"A child's learning is the function more of the characteristics of his classmates than those of the teacher." James Coleman, 1972

Monday, December 04, 2023

My Sentiment Exactly

From Common Dreams:

Good Fucking Riddance: HK Finally Kicks His Bucket of Blood

In gratitude, we mark the death of Henry Kissinger, America's peerless war criminal. As U.S officials laud an "elder statesman" and "erudite strategist," the rest of us, and surely millions of brown-skinned people, celebrate the end of an "iconic napalm rights advocate" whose lies, hubris, towering inhumanity and many blood-soaked foreign policy follies left a legacy - in Vietnam, Chile, Cambodia, Argentina - of an "enormous pile of corpses" that may number four million. The consensus: "Burn hot, Henry."


Thursday, November 30, 2023

"Non-profit" Hospitals (see Ascension) Shift Mission from Community Service to $erving Corporate $elf.

There's an interesting op-ed in the NYTimes today on the failure of non-profit hospitals to live up to their mission required by the IRS in order to maintain their non-profit status.  

My own experience with the non-profit Ascension St. Thomas Hospital in Nashville has convinced me that their mission is focused on building a corporate empire that pays massive salaries to execs, while providing the Church with funds, perhaps, to, um, settle lawsuits?

I spent the better part of a year trying to talk with someone in billing about inflated bills that my insurance company assured me and Ascension that I did not owe. Every time I found a different number to call in hopes of getting my billing questions answered, I ended up talking to poor underpaid English language learner employee in the Phillippines.  I found out after repeated attempts that Ascension St. Thomas has entirely dismantled their billing department in the Nashville area since becoming part of the Ascension corporate chain of hospitals.

After writing numerous letters threatening legal action to stop the fake statements, the bills finally stopped.  Will they begin again?  Who knows. 

I do know that I have had my voluminous medical records moved to another medical provider with different doctors.  I regret leaving some of my old docs, but what can a person do who is trying to preserve his sanity?

Wednesday, November 29, 2023

Part 2: TN Voucher "Plan" Features Big Government with No Fiscal or Program Accountability

As promised in Part 1 yesterday, Gov. Bill Lee announced his latest planned school voucher scam in Nashville.  Alongside him was fellow unholy-rolling governor, Sarah H. Sanders of Arkansas infamy. 

Today I would like to present some research findings that clearly show the negative effects of school voucher programs on student achievement and student well-being. We know that Bill Lee and his Tennessee Taliban legislative supermajority don't, or can't, read research, but I am hoping that someone will translate the findings into something they might understand: Them voucher thangs ain't workin'.

Some clips are below from Brookings, which includes links to the research studies, themselves:

Part of the push for ESA vouchers comes from the lingering frustration over the pandemic-era school closures and concern over learning loss as measured by standardized tests. But on that question, the last decade of research on traditional vouchers strongly suggests they actually lower academic achievement. In Louisiana, for example, two separate research teams found negative academic impacts as high as -0.4 standard deviations—extremely large by education policy standards—with declines that persisted for years. Those results were published across top journals for empirical public and education policy. Similar results in Indiana found impacts closer to -0.15 standard deviations. To put these negative impacts in perspective: Current estimates of COVID-19’s impact on academic trajectories hover around -0.25 standard deviations.

 Another link, with Executive Summary below:

Executive Summary
Vouchers to pay for students to attend private schools continue to command public attention. The current administration has proposed vouchers in its budget, and more than half of states are operating or have proposed voucher programs. Four recent rigorous studies—in the District of Columbia, Louisiana, Indiana, and Ohio—used different research designs and reached the same result: on average, students that use vouchers to attend private schools do less well on tests than similar students that do not attend private schools. The Louisiana and Indiana studies offer some hints that negative effects may diminish over time. Whether effects ever will become positive is unclear. Test scores are not the only education outcome and some observers have downplayed them, citing older evidence that voucher programs increase high school graduation and college-going. We lack evidence that the current generation of voucher programs will yield these longer-term outcomes. We also lack evidence of how public schools and private schools differ in their instructional and teaching strategies that would explain negative effects on test scores. Both questions should be high on the research agenda.

From Time Magazine, with a clip below:

And it’s not just the academic results that call into question any rhetoric around opportunities created by vouchers. Private schools can decline to admit children for any reason. One example of that is tied to the latest culture wars around LGBTQ youth, and strengthened in current voucher legislation. In Florida, a voucher-funded school made national news last summer when it banned LGBTQ children. In Indiana, pre-pandemic estimates showed that more than $16 million in taxpayer funding had already gone to voucher schools with explicit anti-LGBTQ admissions rules.

Voucher schools also rarely enroll children with special academic needs. Special education children tend to need more resources than vouchers provide, which can be a problem in public schools too. But public schools are at least obliged under federal law to enroll and assist special needs children—something private schools can and do avoid.

When we look at all the challenges to accessing education with these programs it’s clear that actually winning admission to a particular private school is not about parental school choice. It’s the school’s choice.


Tuesday, November 28, 2023

TN Voucher "Plan" Features Big Government with No Fiscal or Program Accountability

Each of ruby red states in the new Old Confederacy has its own niche attraction for Westerners and Northerners looking to move to a fascist-friendly community where narrowness of thought is highly valued if it happens to run in the same rut as the white male protestant power structure.  While all of the red states offer haven for white nationalists, anti-intellectuals, and conspiracy theorists, Florida is particularly attractive to those angry anti-vaxxers and anti-wokesters, while states like Tennessee and Arkansas draw thousands of Christian nationalist transplants each year who would be happy to jettison Constitutional guarantees against the establishment of a state religion. And as long anti-social media remains unhindered from expanding financial empires based the perpetuation of ignorance, divisiveness, and toxic myth, then the state of the Union will continue to suffer, even as disunion grows like cancer.

As Tennessee's governor, Bill Lee, seeks to further promote immigration of white Christians, a top governmental priority is the provision of state funds for parents to enroll their children in religious schools or other private schools at public expense. And so today, Lee will announce a proposed new program that will offer 20,000 parents next year a school voucher worth about $7,000 for tuition, books, uniforms, etc. In 2025-26, Lee plans to include all of 1 million students in Tennessee who are now eligible for free public schools, "regardless of income or previous school enrollment."

Now when we do a little back of the envelope math, you can see that the cost during the first year is going to run the State $140,000,000 on top of the normal allocation for public schools, including transportation, lunches, construction, maintenance, libraries, salaries, etc. 

Let's assume, after Year One, that 10 percent of the State's school-age parents decide to choose vouchers over public schools, where their kids now have athletic teams, theater, music, special ed, technical education--most of which will go bye-bye when their children enroll in the old Pizza Hut at the strip mall that has been turned into the Bill Lee Christian Nationalist Elementary School of Lee (Robert E.) County.

It's easy to see that the cost would be over the moon--$700,000,000 every year for 10 percent of TN's school children. That would be almost 15 percent of TN's contribution to the annual K-12 budget. All the while, the State must continue to fund the public schools that are not going away just because they lose 10 percent of the student body.  And it will lose most of the federal funding for the 100,000 students who end up in private schools.

What new taxes will be imposed on Tennesseans to pay for this fantasy thought disorder? 

And what about curriculum and standards?  

What about teacher qualifications?

Is Bill Lee prepared to put a resource officer in each of the Christian madrassas that he plans to open, just like in the public schools? 

Does Bill Lee have a plan to make sure children gain the necessary academic, social, and life skills to succeed at work and/or to go to college? 

Where's the accountability? Where is Bill Lee's and the Republican Supermajority's accountability?

It is way past time for the teacher unions, parents, grandparents, and other concerned citizens to fight, fight, fight the further erosion of another of our cherished institutions: public schools.  Let me know if you are engaged in an organized effort or would like to get involved: 




Monday, November 27, 2023

Portland Settles Teacher Strike with Big Gains

After 3 weeks of walking picket lines with parents and children, Portland's public school teachers have reached a tentative agreement that brings them much needed resources.  A clip below from The Guardian

“This contract is a watershed moment for Portland students, families and educators,” said Angela Bonilla, the president of the Portland Teachers Association. “Educators have secured improvements on all our key issues … Educators walked picket lines alongside families, students and allies – and because of that, our schools are getting the added investment they need.”

The deal would provide educators with a 13.8% cumulative cost-of-living increase over the next three years and about half of all educators would earn an extra 10.6% from yearly step increases, PPS said. The agreement would also add classroom time for elementary and middle grades starting next year and increase teacher planning time by 90 minutes each week for elementary and middle-aged classrooms.

The district would also triple the number of team members dedicated to supporting students’ mental and emotional health.

Monday, October 23, 2023

New Mainstream Research on Racist, Classist ACT and SAT

New research shows us what the old research has been saying for decades: wealth is its own qualification for getting the best education, just as poverty is its own disqualification.  Text clip and chart below from New York Times:

From the Times:

New data shows, for the first time at this level of detail, how much students’ standardized test scores rise with their parents’ incomes — and how disparities start years before students sit for tests.

One-third of the children of the very richest families scored a 1300 or higher on the SAT, while less than 5 percent of middle-class students did, according to the data, from economists at Opportunity Insights, based at Harvard. Relatively few children in the poorest families scored that high; just one in five took the test at all.

The researchers matched all students’ SAT and ACT scores for 2011, 2013 and 2015 with their parents’ federal income tax records for the prior six years. Their analysis, which also included admissions and attendance records, found that children from very rich families are overrepresented at elite colleges for many reasons, including that admissions offices give them preference. But the test score data highlights a more fundamental reason: When it comes to the types of achievement colleges assess, the children of the rich are simply better prepared.

The disparity highlights the inequality at the heart of American education: Starting very early, children from rich and poor families receive vastly different educations, in and out of school, driven by differences in the amount of money and time their parents are able to invest. And in the last five decades, as the country has become more unequal by income, the gap in children’s academic achievement, as measured by test scores throughout schooling, has widened.

“Kids in disadvantaged neighborhoods end up behind the starting line even when they get to kindergarten,” said Sean Reardon, the professor of poverty and inequality in education at the Stanford Graduate School of Education.

“On average,” he added, “our schools aren’t very good at undoing that damage.”

In the wake of the Supreme Court decision ending race-based affirmative action, there has been revived political momentum to address the ways in which many colleges favor the children of rich and white families, such as legacy admissions, preferences for private school students, athletic recruitment in certain sports and standardized tests.

Yet these things reflect the difference in children’s opportunities long before they apply for college, Professor Reardon said. To address the deeper inequality in education, he said, “it’s 18 years too late.” . . . .

Sunday, October 22, 2023

At Liberty to Lie, But Is It Worth $43 Million?

Liberty University is the subject of a report by the U.S. Department of Education that finds Liberty U. in gross violation of a federal law requiring colleges and universities to report campus crime. Here's a clip from WaPo:

Liberty University has failed for years to keep its campus safe and repeatedly violated the federal law that specifies how it should do so, according to preliminary confidential findings from an Education Department inquiry.

The initial report on the school’s Clery Act compliance — which the university can respond to and dispute before the department makes a final determination — paints a picture of a university that discouraged people from reporting crimes, underreported the claims it received and, meanwhile, marketed its Virginia campus as one of the safest in the country.

Liberty failed to warn the campus community about gas leaks, bomb threats and people credibly accused of repeated acts of sexual violence — including a senior administrator and an athlete — according to the report, a copy of which was obtained by The Washington Post. Two people familiar with the conclusions, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the confidential nature of the document, confirmed the findings.

Wednesday, September 27, 2023

What Tenure-Track Professors at UF May Expect

The NYTimes has an extensive piece on Ron DeSantis's choice for president of Florida's flagship public university, and there's lots to consider, particularly if you are teaching in a tenured or tenure-earning position.  Here's a taste: 

Sasse’s words sometimes tumble out in a kind of techno-futurist patois that can be hard to follow. In response to a question about his perceived invisibility on campus, he veered off into something about the future of pedagogy. “And that requires us to unbundle cohorting, community and synchronicity from co-localities,” he said. Later, he added, “What will today’s generic term ‘professor’ mean when you disaggregate syllabus designer, sage-on-the-stage lecturer, seminar leader, instructional technologist, grader, assessor, etc.?”

When you cut through Sasse's murky McKenzie-inspired malarkey, what remains is a clear aspiration to apply a fragmentation grenade to the professoriate, so that what remains are exploded pieces to be swept up by gig workers doing epistemological piecework. This 21st Century Taylorism is the stock and trade of the philosophical eunuchs at McKinsey, who have a $4.7 million contract with Sasse to develop and impose a strategic plan that uses 21st Century tech talk to impose 19th Century business practices and cultural values upon an institutions once devoted to unencumbered human learning and inquiry.

While fixated on the glories of STEM education, Sasse has not forgotten that part of his assignment is to transform the teaching of history at UF.  It took Sasse only three months to turn over space on campus to create what appears to be the foundations for an alternative history department

 About three months after Sasse took over, the Republican-controlled Legislature allotted $10 million in recurring annual funds for the recently established Hamilton Center for Classical and Civic Education and an additional $20 million to renovate its building on the U.F. campus, a former infirmary. The entire budget for the school’s history department is about $4 million. No one at the university had requested the funds or even suggested the creation of the center. The idea came from a little-known organization called the Council on Public University Reform. The name attached to the “local funding initiative request” was Josh Holdenried, who has worked in Washington for the conservative Heritage Foundation and for Napa Legal, which assists faith-based nonprofits. He appears to have no links to the university or the state of Florida. (Holdenried could not be reached for comment.)

A proposal sent to U.F. administrators by the group’s lobbyist, Adrian Lukis, a former DeSantis chief of staff, made it clear that the center was not intended as a complement to what already exists at the university. Instead, the center is to “provide choice for Florida’s students and their parents dissatisfied with the present offerings.” (The proposal was originally obtained by The Chronicle of Higher Education.) According to the center’s website, there’s an additional mission, too: to participate in the implementation of the K-12 civics curriculum in Florida’s public schools. The curriculum is to include Portraits in Patriotism, featuring the stories of Floridians who fled leftist regimes in Cuba and Venezuela.

As other news outlets have documented, Sasse has a record of turning his faculty-smashing aspirations into reality. At Midland University, where Sasse served as President from 2009 to 2014, Sasse went to work immediately to blow up faculty tenure at the school. Sasse put together buyout contracts for tenured faculty, with the clear intent to replace them with part-time or adjunct faculty.

Sasse was up-front with them [tenured faculty members]: They could take the buyout or continue at the university with an uncertain future after he got rid of tenure.

Bracker remembers groups of five or six faculty members at a time would lose their tenure, she said. She was one of the last to finally lose it.

“You can usurp power, and then you can do certain things because you usurp power,” Scott told Mother Jones. “But there might have been a kinder, gentler way to do that than to say, ‘These are the new rules; this is what we’re gonna do.'” 

Longtime, established faculty members who took the buyouts were replaced with low-cost, part-time adjunct professors in a cost-saving move, some former faculty members said. 

If you are a tenure track assistant professor hoping for tenure a few years down the road, you should know that that track is sure to be bristling with mines that were not there prior to the arrival of Sasse. You may expect, too, that an invisible ideological gauntlet is being constructed that could require your syllabi, your research, and your truth to be compromised if tenure is to be granted.  

One thing is for sure: tenure is no longer the arduous journey that it once was but, rather, the arduous journey with the addition of professorial judges who must answer to a university administration approved by Florida's most prominent fascist politician.

Sasse has stressed the need for a “data-saturated environment” on campus. McKinsey is getting $4.7 million to provide guidance on “strategic management.”

Wednesday, September 06, 2023

The Evolution of Propaganda and the Dangerous Lies from PragerU

Back in the old days of the early 2000s, education reform propagandists and other enemies of the unfettered pursuit of knowledge through learning (democratic schools) depended upon conservative think tanks for the ammo to conduct their propaganda campaigns aimed to alter the realities both inside or outside of people's heads.  The "researchers" at the Fordham Foundation, Manhattan Institute, and the Hoover Institution were on the payroll to massage statistics, bend rhetoric, and to limit research questions in ways that produce the illusion of disinterested research that just happened to coincide with all the preconceived conclusions that undergird the neo-conservative political and social agendas. 

That was the way that "conservative" social steering was justified for those whose sought to return America to a golden age that never was--when white was right.  

Now that's all changed.

Shaped by the toxic bloom surrounding the entry of Donald T----- into our political moment, today's policy influencers opt for much coarser tactics and strategies to bend Americans to the will of liberated unabashed fascists and unashamed racists.  Spurred on as they are by their national spokesman for everything crude, rude, and previously unacceptable (either socially or politically), today's propagandists do not couch their lies in semantic niceties, charts, or turgid text.  It's all out front and in your face, in bald-faced lies captured with the cheapest, soul-expunged computer generated animation tools of the billionaire-funded ideological chop shop called Prager U.  

Take five minutes to learn some basics about these bare-knuckled social influencers and intellectual abusers of children and adults. Here is the intro from an excellent piece from The Guardian:

A rightwing media outlet promoting climate-change denialism and other “anti-woke” staples to young students and adults via social media has become a fundraising Goliath, raking in close to $200m from 2018 to 2022 with big checks from top conservative donors, tax records reveal.

Founded in 2009 by the conservative talkshow host Dennis Prager, the eponymous Prager University Foundation is not an accredited education organization. But via online media its PragerU Kids division has become a key tool in spreading false claims to young people with short videos aimed at undercutting widely accepted science that climate crisis disasters are accelerating due, largely, to fossil-fuel usage.

PragerU’s influence in pushing false narratives about climate change and other far-right shibboleths such as airbrushing the brutal reality of American slavery gained ground when the Florida board of education in July gave the green light to using its videos and other materials in classrooms, a move that PragerU is trying to capitalize on in Texas and other states. On Tuesday, Oklahoma’s school system also approved the use of PragerU’s materials. . . .

Read on here.

Tuesday, August 08, 2023

Ron's Florida: Where Shakespeare Goes to Die

Under the misleadership of the preening, petulant, charm-free prick, Ron DeSantis, Florida has become the laughingstock among civilized people everywhere on the globe. Today the Tampa Bay Times gives us another reason why, with its report on public schools in Florida that have succumbed to pressure to further Desanti-tize the school curriculum by encouraging teachers to have students read excerpts from literature rather than entire works, thus channeling students away from Shakespeare's insights into any of a growing list of topics that might rankle Moms for Liberty, the right-wing astroturf group that gave motherhood a bad name-- topics like gender, sexuality, romantic love.  

Can bans on the study of power-hungry narcissistic despots be far behind? 

From Tampa Bay Times:

English teachers in Hillsborough County are preparing lessons for the new school year with only excerpts from William Shakespeare’s works.

Students will be assigned pages from the classics, which might include “Macbeth,” “Hamlet” and the time-honored teen favorite, “Romeo and Juliet.” But if they want to read them in their entirety, they will likely have to do it on their own time.

School district officials said they redesigned their instructional guides for teachers because of revised state teaching standards and a new set of state exams that cover a vast array of books and writing styles.

“It was also in consideration of the law,” said school district spokeswoman Tanya Arja, referring to the newly expanded Parental Rights in Education Act. The measure, promoted and signed by Gov. Ron DeSantis, tells schools to steer clear of content and class discussion that is sexual in nature unless it is related to a standard, such as health class.

Teacher Joseph Cool told the Times, “There’s some raunchiness in Shakespeare. Because that’s what sold tickets during his time.”

The district said that, because students need to read more writers, they are no longer required to read the complete books. 

“We need to make sure our students are prepared with enough material during the year so they will be prepared for their assessments,” Arja said. . . .

Read on.

Tuesday, August 01, 2023

Oklahoma Approves Unconstitutional Religious Charter Schools

What's worse than a virtual charter school? A religious virtual charter school, the kind that Oklahoma's white christian nationalists recently approved.  Guest essay by Rachel Laser for the NYTimes:

Something deeply un-American is underway in the state of Oklahoma.

In June, Oklahoma’s Statewide Virtual Charter School Board approved the nation’s first religious public charter school. The Archdiocese of Oklahoma City and the Diocese of Tulsa were given permission to open St. Isidore of Seville Catholic Virtual School in August 2024.

That’s right, a religious public school, funded by the state’s taxpayers. Proponents hope this model will spread to the dozens of other states that allow charter schools. Seven percent of public school students in the country attended charter schools as of the fall of 2021, and that number continues to grow. That’s why Christian nationalist groups see charter schools as fertile ground for their full-on assault on the separation of church and state in public education.

In just the past year, significant progress has been made in infusing Christianity into public schools. Texas, for example, now allows public schools to replace certified school counselors with religious chaplains and came close to requiring every classroom to display the Ten Commandments. New laws in Idaho and Kentucky could allow teachers and other public school employees to pray in front of — and even with — students. Missouri and Louisiana authorized public schools to teach Bible classes. West Virginia nearly passed a bill that would allow public schools to teach intelligent design creationism. Accompanying these laws are increasingly successful efforts to ban books and lessons about race, sexual orientation, gender identity and even menstruation in public schools.

The establishment of a school that claims to be simultaneously public and religious — what has been a legal oxymoron in the United States since its founding — violates one of the foundational principles of American constitutional tradition: the separation of church and state. It also threatens religious freedom and undermines public education.

The United States Supreme Court has emboldened Christian nationalists by holding twice in the past three years that if a state funds private secular schools, it must also fund private religious schools. But charter schools are taxpayer-financed public schools — not private schools.

Oklahoma law stipulates that charter schools are public schools and “shall be nonsectarian in” their “programs, admission policies, employment practices and all other operations.” But late last year, the state’s attorney general at the time, John O’Connor, issued an advisory opinion requested by the executive director of the charter school board, in which he concluded that those restrictions most likely violated the First Amendment’s free exercise clause.

This is the same Mr. O’Connor who, in a speech to a Rotary Club earlier in 2022, expressed concern about a “godless America” and went on to say, according to The Sand Springs Leader, that a God-based country isn’t one in which “everybody is forced to believe the same thing. It means we acknowledge that there’s a God who has values and endows us or imbues us with those values that are not granted to us by the government. They are granted to us by God.”

Mr. O’Connor was defeated last summer in the state’s Republican primary, and his successor, a fellow Republican and the current attorney general, Gentner Drummond, rescinded his predecessor’s advisory opinion, called the charter school board’s decision “unconstitutional” and warned of possible legal action if a contract for the school is signed.

In a recent interview with Politico, Mr. Drummond said that he believed the “genesis” of efforts to have taxpayers pay for religious-based school instruction “is in Christian nationalism.” He told Politico’s Weekly Education newsletter that “this Christian nationalism is the movement that is giving oxygen to this attempt to eviscerate the establishment clause,” the doctrine of separation of church and state.

Indeed, it’s hard to think of a clearer violation of the religious freedom of Oklahoma taxpayers and public-school families than the state establishing a supposedly public school that is run as a religious school. Forcing taxpayers to fund religion, let alone a religion not their own, violates the Oklahoma Constitution’s explicit command that no public money or property “shall ever” be used to benefit or support religion. It’s exactly what Thomas Jefferson labeled “sinful and tyrannical.”

That is why the organization I head, Americans United for Separation of Church and State, together with the A.C.L.U., the Education Law Center and the Freedom From Religion Foundation, filed a lawsuit on Monday in state district court in Oklahoma to prevent the school from operating as a charter school.

Public schools must remain neutral when it comes to religion and must welcome all. St. Isidore claims it welcomes “students of all faiths or no faith.”

But here’s the catch: According to St. Isidore’s website, students must “appreciate and desire a robust Catholic education,” and students and families must have a “willingness to adhere with respect to the beliefs, expectations, policies and procedures of the school.” St. Isidore also said that it will operate “in harmony with faith and morals, including sexual morality, as taught and understood by the Magisterium of the Catholic Church based upon Holy Scripture and sacred tradition.” That’s a clear description of a Catholic school, not a public one.

A public school that is subsumed in any one church’s dogma is no longer a public school. Yet Oklahoma taxpayers will be on the hook to pay for it.

Rachel Laser is the president and chief executive of Americans United for Separation of Church and State.

Wednesday, July 26, 2023

Florida Curriculum Puts Focus on the Sunny Side of Slavery

Under the fascist renegade governor, Ron DeSantis, the State of Florida has become the destination for where decency and truth go to die. The latest example: Florida's public school curriculum now teaches middle school and high school students that enslaved people benefited from valuable skills that they would not have learned had it not been for slavery. 

This kind of rationalization first became part of the school curriculum during the post-Civil War period when Northern philanthropists promoted Hampton Institute's industrial education model as the solution to "the Negro problem." At Hampton and at other black schools inspired by Hampton's dehumanizing approach, white men taught black children and adolescents that slavery had, indeed, saved the black race from complete moral depravity by making sure that enslaved people were taught good Christian values and, thus, rescued from the certainty of eternal damnation that, otherwise, would have been their plight.  

Never mind that the enslaved were worked like mules, sold like cattle, and forced to accept the rape of their women as the legally-inscribed right of white men.

That we would ever see this kind miseducation written into public school curriculum could only have become possible with the rise of white supremacy as the ideological bedrock of the Republican Party. Read it and weep.

Saturday, July 01, 2023

How Six Conservative Zealots in Black Robes May Have Gravely Injured A Racist and Classist Testing System

The 6-3 decision this week by the majority on the U. S. White Supremacist Court to kill affirmative action in college admissions underscores an elite antiquarian fixation as old and as morally debauched as the white supremacist plantation owners of the antebellum South.  

By stepping backwards toward a return of an apartheid Jim Crow society, this time attempting to hide its hideous naked racism behind the fig leaf of color-blindness, today's white power structure, ironically, may accomplish a feat that generations of social progressives and anti-racist education reform have been unable to pull off: the eventual elimination of racist and classist standardized testing for any high stakes purpose--be it at the individual or the institutional level).  

From the ACT and SAT up to the GRE and LSAT, and down to the TCAP and MCAS and a slew of other state exams suffered each year by K-12 students, this malign decision to kill affirmative action by the six right-wing radicals on the Court will highlight the roadblocks standardized tests impose on marginalized students, whether from income or ethnicity. 

To the extent that higher ed institutions continue, moving forward, their efforts to promote diversity among their student bodies, such tests, I predict, will be minimized or dropped entirely from admissions criteria (as they have been already in California's state colleges in universities).

Of course, in states with white nationalist super-majorities controlling legislatures, don't expect state institutions to be allowed any strategy to block the proliferation of the kinds of testing tools that have been used for over a hundred years to assure the dominance of a phony meritocracy based on white privilege and the oppression of minoritized groups.

Thursday, June 15, 2023

Bipartisan Opposition to PGA Merger with the Saudi Bone Saw Tour

I used to enjoy a lazy afternoon of watching golf on TV, but the PGA proposed deal to be taken over by murderers and terrorists has put that pastime on what could be a permanent hold if the the deal goes through.  Could it be possible that it won't? From The Guardian:

The proposed merger will not only face opposition from senior Democrats such as Wyden and Richard Blumenthal and Chris Murphy of Connecticut but also Republicans who have expressed discomfort with it, as well as a vocal and important lobby of family members of victims of the 9/11 terror attacks on the US, who said in a recent statement that they had been “betrayed” by the PGA’s decision to reverse course and agree to a deal.

Education Tax Dollars for Christian Nationalist Indoctrination

 From NEPC Newsletter

In Texas, a charter school uses creationist science texts; the section that covers the origin of life states, “In the beginning God created the Heavens and the Earth.”

At a charter school in North Carolina, students recite a daily oath that requires them, among other things, to avoid “overreliance” on “rational argument.”

At another—in Arizona—students in an eighth-grade history class were asked to list the positive aspects of slavery.

And in Colorado, one charter chain advertised a preference for hiring unlicensed teachers, and permitted employees to carry guns at work, in direct violation of the policy of the school district that authorized the school.

These are just a few examples cited in a new report about an expanding group of “classical” charter schools that embrace Christian Nationalism—defined in the report as viewing Christianity as a cultural and tribal identity that began with the founding of the nation and as imbued with a resentment that the world won’t stop changing. The report is titled, A Sharp Turn Right: A New Breed of Charter Schools Delivers the Conservative Agenda.

Charter schools receive public funds but are not required to abide by the same rules as regular public schools.

Charters that advertise themselves as “classical” or “traditional” tend to emphasize “early and mid-20th century values, pedagogy, and curriculum,” write the report’s authors, journalist Karen Francisco and NEPC Fellow Carol Burris, executive director of the Network for Public Education, which published the study.

Francisco and Burris used keyword and name searches to identify 273 existing charter schools that “offer a classical curriculum and/or have websites designed to attract white conservative families.” Nearly half (47 percent) have opened since the inauguration of former President Donald Trump in 2017. The authors also identified 66 new schools scheduled to open in the next year.

Demographically, these schools look very different from the charter school population as a whole. While 29 percent of charter school students nationwide are white, more than half the students at the “right-wing” charters identified in the report are white. Just 17 percent of the right-wing charter school students qualify for the federal free or reduced-price meal program for lower-income families as compared to 48 percent of all charter school students.

The charter schools flagged in the report typically describe their curricula as “classical,” “back-to-basics,” or a combination of the two. Common instructional approaches include adopting curricula that stresses rote memorization; avoiding history lessons that portray the experiences of non-white, Christian populations, or portray the United States in a less than flattering light; and restricting required reading to books written by white men.

Christianity is a major focus—sometimes including Bible study, teacher-led prayers, and the singing of hymns.

The schools’ operational models also set them apart. For-profit companies run 29 percent of these schools—a rate nearly twice as high as is found in the overall charter sector.

Moreover, Francisco and Burris cite multiple examples of fraudulent practices engaged in by these right-wing charter schools, including self-dealing involving founders renting their own properties to charters at inflated rates, a “pay-to-play” model in which donations to a nonprofit charter school operator gave for-profit businesses an opportunity to sell their wares to the schools, and a scheme to create a hollow (fake) charter school whose only function was to funnel public funds into private religious schools.

“Charter schools took a sharp turn right and now serve a purpose never imagined by their early proponents,” Francisco and Burris write. “The only question that remains is whether moderate, progressive, and liberal-minded voters and politicians recognize where the runaway charter movement is headed.”

Wednesday, June 14, 2023

Europe Steps Out Ahead Again on Tech Guardrails

This article today at WaPo illustrates the political and moral chasm between the U.S. and the European approach to protecting its citizens and the rest of the world against the grave harms that are in store for humanity unless international agreements can be hammered out to establish case-hardened boundaries for the development and spread of AI and antisocial media. 

In the WaPo story we have the Europeans celebrating passage of the EU AI Act, which moves the Continent closer to hard and fixed parameters for AI R&D by tech giants and entrepreneurs, alike. The legislation would 

. . . ban systems that present an “unacceptable level of risk,” such as predictive policing tools, or social scoring systems, like those used in China to classify people based on their behavior and socioeconomic status. The legislation also sets new limits on “high-risk AI,” like systems that could influence voters in elections or introduce harms to people’s health.

The legislation would set new guardrails on generative AI, requiring content created by systems like ChatGPT to be labeled. The bill also requires models to publish summaries of copyrighted data used for training, a potential impediment for systems that generate humanlike speech by scraping text from the internet, often from sources that include a copyright symbol.

The story also has real villains like the greedy bastards of Silicon Valley, who respond with threats that American AI companies "may be forced to pull out of Europe, depending on what’s included in the final text."

The story contrasts the difference between Europe's process of regulatory policy making with the U.S. system.  Whereas the former has been working for some years now to develop guidelines that allow companies to innovate and make money while safeguarding humanity, we have the latter who are just beginning to straggle into a Schumer-sponsored meeting on the Hill where about half of the Senators showed up wanting to know what AI means. As Schumer noted, American politicians "have a lot to learn."

Meanwhile, some U. S. politicians are concerned that the U. S. will fall behind the Europeans in development of regulatory policy, while others (guess which party) are more concerned about losing the lead in "incentivizing the creation of more AI technology" than they are about protecting humanity.

Some things never change. Until they do, of course.

Tuesday, June 06, 2023

The DeSantis Final Solution for Public Schools

 While the Yalie would-be dictator, Ron DeSantis, has declared that he is Governor of the state where “woke goes to die,” more and more Americans increasingly view Florida as the state where businesses don’t go to relocate and where families don’t go to vacation or live anymore.

Does DeSatan care? Nah, he plans to be President when the bills for his authoritarian, racist, and homophobic policies come due for Florida taxpayers.

The latest budget crushing initiative is a case in point. DeSantis has pushed through school voucher legislation that will hand out an $8,500 voucher to any family in the state, whether poor or mega-wealthy status. And it doesn't matter if the private school reaping the benefit of Florida taxpayer generosity have accreditation, physical adequacy, qualified teachers, libraries, transportation systems, or playgrounds. As for the Constitutional issue of publicly-funded church schools, don't be silly.

Will this plan spell the end of public education in Florida? If not, school boards and parents across the state are likely to face a previously-unimaginable level of churn and chaos in whatever remains of public schools.

And how will private schools respond? Many will see this as an opportunity to rake in millions of extra dollars by raising tuition, as this news story has found already in Tampa.

As for that old-fashioned question regarding the educational value of school vouchers, the research hasn’t changed. It may be a good time review some of that research, even if, for now at least, it is less relevant in making policy than it has ever been in history.  

“Apples to outcomes?” Revisiting the achievement v. attainment differences in school voucher studies

The summer of 2022 has seen a flurry of legal and policy efforts to expand publicly funded private school choice programs. These include: the U.S. Supreme Court decision in Carson v. Makin, which ruled that voucher programs cannot exclude religious schools; Arizona’s creation of a near-universal voucher program; and various state-level actions, such as a ballot initiative led by Betsy DeVos to create a tax credit-based voucher program in my home state of Michigan.

Joshua Cowen

Professor of Education Policy - College of Education, Michigan State University


I, and many others, have studied voucher programs for a number of years now. After more than two decades of research on vouchers, a general pattern has emerged in the results.

The effects of voucher programs on student attainment (how long students persist in school/college) appear at least somewhat positive while the effects on student achievement (what students know as measured by standardized tests) appear very negative. Voucher advocates also point to positive impacts on survey measures such as school satisfaction or safety as well, but studies employing these outcomes vary in quality and method and are not generally included as a major evaluation focus.

It’s also important to understand the timing of this research. The early voucher studies—roughly 1998 to 2005—focused on programs that were generally city-based and relatively small (e.g., in Milwaukee) and found some positive effects on student achievement. This is in stark contrast to more recent studies that have shown clearly negative effects on student test scores in places where vouchers have expanded into large programs, such as Louisiana, Indiana, Ohio, and Washington, DC. Some of these negative effects have been extremely disconcerting.

The effects from Louisiana, for example, approach 0.5 standard deviations in math—more than double some estimates of even the COVID-19 pandemic’s effects on learning loss. These initially harmful test score effects often seem to persist over time, too.

On the other hand, a few of these studies have shown improvements on outcomes such as high school graduation or enrollment in college (e.g., in Milwaukee and Washington, DC).

This leaves us with a bit of a puzzle. How can we reconcile findings that voucher programs lead students to perform worse academically with research suggesting they might also lead students to persist longer in school?

As a researcher on vouchers since 2005, I’ll offer a few possible explanations.

First, I believe the positive effects on attainment are often overstated. Apart from the genuinely large effects of the small program in Washington, DC, the positive effects on attainment in the literature are very modest in size (especially compared to the shockingly significant negative effects on test scores). This includes our initial findings from Milwaukee. Notably, too, our slightly positive findings on college enrollment in Milwaukee are partly a story of students from Catholic high schools entering Catholic colleges, which raises questions of whether these gains might come more from networking than increased educational productivity. In fact, the studies that track students for the longest periods of time—from New York City and Milwaukee—find that any attainment effects fade away as students work their way through college. There’s little evidence of voucher impacts on rates of college persistence or graduation.

Second, for the most part, the seemingly inconsistent effects on attainment and achievement come from different students, schools, and/or places. That is to say this literature generally does not come from a single group of students who experienced both negative effects on their test scores and a boost to their persistence in school. In some cases, this is because the attainment and achievement studies come from altogether different cities or states. In other cases, it’s because they come from different students attending different schools within the same site. For example, in Milwaukee, we studied achievement effects primarily in grades 3-8 and attainment with a separate cohort of 9th graders (with limited follow-up for students in earlier grades). This leaves us to speculate whether the positive attainment results are driven by some private high schools that are succeeding in ways that their private primary school counterparts are not.

Third, it’s worth noting that private schools—especially if not subject to rigorous state guidelines or oversight (as most are not)—might be able to improve graduate rates by simply lowering their standards and making it easier to graduate (in ways not available to public schools). Some writers have argued that public secondary schools prefer graduation as an accountability measure because those rates are easier to manipulate than test scores. If that is true, the same logic applies at least equally, and probably more so, to private schools that are marketing themselves to would-be consumers. This story would also help explain why voucher students are generally no more likely to persist in college.

This potential tradeoff between attainment and achievement, if it even exists, isn’t just an academic argument. Parents have to make decisions about which schools their children attend—maybe more than ever if private school choice programs continue to expand. And we have some data on what parents actually value. We know from voucher application data in Washington, DC and New Orleans (that is, based on the characteristics of the schools they actually choose, not what they say in a survey) that academic quality is the dominant determinant of private school choice. Other factors like distance from home to school, safety, religious education, or after school programs matter too, but private school parents still appear to overwhelmingly prioritize the academic success of their child.

All of this leads me to suggest that it’s time to reframe the question that has been guiding the debate on voucher effects. That question has been, “Which outcome matters more, achievement or attainment?,” with some voucher advocates arguing forcefully against paying much attention to test scores. Instead, maybe we should be asking, “What would it take to offset the dismal learning loss induced by vouchers?”

Joshua Cowen is a Professor of Education Policy in the College of Education at Michigan State University. He also currently serves as a research advisor to the new federally mandated evaluation of the DC Opportunity Scholarship (voucher) Program.

Thursday, May 18, 2023

Another Scam to Get Rich Kids into Ivy League Colleges

From ProPublica:

The Newest College Admissions Ploy: Paying to Make Your Teen a “Peer-Reviewed” Author

by Daniel Golden, ProPublica, and Kunal Purohit

ProPublica is a Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative newsroom. Sign up for The Big Story newsletter to receive stories like this one in your inbox.

On a family trip to the Jersey Shore in the summer of 2021, Sophia’s go-to meal was the Chick-fil-A chicken sandwich. The buns were toasty, the chicken was crispy and the fries didn’t spill from the bag.

Sophia was entering her sophomore year in prep school, but her parents were already thinking ahead to college. They paid to enroll her in an online service called Scholar Launch, whose programs start at $3,500. Scholar Launch, which started in 2019, connects high school students with mentors who work with them on research papers that can be published and enhance their college applications.

Publication “is the objective,” Scholar Launch says on its website. “We have numerous publication partners, all are peer-reviewed journals.”

The prospect appealed to Sophia. “Nowadays, having a publication is kind of a given” for college applicants, she said. “If you don’t have one, you’re going to have to make it up in some other aspect of your application.”

Sophia said she chose marketing as her field because it “sounded interesting.” She attended weekly group sessions with a Scholar Launch mentor, a marketing executive who also taught at an Ivy League business school, before working one-on-one with a teaching assistant. Assigned to analyze a company’s marketing strategy, she selected Chick-fil-A.

Sophia’s paper offered a glowing assessment. She credited Chick-fil-A as “responsible for the popularity of the chicken sandwich,” praised its fare as healthier than fast-food burgers, saluted its “humorous yet honest” slogan (a cow saying, “Eat mor chikin”) and admired its “family-friendly” attitude and “traditional beliefs,” exemplified by closing its restaurants on Sundays. Parts of her paper sounded like a customer endorsement (and she acknowledged to ProPublica that her marketing analysis could’ve been stronger). Neither too dry nor too juicy, the company’s signature sandwich “is the perfect blend to have me wanting more after every bite,” she wrote. “Just from the taste,” Chick-fil-A “is destined for success.”

Her heartfelt tribute to the chicken chain appeared on the website of a new online journal for high school research, the Scholarly Review. The publication touts its “thorough process of review” by “highly accomplished professors and academics,” but it also displays what are known as preprints. They aren’t publications “in the traditional sense” and aren’t vetted by Scholarly Review’s editorial board, according to Roger Worthington, its chair.

That preprint platform is where Sophia’s paper appeared. Now a 17-year-old high school junior, she said she wasn’t aware of the difference between the journal and the preprint platform, and she didn’t think the less prestigious placement would hurt her college chances: “It’s just important that there’s a link out there.”

Sophia is preparing to apply to college at a time when the criteria for gaining entry are in flux. The Supreme Court appears poised to curtail race-conscious affirmative action. Grade inflation makes it harder to pick students based on GPA, since so many have A averages. And the SAT and ACT tests, long criticized for favoring white and wealthy students, have fallen out of fashion at many universities, which have made them optional or dropped them entirely.

As these differentiators recede and the number of applications soars, colleges are grappling with the latest pay-to-play maneuver that gives the rich an edge: published research papers. A new industry is extracting fees from well-heeled families to enable their teenage children to conduct and publish research that colleges may regard as a credential.

At least 20 online research programs for high schoolers have sprung up in the U.S. and abroad in recent years, along with a bevy of journals that publish the work. This growth was aided by the pandemic, which normalized online education and stymied opportunities for in-person research.

The consequence has been a profusion of published research papers by high school students. According to four months of reporting by ProPublica, online student journals now present work that ranges from serious inquiry by young scholars to dubious papers whose main qualification seems to be that the authors’ parents are willing to pay, directly or indirectly, to have them published. Usually, the projects are closely directed by graduate students or professors who are paid to be mentors. College admissions staff, besieged by applicants proffering links to their studies, verify that a paper was published but are often at a loss to evaluate its quality.

Moreover, ProPublica’s reporting shows that purveyors of online research sometimes engage in questionable practices. Some services portray affiliated publications as independent journals. Others have inflated their academic mentors’ credentials or offered freebies to college admissions consultants who could provide referrals. When asked about these practices by ProPublica, several services responded by reversing course on them.

The business of churning out high school research is a “fast-growing epidemic,” said one longtime Ivy League admissions officer, who requested anonymity because he wasn’t authorized to speak for his university. “The number of outfits doing that has trebled or quadrupled in the past few years.

“There are very few actual prodigies. There are a lot of precocious kids who are working hard and doing advanced things. A sophomore in high school is not going to be doing high-level neuroscience. And yet, a very high number of kids are including this” in their applications.

The programs serve at least 12,000 students a year worldwide. Most families are paying between $2,500 and $10,000 to improve their odds of getting into U.S. universities that accept as few as 1 in every 25 applicants. Some of the biggest services are located in China, and international students abound even in several U.S.-based programs.

The services pair high schoolers with academic mentors for 10-15 weeks to produce research papers. Online services typically shape the topic, direction and duration of the project, and urge students to complete and publish a paper regardless of how fruitful the exploration has been. “Publication specialists” then help steer the papers into a dizzying array of online journals and preprint platforms. Almost any high school paper can find an outlet. Alongside hardcore science papers are ones with titles like “The Willingness of Humans to Settle on Mars, and the Factors that Affect it,” “Social Media; Blessing Or Curse” and “Is Bitcoin A Blessing Or A Curse?

“You’re teaching students to be cynical about research,” said Kent Anderson, past president of the Society for Scholarly Publishing and former publishing director of the New England Journal of Medicine. “That’s the really corrosive part. ‘I can hire someone to do it. We can get it done, we can get it published, what’s the big deal?’”

The research services brag about how many of their alumni get into premier U.S. universities. Lumiere Education, for example, has served 1,500 students, half of them international, since its inception in the summer of 2020. In a survey of its alumni, it found that 9.8% who applied to an Ivy League university or to Stanford last year were accepted. That’s considerably higher than the overall acceptance rates at those schools.

Such statistics don’t prove that the students were admitted because of their research. Still, research can influence admissions decisions. At Harvard, “evidence of substantial scholarship” can elevate an applicant, according to a university filing in a lawsuit challenging its use of affirmative action in admissions. The University of Pennsylvania’s admissions dean, Whitney Soule, boasted last year that nearly one-third of accepted students “engaged in academic research” in high school, including some who “co-authored publications included in leading journals.” A Penn spokesperson declined to identify the journals. Yale, Columbia and Brown, among others, encourage applicants to send research.

One admissions dean acknowledged that conferring an advantage on those who submit published papers benefits affluent applicants. “Research is one of these activities that we’re very aware they’re not offered equitably,” Stuart Schmill of MIT said. Nevertheless, MIT invites applicants to submit research and inquires whether and where it was published.

Admissions officers often lack the time and expertise to evaluate this research. The first reader of each application typically takes 10 minutes or less to go through it, which means noting the existence of the published paper without actually reading it. If the applicant is on the cusp, a second staffer more versed in the subject area may read their file. The first reader “is very young and in almost all cases majored in humanities or social sciences,” said Jon Reider, a former admissions officer at Stanford. “They can’t tell if a paper in the sciences means anything or is new at all.”

As a result, admissions staff may rely on outside opinions. Schmill said that MIT pays more attention to the mentor’s recommendation than the actual research. Academic mentors, even when paid, “do a pretty good job being honest and objective,” he said. The longtime Ivy League admissions officer was more skeptical, likening the mentors to expert witnesses in a trial.

Brown admissions dean Logan Powell described faculty as “invaluable partners” in reviewing research. But many professors would rather not be bothered. “Our faculty don’t want to spend all their time reading research projects from 17- and 18-year-olds,” the veteran Ivy League admissions officer said.

Also complicating the admissions office’s ability to assess the papers is staffers’ unfamiliarity with the byzantine world of online publications favored by the research services. Several have confusingly similar names: the Journal of Student Research, the Journal of Research High School, the International Journal of High School Research. Selective outlets like the Journal of Student Research and the Scholarly Review also post preprints, making it hard to determine what, if any, standards a manuscript was held to.

Some also hide ties to research services. Scholarly Review doesn’t tell readers that it’s founded and funded by Scholar Launch. The lack of transparency was “not a conscious decision,” Scholar Launch co-founder Joel Butterly said. “Our intent is to keep it as separate as possible from Scholar Launch.”

The companies are intertwined in at least two respects. Worthington, who chairs the Scholarly Review’s editorial board, also works as a mentor for Scholar Launch and InGenius Prep, a college admissions counseling service co-founded by Butterly. Three of the seven articles in the Scholarly Review’s inaugural issue were written by students who Worthington advised, possibly enhancing their college prospects.

“Editors selecting papers they were involved in is a no-no,” said Anderson, the former New England Journal of Medicine publishing director.

Worthington told ProPublica that he had recused himself from discussing those manuscripts. Then Scholar Launch changed its policy. “For future issues,” Worthington said in a subsequent email, “the company will disclose mentoring arrangements in advance to make doubly sure that nobody will be reviewing work by a former student.” Worthington also said, after ProPublica raised questions, that Scholarly Review would make it “more obvious” that the editorial board is “not responsible” for articles on its preprint platform. (During ProPublica’s reporting process, Sophia’s Chick-fil-A paper was removed from the site.) The platform, which is managed by Scholar Launch and InGenius Prep, has been given a separate section on the Scholarly Review website, and further changes are likely, he said.

Online research services are an offshoot of the booming college-admissions-advising industry. They draw many of their students from the same affluent population that hires private counselors. Many families that are already paying thousands or tens of thousands of dollars for advice on essay writing and extracurricular activities pay thousands more for research help. Scholar Launch charges $3,500 for “junior” research programs and between $4,500 and $8,800 for advanced research, according to its website.

Polygence, one of the largest online high school research programs in the U.S., cultivates college counselors. The service, which was founded in 2019 and worked with more than 2,000 students last year, has developed relationships with counselors whose clients receive a discount for using Polygence.

Polygence proclaimed April to be Independent Educational Consultants Appreciation Month. It planned to raffle off prizes including “an all-expenses paid roundtrip to a college campus tour of your choice” — it suggested the University of Hawaii — and “2 free pro bono Polygence research projects.”

Such perks appear to brush up against ethics codes of two college counseling associations, which prohibit members from accepting substantial compensation for student referrals. Asked about these rules, Polygence co-founder Jin Chow said the event celebrates all counselors, “regardless of whether or not they have partnered with us or sent us students.” Polygence then dropped the tour prize and added two more free research projects.

Then there’s the question of credentials. Lumiere Education’s website has routinely identified mentors as Ph.D.s even when they don’t have a doctorate and described itself as “founded by Oxford and Harvard PhDs,” even though its founders, Dhruva Bhat and Stephen Turban, are pursuing doctorates. It’s “shorthand,” Turban said. “We’re not trying to deceive anyone.” After ProPublica questioned the practice, Lumiere changed mentors’ credentials on its website from “PhD” to “PhD student.”

Paid “mentors,” who are frequently doctoral students, play key roles in the process of generating papers by high schoolers. The job is “one of the most lucrative side hustles for graduate students,” as one Columbia Ph.D. candidate in political science put it. Another Ph.D. candidate, who mentored for two services, said that one paid her $200 an hour, and the other paid $150 — far more than the $25 an hour she earned as a teaching assistant in an Ivy League graduate course.

In some instances, the mentors seem to function as something more than advisers. Since high schoolers generally don’t arrive with a research topic, the mentor helps them choose it, and then may pitch in with writing, editing and scientific analysis.

A former consultant at Athena Education, a service in India, recalled that a client thanked her for his admission to a world-famous university. Admissions interviewers had praised his paper, which she had heavily revised. The university “was tricked,” the consultant said, adding that other students who were academically stronger went to second-tier universities.

The Cornell Undergraduate Economic Review, which accepts about 10% of submissions, published its first-ever paper by a high school student in 2021. Its editor-in-chief was impressed that the author, a Lumiere client in the Boston area, had used advanced econometrics to demonstrate that a reduced federal income tax subsidy for electric vehicles had caused sales to plummet.

But another editor, Andres Aradillas Fernandez, said he wondered whether the high-level work “was not at least partially” attributable to the mentor, a Ph.D. candidate in economics at an Ivy League university. He also felt uneasy that access to services like Lumiere is largely based on wealth. After Aradillas Fernandez became editor-in-chief last year and Lumiere clients submitted weaker papers, he notified Lumiere that the journal would no longer publish high school research.

The Boston-area Lumiere client declined comment. Turban, Lumiere’s co-founder, said the paper was “100 percent” the student’s work. The mentor said he showed the high schooler which mathematical formulas to use, but the student was “very motivated” and did the calculations himself. “I have to spoon feed him a bit on what to read and sometimes how to do it,” the mentor said.

The oldest online research mentorship program for high schoolers, Pioneer Academics, founded in 2012, has maintained relatively rigorous standards. It accepted 37% of its 4,765 applicants last year, and 13% of its students received full scholarships based on need. Pioneer “never promises academic journal publication,” according to its website.

“The push for publication leads young scholars astray,” Pioneer co-founder Matthew Jaskol said. “The message is that looking like a champion is more important than training to be a great athlete.”

Oberlin College gives credits to students for passing Pioneer courses. The college’s annual reviews have found that research done for Pioneer “far exceeded” what would be expected to earn credit, said Michael Parkin, an associate dean of arts and sciences at Oberlin and a former Pioneer mentor, who oversees the collaboration. Pioneer pays Oberlin a small fee for each nonscholarship student given credit.

At Pioneer and other services, the most fulfilling projects are often impelled by the student’s curiosity, and gaining an edge in college admissions is a byproduct rather than the raison d’etre. Alaa Aboelkhair, the daughter of a government worker in Egypt, was fascinated as a child by how the stars constantly change their position in the sky. Googling in 2021, before her senior year of high school, she came across Lumiere, which gave her a scholarship. “The fact that we only know 5% of the universe drove me to study more,” she said. “That is my passion.”

At the suggestion of her Lumiere mentor, Christian Ferko, Alaa examined whether hypothetical particles known as axions could be detected by converting them into light. Lumiere was paying Ferko for weekly sessions, but he talked with Alaa several times a week. He emailed some textbooks to her and she found other sources on her own, working late into the night to finish her paper.

Since she chose not to submit her ACT score, the paper and Ferko’s recommendation were vital to her college applications. In March 2022, a Princeton admissions officer called Ferko to ask about Alaa. Ferko compared her to a first-year graduate student and said she showed the potential to make new discoveries. “My impression is this is something colleges do when they’re right on the fence of whether to admit the student,” Ferko said. “I did my best to advocate for her, without overstating.”

Princeton admitted only 3.3% of international applicants to the class of 2026, including Alaa. She said she received a full scholarship. (“Optional submissions are one factor among many in our holistic review process,” Princeton spokesperson Michael Hotchkiss said.)

A short walk from India’s first Trump Tower, in an upscale neighborhood known for luxury homes and gourmet restaurants, is the Mumbai office of Athena Education, a startup that promises to help students “join the ranks of Ivy League admits.” An attendant in a white uniform waits at a standing desk to greet visitors in a lounge lined with paintings and featuring a coffee bar and a glass facade with a stunning view of the downtown skyline. “We all strive to get things done while sipping Italian coffee brewed in-house,” a recent Athena ad read.

Co-founded in 2014 by two Princeton graduates, Athena has served more than 2,000 students. At least 80 clients have been admitted to elite universities, and 87% have gotten into top-50 U.S. colleges, according to its website. One client said that Athena charges more than a million rupees, or $12,200 a year, six times India’s annual per capita income. Athena declined comment for this story.

Around 2020, Athena expanded its research program and started emphasizing publication. Athena and similar services in South Korea and China cater to international students whose odds of getting accepted at a U.S. college are even longer than those American students face. MIT, for instance, accepted 1.4% of international applicants last year, compared with 5% of domestic applicants.

A former consultant said Athena told her that its students were the “creme de la creme.” Instead, she estimated, 7 out of 10 needed “hand-holding.”

For publication, Athena students have a readily available option: Questioz, an online outlet founded by an Athena client and run by high schoolers. Former Editor-in-Chief Eesha Garimella said that a mentor at Athena “guides us on the paper editing and publication process.” Garimella said Questioz publishes 75%-80% of submissions.

Athena students also place their work in the Houston-based Journal of Student Research. Founded in 2012 to publish undergraduate and graduate work, in 2017 the journal began running high school papers, which now make up 85% of its articles, co-founders Mir Alikhan and Daharsh Rana wrote in an email.

Last June, a special edition of the journal presented research by 19 Athena students. They tested noise-reduction algorithms and used computer vision to compare the stances of professional and amateur golfers. A survey of Hong Kong residents concluded that people who grew up near the ocean are more likely to value its conservation. Athena’s then-head of research was listed as a co-author on 10 of the projects.

Publication in JSR was “pretty simple,” said former Athena student Anjani Nanda, who surveyed 103 people about their awareness of female genital mutilation and found that they were poorly informed. “I never got any edits or suggested changes from their side.”

As Nanda’s experience suggests, virtual journals dedicated to high school research tend to be less choosy than traditional publications. They reflect a larger shift in academic publishing. Print journals typically accept a small percentage of submissions and depend on subscription revenue. Online publications tend to be free for the reader but charge a fee to the author — incentivizing the publications to boost revenue by accepting many articles.

The Journal of Student Research exemplifies this turnabout. It describes itself as peer-reviewed, the gold standard of traditional academic publishing. It relies on more than 90 reviewers at colleges across the U.S., and the typical review takes 12-24 weeks, according to its website.

In reality, it may not be so stringent. Four of eight reviewers whom ProPublica contacted said the journal has never asked them to evaluate a manuscript. (Some academics agreed to review for JSR but forgot over time, Alikhan and Rana said; others specialize in fields where the journal has received few submissions.)

And while authors pay an “article processing charge” of $50 at submission and $200 at acceptance, for an extra $300 they can expedite “fast-track” review in four to five weeks. One Athena client who fast-tracked his manuscript so that it could be published in time for his college application said JSR accepted it without changes. He was admitted to a top-10 U.S. university. “I think it was important,” said the student. “I didn’t have much leadership in school so [I] needed other ways to get better extracurriculars.”

In “The Ultimate Guide to the Journal of Student Research,” a Lumiere “publication strategy associate” described JSR as a “safety” option that accepts 65% of submissions from Lumiere clients. “In our experience, we have noticed that JSR nearly never gives edits, and students always just advance straight to being accepted,” the Lumiere associate wrote.

Alikhan and Rana defended the journal’s standards. They said that many papers, which are submitted with the guidance of top mentors, hardly need editing: “Honestly, it is not the journal’s fault if their advisors working closely with students produce outstanding manuscripts.”

The journals are deluged with submissions. Founded in 2019, the International Journal of High School Research has expanded from four to six issues a year and may add more, said executive producer Fehmi Damkaci. “There is a greater demand than we envisioned,” he said, adding that the journal has become more selective.

As the pandemic closed labs and restricted fieldwork, forcing students to collect data and conduct interviews online, the Journal of Student Research “received an increased volume of submissions,” Alikhan and Rana said. Polygence complained that several students who wanted to cite publications in their college applications hadn’t heard back from JSR for months. The papers were eventually published.

Preprint platforms don’t even bother with peer review. The usual justification for preprints is that they quickly disseminate vital research, such as new information about vaccines or medical treatments. High school projects are rarely so urgent. Still, Polygence started a preprint platform last fall. “The idea is for students to showcase their work and have them be judged by the scientific/peer/college community for their merits,” co-founder Janos Perczel wrote to ProPublica.

The Journal of Student Research hosts preprints by clients of Scholar Launch and two other services. One preprint only listed the author’s first name, Nitya. Leaving out the last name is a small mistake, but one that hints at the frenzy to publish quickly.

Online research programs could end up victimized by their own success. College admissions consultant Jillian Nataupsky estimated that one-third of her clients undertake virtual research. “For students trying to find ways to differentiate themselves in this crazy competitive landscape, this has risen as a really great option,” she said. But “it’s becoming a little more commonplace. I can see it becoming completely over-inundated in the next few years.”

Then the search can begin for the next leg up in college admissions.