2017 Conference Blog-Sunday, January 22

Dr. Jerry Lucido opened up the 2017 conference: Student Selection: Art, Science and Emerging Trends. He noted that it is important to examine our practice, always. We must bring data to bear on what we do to further student and societal progress. He warns, “What we ask for is what we get”. We must ask if what we are trying to accomplish is appropriate. He noted several agencies and their efforts and activities related to these issues, many of whom will be presenting at this conference.

Speaker Introduction: David Holmes, Institute on Character and Admission

Mr. Holmes introduced Richard Weissbourd, identifying “The Parents We Mean to Be”, authored by Weissbourd, as one of his favorite books. He notes Weissbourd’s commitment to taking authentic actions to promote attributes of good character. Admissions reform is taking hold across the nation and Richard is at the center of this action. With that, he welcomed Mr. Weissbourd.

Opening Keynote Address: Turning the Tide, Inspiring Concern for Others and the Common Good Through College Admissions
Richard Weissbourd, Senior Lecturer on Education; Faculty Director, Human Development and Psychology, Harvard Graduate School of Education

Weissbourd Turning the Tide slides

Weissbourd began by identifying what he planned to discuss in his presentation:

  1. Background- Research
  2. Turning the Tide: Key Recommendations
  3. Report Feedback
  4. Moving Forward

He began by noting that they have been asking middle and high school students: What is most important to you? 1) Being Happy? 2) High Achievement, or 3) Being Kind? They also asked how they thought their parents would respond. After 50,000 student surveys, “achievement” came in first, “happiness” second, and “caring” came in third. This is unprecedented in our history, according to Weissbourd. Historically schools promoted ethical character and nurtured kids to have good character. There has been an evaporation of our moral lives and religious commitment. Rituals with ethical content have evaporated. Respect for ancestors and decedents has diminished.

When parents were asked what is most important, the top responses was “caring for others”. But when students were asked what they thought parents would say, they say “achievement”.

Weissbourd asks: How do we restore in young people a deep commitment to the collective and the skills to be constructive, ethical community members and citizens? How do we help people talk to each other across these differences?

The messages that high school students are hearing are that what is important to adults. Turning the Tide was an effort to counteract some of these issues.

College admissions is a crucial rite of passage in adolescence and Turning the Tide provides the opportunity to send messages collectively. 50 colleges got together to say what matters, with an emphasis on authentic intellectual and ethical engagement.

Ethical Engagement

Meaningful, sustained community service that is authentically chosen, immersive, and sustained should be central. It is an experience rather than an achievement. Finally, such activity allows students to work in diverse groups.

This is also about equality and access. Weissbourd found that doing high profile community work (abroad) is often seen as more valued in college admissions as opposed to local, community based or even family commitments. Family commitments were undervalued and some kids don’t consider their day-to-day “duties” to be of value or interest in the admissions process. Thus, it is important that students are invited or encouraged to highlight such activities.

Prioritizing the quality, not quantity of activities. The committee suggests make testing optional based on predictive validity, that colleges describe how much these tests count in the admissions process and that they discourage students from taking the SAT more than twice.

The report also tries to address the misconception that there are only a handful of excellent colleges that can lead to career success. Students are stressing themselves to get into the “few” select colleges–while there are so many that are excellent.

Response to Report

In general, the report has received a widespread positive response. There is, however, skepticism that colleges will actually change their practices. It was also suggested that encouraging community service just adds to the stress.

Collective Action
A number of colleges have made important steps. The goal is to have continued communication with colleges. A second report is in the works that focuses not just on college admissions but also on high schools and parents and what they can do.

One challenge is the “it’s not me….” culture. A large majority of parents think it is a large majority of other parents that are the problem. Schools think it is the parents. The question is what will help us get out of this dynamic. How do you create a positive contagion among colleges? One promising practice is school and parent compacts. For example, limiting APs, avoiding promoting of students attending high status colleges, limiting SAT test prep, etc.

Another action that is in the works is the Dean’s Commitment Letter. This will free up high schools to make curricular choices in terms of limiting APs or supporting new ways of assessing mastery. Additionally, a powerful media campaign focused on elevating great colleges that are not highly selective and challenging harmful ranking systems would support change.

Assessing and motivating ethical engagement is another area of focus, as well as efforts to support 9th and 10th grade students who demonstrate promise on traditional and/or non-traditional measures.

Weissbourd closed by posing the following key questions to the group:

  1. How do we spark collective action at the high school level? Is it through a positive contagion or is there another way to motivate?
  2. How do we stop the finger pointing and change the high school-college parent dynamic
  3. Are there examples of effective practices for assessing?

In conclusion, Weissbourd asked: If not us, then who? If not now, then when?(John Lewis)