Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Asininity in its highest form

Suddenly, State Senator Thelma Harper is recognizing what could have been seen 4 years ago. I wish she'd listened back then or spoken up more loudly. I have remembered all along the points made by the anti-lottery crowd and how it fell on deaf ears or how it was just the Puritanical, tightly wound morally sanctimonious that were against this. It was not possible, in some minds, that we had the best interests of the poor at heart when we opposed this lottery. Well, those chickens have come home to roost.

A trip down memory lane anyone?

From the Knoxville News Sentinel November 11/26/2002 regarding how we would determine who gets a scholarship. Since grades are not standard across the state something else had to be used:

"Students from poorer backgrounds - the example cited most frequently by people in higher education is the Memphis city schools - have a greater disparity between their grades and their ACT scores, and ACT scores tend to be a better predictor of academic success in college.
The composite ACT scores of students with GPAs of 3.0 or better in high school in 2002 found that family income was the best predictor of ACT performance.

The ACT scores increased in linear progression with family income. The poorest group averaged 19 on the ACT; in eight successively greater income categories the average ACT score rose with each step, to a high of 24.5 in families with incomes of more than $100,000.

There is a growing sentiment to set aside some of the money based on financial need as opposed to academic achievement."
I was witness to the House Education Committee hearings (where the bulk of this debate occurred) and I saw the contortions the legislators (many from Memphis) went through to try and qualify their poorly performing students for these scholarships. Their students were certainly needy but they were not going to score well enough on the ACT. At one point the ACT bar was going to be 23--but that was unacceptably high for those Memphis legislators. It eventually fell to 19. They squabbled over a grade point average AND and ACT score vs. a grade point average OR an ACT score. The legislature's Black Caucus eventually spoke up through House Speaker pro-tem Lois DeBerry, D-Memphis:
"We want our kids to have an opportunity.

If you want to put in a 3.0, then start it three or four years from now and give kids who have been victims of failing schools an opportunity to move on and get a college education." Tennessean 4/18/03 pg. 6B
Rep. Harry Tindell, D-Knoxville, offered an amendment that would have done away with the ACT/GPA requirement and reimbursed college students based on their performance at college. No going.

They did their level best to find SOME way to broaden the eligibility eventually settling on an access grant for those who only make a 2.75 GPA AND and 18 ACT. The lottery had been sold to voters as for the best and brightest yet these legislators were seriously considering a C+ as 'bright'.

From the Gambling Free Tennessee site in 2002 (thanks to the Wayback Machine).
"Through much study, we have come to the conclusion that the introduction of a state lottery will be harmful to our children and the poor. We believe that lotteries open the door to the possibility of political corruption. We are convinced that a lottery will be harmful to the economic interests of the hard working people of Tennessee."
There is no excuse for anyone not having more than a clue this situation was going to happen. There was plenty of testimony by education folks, understanding by legislators, warnings from those 'right wing religious fanatics' and publicity in the papers that the poor were not going to be substantial beneficiaries of this program. Don't cry 'unfair' now.

What can you do now? Fix those 'failing schools' that Senator DeBerry mentioned. Have those education committees actually investigate some of these schools systems and demand some answers for the money we're sending them. Encourage replication of systems that are working. Be willing to hear the truth regardless of who speaks it. Put people on those education committees that aren't tied to the status quo and its keepers and are willing to support some choices for those children that are trapped in failing schools. Stop protecting those failing systems and protect the children instead.

Bonus: a What If moment: State Senator David Fowler proposed skimming off ten cents from every lottery dollar for K-12 education. A sum estimated to be $60 million back then.
"The money would give teachers an additional $100 for classroom supplies and raise teacher salaries, Fowler said.

Sen. John Ford, D-Memphis [he of Tennessee Waltz infamy], called the proposal "pork barrel."

"This is asininity in its highest form," Ford said.
Tennessean 4/16/03 pg 6B


Tom said...

The state government has done three things that make these scholarships easier to get, and in doing so have lowered both the bar that defines success and the percentage of recipients that are prepared for college.

First, they have standardized the grading scale. In Davidson, it wasn't a huge change but now a 75 and a 76 are "C"s; last year they were "D"s.

Second, students in Honors classes automatically get 3 points added to their grade. Earned a 100? Get a 103. Earned a 27? Get a 30.

Third, and this was in the works before 2002, but so were the lottery scholarships: in high school, the Gateway test is now 15% of a student's second semester grade. For many, the test is pretty easy (minimal skills). But in addition, the scores are manipulated. For the Biology test, getting about 35% of the questions right earns a student a 70. For English II and Algebra, about 45-50%=70%. And that's after about 5 questions (out of about 60) are dropped. Similarly, get 50/55 (91%) questions right, and you've got a nice fat 98% as 15% of your grade. Now that's some new math!

Anyway, these three state changes have resulted in some definite grade inflation; they didn't only lower the GPA requirement, but they enacted practices that make it easier to get to the GPA requirement. And aside from standardizing the grading scale, I fully expect that the 3 points for Honors, and less so for the Gateway scores, inflates the GPAs of students from more economically advantaged families.

Absolutely, many schools need to do better preparing kids for college, but I don't believe the state lowering the bar, or inflating the grades, truly helps kids be better prepared TO SUCCEED in college.

Tom said...

Should have read:

"...inflates the GPAs of students from more economically advantaged families more than those from economically disadvantaged families."

Kay Brooks said...

Thanks for the additional info, Tom. I knew that as a result of the House Education Committee hearings the grading scale was standardized. I had no idea that it resulted in that much grade inflation. Grades are so subjective (except in Math) that it really has to be a third party standardized test. They were desperate to include as many children as possible so it should be no real surprise that they'd soften the grading.

I think it's a form of abuse to lull students into thinking they're doing well when they're not really. It seems a kindness--but then they head out into the real world. I remember this summer one parent being livid to discover that the teachers had been padding her child's grades all along and when they hit college they were devastated.

And interesting suggestion comes from Martin Kennedy's Legislative Report:

"Perhaps we ought to have a two-tiered lottery scholarship. To win a scholarship at a four year institution ought to be very hard. To win a scholarship to a two year community college ought to be much easier. "

gandalf mantooth said...

Don't attack Harper. She and others in the legislature were combating with Cohen over some provisions of the lottery scholarship legislation on exactly the points she's bringing up now. This was a long behind the scenes battle that is being ratched up by recent developments.

Ned Williams said...

Thanks for helping to hold elected officials accountable for their foolish--even if well-intended, legislative acts.