Sunday, April 16, 2006

This Week's Recommended Reading

From Ash:

On April 11, the New York Times reported that, as part of a new United Nations study on domestic violence, the Syrian government has begun studying domestic violence -- and determined that one in four married women in Syria has been beaten. The report has a two-fold importance because it is the government's first real acknowledgment that such violence exists, and that it is wrong. The article also notes that there is a similar transformation occurring in Syrian press -- which has only recently begun reporting on the occurrence of so-called "honor killings."

Also in the Times -- specifically, last Sunday's Magazine -- Jack Hitt wrote a riveting account on the absolute ban, and subsequent criminalization of, abortions in El Salvador.

And since we're in the midst of a discussion on education, there's been some interesting reporting on education this week.

First, has a "don't miss" analysis -- disputing recent articles in the Washington Post and the New York Times regarding the increased difficulty of getting into college. According to InsideHigherEd, these articles' focus on the most selective campuses (e.g. Harvard) give a very distorted picture of what is going on in admissions. Just how distorted? Well, they explain, "Of around 3,500 nonprofit colleges in the country, only about 150 accept fewer than half of the applicants they receive."

And this made me gasp, a classic example of the abuse of numbers: "The Times article adds, from the CIRP survey, that the proportion of students who applied to 12 or more colleges increased by 50 percent from 2001 to 2005. The article does not go on to note that the 50 percent increase brought the percentage from 1.4 to 2.1."

Once again, it's a privileged, educated media driving a story that really only effects themselves. (I loved how this played out on yesterday's Chris Matthews Show. The Times' David Brooks and Newsweek's Howard Fineman were agreeing with the phenomenon -- and Fineman said he knew it was true because his son goes to University of Penn, and all the kids there were serious. He ignored the fact it's an Ivy League. Only the Atlanta Journal-Constitution editor Cynthia Tucker said they were looking at a narrow, privileged group -- of which she acknowledged she was a member -- and that they weren't representative. Ms. Tucker, you're this week's winner of the Stentor Award, for speaking the truth no one else will listen to, and I've just become a regular AJC reader because of your appearance.)

Now why is the echo chamber on this a problem? According to InsideHigherEd, there are concerns that it's discouraging the less-than-stellar students from applying to college at all. To the point that, some smaller schools are initiating marketing campaigns to combat the "you can't get in anywhere" reporting.

Now that you're little less panicked about your children's college future, consider the worrisome future of kids in Omaha. This week, the Governor of Nebraska signed into law a bill which would split Omaha into three school districts -- the effect of which being to divide the schools into racially segregated districts. Now, a number of headlines that made it seem like segregation itself was incorporated into the law. ("Law To Segregate Omaha Schools Divides Nebraska" (New York Times), "Nebraska Lawmakers Vote to Realign Omaha Schools Into Racial Districts" (, "Racially Based School System Adopted in Nebraska (Fort Worth Star-Telegram)

Unfortunately it's only really hinted at, but if you actually read the AP article underneath a lot of these headlines -- you'll discover what is really going on is that segregation is an effect of the districting -- segregation isn't in the actual law. Now why is that important? Because if there are court challenges, the redistricting will probably be upheld, if they can prove that the segregation is not intentional -- but a side effect -- and there are real, race-neutral reasons for their actions. I haven't been following the debate -- so I don't know if the race-neutral reasons are just a cover. But I did just read a Nebraska legislature statement on the law, which explained one of its goals was to lessen the schools' economic segregation: it would even out the financial resources of the schools, and presumably, the students as well.

That's completely fascinating. I have no idea if it's true -- but let's say that it is. That would mean it's really racial integration vs. economic integration. Both have a huge impact on students that we can't ignore. So which is more important? It's a great question to consider as we continue our dialogue on education this week.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Question about the segregrating of the school districts...

I wonder if it has more to do with the economics? Do some people feel that if there are ? "smaller" ? districts, then will there be more money for the schools?

For example, in Oakland, CA the school district is so big and we are not sure how much of the tax dollars actually go to the schools. But in a smaller school district like Piedmont which is very close to Oakland, the voters often vote YES on more tax money for schools.

I am aware that in my school district, which was very big, whenever there was a vote presented during the election if people living in the area wanted to vote yes or no on raising taxes for the schools, often the NO votes won.

But in a smaller school district less than ten miles from my school district, the YES votes won because the homes in that small school district often sell for more than several million dollars.

So I wonder if $$$$$ school districts are more likely to vote yes on taxes because they want to support schools for kids from the same socio economic backgrounds.

But in "poorer" school districts, the majority of voters vote NO because they do not want to spend the money to support schools and educate "lower income" kids?

thanks for reading....

12:19 PM  
Blogger Ashley Merryman said...

Thanks so much for your thoughtful response!

I'm an attorney, and I've read enough of the school desegration cases that I can sort of fill in some gaps even though I don't know much about what is going on in Omaha (although my Con Law professor would probably grimace at my post's sort of collapsing about 12 different principles into a sentence -- Sorry, Professor Tushnet!).

But as to the make-up of the districts, and their economics, I honestly don't know enough about the situation in Nebraska to really opine on it much more than to say that there does seem to be a "smaller district" idea at issue.

And, while I can't specifically address Omaha, I think you're right -- there's a lot of self-interest in school funding, generally, which has lead to an idea that smaller districts will keep the money in the area, ensure better spending, etc. Now, whether or not that really happens, I'm not sure.

7:07 PM  

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