Grading the Teachers

istock_000014618325small1This recent opinion piece from The New York Times explores the evaluation—or rather, an instance of miscalculation—of teachers based on a rather complex formula.

According to her principal and her students, Ms. Isaacson is a “wonderful” and “terrific” middle school teacher who makes the material “much easier to learn.” Yet, when the stats of her students’ performance are plugged into a formula meant to weed out “bad teachers,” Ms. Isaacson came out in the 7th percentile. This result seems incredibly low for a universally popular teacher, and with her tenure at stake, we might ask whether a mistake has been made: Was there a math error in the formula, or were her peers and students somehow mistaken or biased?

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College Sex Everywhere

The other day I ran into a professor from Auburn University whom I personally know very well. By chance, we started talking about the recent live sex demonstration in Northwestern University and it was obvious to me that she was absolutely horrified by the thought. She told me she read it in the Chronicle of Higher Education and suggested to me some things from there. When I got home and started browsing through, I saw this.

To summarize (these all happened within four days of each other):

-A student in UMass made the claim in her column that drunk flirtatious women who dress scandalously in a party should take responsibility if she was raped.

-A Northwestern professor allowed a live sex-toy demonstration in class to show female orgasm is real.

-A basketball player in BYU was dismissed from the team for having pre-marital sex (violating the BYU honor code).

-A How to Better Masturbate Guide was distributed by Skidmore College’s Center for Sex and Gender Relations.

As you can imagine, there are many outcries and discussions going on related to all these topics. What I find intriguing is the involvement of the college institutions and their approaches.

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Would You Steal to Educate Your Kids?

It’s the classic question: is it still wrong to steal food if you do it to feed your starving children?
Kelley Williams-Bolar, a poor black woman from Ohio, faced the same problem in her own life but slightly modified: is it wrong to commit fraud if it is the only way you can give your kids access to a good education?

Williams-Bolar was arrested and found guilty of tampering with records and falsifying enrollment papers for her two daughters so they could attend a prominently “rich, white” school for two years. The school has closed enrollment policies and it costs $800 per month to enroll students who do not live in the district.

Williams-Bolar was sentenced to 10 days in jail, two years probation, and 80 hours of community service. There is also a possibility that Williams-Bolar will no longer be able to obtain the teaching degree she was close to obtaining at the University of Akron in Ohio.

Most would agree that committing fraud, as a general principle, is unacceptable and must therefore be punished. As a single act, there may not be a hugely significant cost to Williams-Bolar sneaking her daughters into the school, but the entire system would unravel if every poor mother followed in her footsteps.

But it is important to look at Williams-Bolar’s intentions and the situation she lives in.
Is it possible that her only real chance to provide her daughters with a real life opportunity to succeed required her to break the law?

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Kansas University: Now recruiting top AARP prospects

The University of Kansas Athletics Department has taken commitment and accountability to the next level: they have hired a legion of retired-folk (no, not The American Legion, but similar) to assure that their athletes attend class. The full article can be found in the Wall Street Journal’s riveting Life and Culture: Sports section.

First, I’ll set aside all jabs about Duke’s athletic superiority over that of the Jayhawks. Now, let us break down where two ethical questions may arise: one, should these athletes be tracked and two, why do the trackers have to be elderly people?

When I think of college, I think not of more rigorous academics, learning to live with another person, or consuming disgusting amounts of pizza: I think of freedom. Included in my freedom is the choice to attend – or not attend – class. By hiring trackers to check up on these athletes’ attendance, KU is eliminating a fundamental component of the college experience. Should they stigmatize these students on the basis that they are athletes? They forfeit many freedoms when becoming a student athlete, should the liberty to skip class and catch up on sleep every now and then be one of the opportunities forgone?

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AdmissionSplash: An App for Curbing Admission Anxieties

As a freshman, the college admissions process, having painfully endured it just last year, remains fresh in my mind. Like every other university-bound high school senior, my stomach churned with anticipation from the day I submitted my applications to the day I received my last decision letter (well, e-mails, actually). Embarrassingly, my friends and I frequented collegeconfidential.com, a chat room website where equally paranoid students can post their statistics – SAT scores, list of extracurricular activities, GPAs, etc. – and ask their peers to “chance” them. They respond to the original post with comments like, “You’ll definitely get accepted. Congrats!” “I’d say 70% chance,” and “I doubt you’ll have a good chance at Duke.” (Yes, those are taken directly from a “Chance me for Duke!” thread.) Despite how silly this may seem, it’s popular. In fact, there’s an app for that!


AdmissionSplash, the new facebook application, was launched last week. Just for fun, I tried it out. I filled in my test scores, checked yes that I volunteered in high school, no I don’t plan on being recruited for sports, and other similar things. At the end, AdmissionSplash told me that my chances for acceptance at Duke University were only fair, and the accompanying yellow emoticon seemed to say, “Be careful.” I believe I was rightfully accepted, and so, albeit a bit late, I have some reservations about the application.

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Do smart kids deserve cheaper plastic surgery?


Incentives for students are everywhere— awards for students with the best GPA, presents from parents for each A their kid earns, school districts paying children to take AP tests, and giving plastic surgery as a reward to those who do the best on exams. Wait, what? We have to wonder when these incentives begin to cross the line and maybe violate what we think is right or wrong. If thinkers such as Duke’s own Prof. Ruth Grant have raised issues with the first three examples, the last situation certainly seems to raise some ethical questions.

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