures, but it places no value on relationships that teachers build with students and their families, relationships that often last far beyond the time they were in class and are integral to student success and help sustain teacher morale even in the most daunting conditions Anyone who has been a teacher knows that building up the confidence of students and giving them the courage to realize their potential and find their voice involves more than classroom learning. It often requires individualized instruction and mentoring, joint participation in extracurricular activities and trips, and a commitment to maintain communication long after the student leaves your class. When this happens, students come to see relationships with their teachers as sources of strength throughout their lives, a form of “cultural capital” that allows them to surmount obstacles and realize their dreams. In working class and poor communities, where families are under constant stress, lifetime communication with teachers can be the critical factor enabling students to stay in school in the face of crises that would crush most people. Janet Mayer’s wonderful new book, As Bad As They Say: Three Decades of Teaching in the Bronx, provides example of example of how this longtime Bronx teacher supported her students through personal challenges that included evictions, murders, rapes, heatless homes, unemployed parents and responsibilities for raising younger siblings. This influence didn’t just take place when students were in Mayer’s classes. It often went on for fifteen or twenty years after they left her school. And it led to students who could have easily fallen through the cracks becoming productive, successful citizens, some of them teachers themselves. The power of relationship building- something that cannot be measured by student performance on standardized tests- is something I have experienced over and over again in my own teaching at the college level. The most transformative moments in my teaching have not taken place during class sessions, or on midterm or final examinations, but it individual encounters with students where they confront obstacles and with my help, confronted strategies to overcome them An example of this, from the late 90’s remain etched in my memory. M was a Fordham basketball star from an Irish working class family in New Jersey, who along with some of her teammates, had enrolled in several of my Black history classes at Fordham . She was incredibly shy, never saying a word in class, but one day, she showed up in my office and started crying. “Dr Naison,” she said, “I don’t belong at this school. I only got 800 on my SAT’s and I feel like everyone here is so much smarter than me. What am I going to do?” I took a deep breath, prayed I wouldn’t screw this up, and started developing a strategy. “M, they aren’t smarter than you, they just have more educated parents and went to better high schools. But we are going to overcome that. Every time you write a paper, hand me a rough draft a week before and I will edit if for you. Before every test, come with your friends to my office and I will give you a strategy for studying as a group. And in return, you and your friends can work with me on my crossover and spin moves!” The last comment drew a reluctant smile from M and she went to work. Little by little, she went from being a C student, to a B student, to getting B+’s and A-‘s in the last class she took with me during the second semester of her senior year. But the best part of this transformation was watching M find her voice. By the time she graduated, she was not only participating regularly In class discussions, she was being perceived as a leader by her fellow students, including those who came in to the school with much higher SAT’s and grades. After she graduated from Fordham M’s confidence only grew. After playing pro basketball in Europe for several years, she returned to New Jersey and became a teacher and coach, using her own hard won confidence to build the confidence of others. In my forty years at Fordham, I have built many relationships with individual students I have taught, some of whom have gone on to become mayors of cities, leaders of government agencies, world renowned scholars and journalists, but no teaching or mentoring experience has been more satisfying than the one I had with M. Why? Because M represents the majority of students attending schools in America’s poor and working class communities. They not only lack the skills that upper middle class students acquire in their families and the high performing schools they attend, they often suffer from a crippling lack of self-confidence in approaching the tasks that schools present. That confidence deficit, I am convinced, is at least as important as the skills deficit and it cannot be overcome through test prep drills and group instruction. It requires individual attention from teachers, and not just in a classroom setting. It requires extra work and encouragement after school, on weekends, and sometimes long after the student leaves the teachers direct care. If you rotate teachers in and out of schools at a dizzying rate and create pressures that drive them out of the profession after a few years, you will destroy the relationship building component that is at the heart of great teaching. Ironically, under the pressure of federal mandates, this is being done in the very communities that have the greatest need for inspired teaching and mentoring.

Friday, April 1, 2011


We have a new goal. The chancellor of the NYC DOE, Cathie Black, has miraculously discovered that high school graduates should be college ready upon graduation. I wonder what Ms. Black defines as being college ready. All of her references to being college ready refer to the same old clich├ęs about test scores, "teacher effectiveness, teacher evaluations, [and] having the best teachers in every single class."

This is typical of the new regime. Joel Klein. Cathie Black. Michelle Rhee. Arne Duncan.

Does she (or they) tackle the question of what students need to be able to do to be college ready? Does she discuss critical thinking? What about problem solving? Time management? Independence? Of course they need to increase their reading and writing abilities. But does that make them college ready, or simply high school graduates?

When told students were doing a 5 page research paper, Ms. Black was also quoted as saying, "'Hmmm. Didn’t seem to me — now length doesn’t necessarily mean rigor — but it didn’t seem to me as though that was something that would be thought of as a significant research paper."

Is she talking about product or process when she refers to rigor? The most difficult and challenging writing assignment I ever had was in graduate school. We had to discuss how five authors agreed or disagreed about three themes.... all in 5 pages. That was rigorous; not because of its length, but in how it forced us to use precise language. She should know that. She was an English major.

There are many schools in and out of the city that make kids college ready. The private schools and the best public schools do because they don't spend excessive time on test prep. (Exception. Private tutors for SAT, ACT, and AP exams.)

"Black said she knows when that leadership works by looking around a school and seeing whether the principal knows his or her students, and if the teachers appear engaged." To me the most important criterion is whether the students are engaged in rigorous, challenging, and engaging work.

One program that engages high school seniors in over 60 schools across the city and in 4 NYC high schools is WISE. "WISE serves as a bridge for seniors from high school to college, work and lifelong learning. A WISE program enables high school seniors of all ability levels to design an individualized, passion-driven project. Projects can include, but are not limited to, internships, independent research, self-improvement, community service or cultural, artistic and performance-based activities. The topics students can explore in school-based, experiential learning programs are limitless. As a result, students discover in themselves and in one another skills, strengths and talents they had not realized were present.

As part of the process of developing and completing their WISE projects, students select a staff mentor, maintain a reflective and research-supported journal and make a public presentation. During the school day, as well as in the evenings and on weekends, students devote significant time to work on their projects—they research their topics, maintain written daily journals, meet with their mentors to explore and reflect upon project issues, and discuss their topics with one another. Upon completion of the project, each student gives a public presentation assessed by a panel of students, teachers and community members.

Students need to be independent learners and problem solvers to succeed in college and at work. They have to manage time, develop good interpersonal skills, set realistic goals and become self-reliant. WISE students gain these abilities and more in executing their individualized senior experiences, which not only eases their transition to college and work, but also enhances their chances for success.

The WISE experience takes students from the confines of a traditional classroom and invites them into a world full of opportunities to learn from others in stimulating settings. It also fosters students’ independence, as they learn to manage their own time and interact with new people in adult environments.

In order to develop a project, students must be able to reach out and convince a mentor and an outside sponsor to work with them. They need to be mature, responsible individuals.

WISE students have to adapt to a variety of people. They have to learn to navigate new and different environments. Through the rigorous WISE process, students learn how to enter the new world outside of the classroom and the school. They become young adults.

Planning and executing a WISE project can become a subject for a unique and winning college application essay. And for those colleges that demand one, the interview becomes a wonderful opportunity for students to shine by discussing their WISE project. In addition, college admission officers are charged with deciding which of many similar applicants possess the background to enhance the community of a particular institution. A WISE experience gives students a “leg up” in this process. Indeed, when WISE students arrive at college, they are better prepared to be successful students and active campus citizens.

Following a passion allows a student the freedom to explore a major field of study, service opportunities or a career. Thus, a WISE project also gives a student direction for the future and an entry to the benefits of lifelong learning." (

I invite Ms. Black and so called education leaders to talk to WISE students, graduates, and staff to see what true engagement means and how college ready WISE students become.