How an inequitable distribution of salaries leads to gaming the educational system by parents and colleges.

Two articles in yesterday’s New York Times reveal how attempts to “game the system” have corrupted both college and the process of getting into college. 

On page one of The New York Times, Catherine Rampell tells us of 10 law schools which recently have uniformly added additional points to every student’s grade point average.  For example, Loyola Law School in L.A. is giving all recent students a boost of one-third of a point.  The goal, to state the obvious, is to make the graduates more attractive in the job market.

But it’s clearly a corruption of the system that has grave ramifications in the real world.  Let’s start with what lawyers do.  The core task of the lawyer is to construct an argument or contract based on documents and articles that he or she has analyzed. Sometimes if you’re a litigator, you have to make an oral presentation of what you’ve done.  That sounds just like school work.  In other words, how you do in school really does predict how you are going to do as a lawyer.  Furthermore, because of uniform bar standards, the courses and curricula of most law schools are very, very similar, meaning that an A from Loyola is pretty much comparable to an A at Michigan, that is, if everyone is playing by the same rules and grading the same way.

By the way, not every profession or job is as linked to performance in school as the legal profession is (or engineering, to name another one).  In fact, to excel in school requires only a handful of the many diverse skills and natural talents that people can possess.  More on this point after looking at the other article in yesterday’s Times.

In the local section, Sharon Otterman reports that the New York City Department of Education is thinking about changing how it tests for its gifted programs because so many parents are gaming the test by putting their kids through extensive preparation.

I wonder what these parents think they accomplish by pushing their kids beyond their natural capabilities instead of understanding those capabilities and nurturing the real talent that I believe that every child possesses.  Trying to game the system to help your child advance academically has been going on for about two decades now, and every year it seems to trickle down to more families.  They’re called “helicopter parents” and are the ones who hire consultants to get their kids into the “right” kindergartens, hold their kids back a year, have their kids take one course in summer school to have a lighter load during the high school year, put their kids through rigorous SAT training and hire people to write their kids’ college application form essays.

What will these children do when they are adults in the real world left to their own devices, at least those that don’t go into the family business or have trust fund money? (And if they are set up for life, why bother in the first place?)

Why are both colleges and parents corrupting the system for what they think is the benefit of the young people in their care?  It comes down to the pursuit of money and respect, but then again, in America, all we respect is money, so it comes down to the Benjamins (and the Grants and Jacksons, and even the Washingtons!)

Start with the thought process of the helicopter parent: If I can get Emma into a good kindergarten, she’ll go to a good elementary school, get into a gifted high school, attend an Ivy League college and get a job at a major law, finance, publishing, architecture, accounting, PR or consulting firm and have an enormous income, or maybe make the connections to get in on the ground floor of a major business venture or do her residency in a top-flight teaching hospital.  In any case, she’ll have a big fat salary. Which mostly won’t happen if Little Emma becomes a school teacher, physical therapist, electrician, appliance repair person, computer or design technician, social worker or a plumber.  These professions, some of which do require someone to get a good education, are all interesting and needed by society, but in today’s world they don’t pay all that much money, making more parents want to push their kids into high-paying professions. 

In other words, if the differences in salaries between professionals, business owners and executives and everyone else weren’t so great in the United States, then parents and schools would not feel the need to act in a corrupt and dishonorable manner.  The parents, children and schools contributing to this corruption believe, and wrongly I think, that the purpose of college is nothing more than to purchase a certification that enables you to get the job you want. 

The article on law schools raising GPAs mention that other universities are paying students to take non-paid internships in the public and nonprofit sector, while others are paying law firms to try out their students.  Both seem admirably practical and can be roughly construed as kinds of “work-study” aid.  Both help their students get a leg up in the job market without doing anything to lower academic standards.  Bravo to these schools for trying to help students in an ethical and fair manner.

opedge
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