See My Latest Entry at One Big Mistake to Avoid

Don’t try to conform to colleges; make them conform to you. See my latest entry HERE.




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Perspectives on College and College Admission: Some Reading


You may already be tired of reading all the “how to get into college” books out there and I don’t blame you. On this blog I have a page devoted to books about college, college admission and related subjects (including teenagers) that offer some perspective and context about the whole ball of wax. I try to list volumes that are entertaining as well as thoughtful, insightful, and revealing.

I’ve boiled the list down for my blog, which you can find HERE. Let me know what you think and feel free to suggest additional books.


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Try an “Experience Surrogate” When Researching Colleges

My latest piece riffs on a NY Times article downplaying the campus tour in favor of using “experience surrogates” when trying to learn about a college. Could be good…It’s not “Handmaid’s Tale” surrogacy, but you can get a good idea from those who have been there. See



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College Admission Anxiety is a Systemic Problem

I haven’t posted here in a while because I’m writing for my blog. But my most recent entries are about how the college admission system is a major cause of anxiety and pressure in kids and families. Here’s the beginning of today’s entry:

Let’s face it, the problem of college admission anxiety encompasses a lot more than individual worries about whether or not students will get into college. With proper research and planning, they will, since over 50% of American colleges and universities still accept over half their applicants. The most fiercely competitive colleges and universities do their best to lower that statistic, but the rest of the collegiate system is doing fairly well; most applicants end up somewhere even if it may not be their first choice.

What really affects students’, families’ and schools’ perceptions of the process arises from anxieties about the economy, the method(s) of paying for college and the resulting worries about the “worth” of attending a four-year institution. Is it simply to prepare for a job? To learn something, anything? To become more aware of the world while developing the skills needed to become a productive member of society? To interact with people from around the world and gain some understanding of it? What are parents (and industrious students) paying for, exactly?

Add to that the many critiques of colleges as  “four year parties,” cesspools of political correctness, leftist training grounds, dumbed down playgrounds and worse. Add the increasingly prevalent myth that only “name-brand” institutions can guarantee a decent post-college life and you have a perfect storm of exaggerated faith, suspicion, fear, financial uncertainty, and no idea about the “worth” of a college education. What are we left with?

Despite all that, the numbers of students applying to college continue to grow unabated (influenced mostly by demography as well as numerous “go to college” efforts). We are convinced that college provides the key to a better life, higher incomes, even better health and social/political participation. But the effort needed to get into these institutions now must be proportional to what the eventual rewards are assumed to be. An inflation of sorts is at work: the effort of 10 or 20 years ago isn’t worth what it is today.

Read the rest (and my other entries) HEREiu-2

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Getting the Most Out of College @ Hobson’s

Hi Everyone– I am currently a featured blogger on Hobson’s website. You can read the entry at I write about getting the most out of your college experience…



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Cooke Foundation’s Executive Director Responds to “Elitism” Entry

After my last entry, Elitism in the Name of Access, David Egner, the communications consultant at the Jack Kent Cooke Foundation, contacted me and asked if the Foundation’s Executive Director, Harold O. Levy, could respond as a guest writer. I am happy to oblige.

Mr. Levy’s distinguished career includes being Chancellor of the New York City public school system, the largest school system in the U.S, from 2000-2002. He has also held leadership roles as a corporate attorney, venture capital investor and as a manager in the financial services industry. I’d like to thank him for taking the time to address the topic of educational access and equity here as well as in many other forums. It is one we both agree is critically important.

My next entry will be a follow-up to Mr. Levy’s.


By Harold O. Levy

I am responding to the post headlined “Elitism in the Name of Access” and to its criticism of the Jack Kent Cooke Foundation, where I serve as executive director.

I am a strong believer that all children – from those with learning difficulties up to those with the greatest intellectual abilities – deserve an equal opportunity to get an education that meets their needs, enables them to reach their full potential and prepares them for adult life. For some students this means a vocational or technical education. For others it means a college education and graduate school at very expensive educational institutions.

As the former schools chancellor in New York City, I dedicated myself to helping students having the greatest difficulties in school and to reducing the high school dropout rate. That was the right thing to do. But like many others, I assumed that the brightest students – those who some call “gifted” – would do just fine in K-12 and go on to college, with scholarships when needed, because of their high abilities.

I was wrong. Recent research has conclusively demonstrated that the highest-achieving students are often bored, sometimes develop disciplinary problems, and many times underperform if they do not get the benefit of challenging classes, teachers trained in meeting their needs, and guidance on finding the best academic path and preparing for college.

For children from low-income families these problems are compounded. Their parents are unable to afford to live in neighborhoods with the best public schools, and can’t afford the many enrichment experiences and preparation for college admission tests that more affluent parents can provide.

Some of these students struggle with homelessness and hunger. Some must work long hours while in school to help support their parents, their siblings, or spouses and children of their own. For many, scholarships and loans are not enough to cover their educational and living expenses in college.

It’s a false choice to say we must give only one type of student the most appropriate education. We must provide it to them all.

Jack Kent Cooke, a great entrepreneur and sports team owner, left much of his fortune to create the foundation that bears his name specifically to meet the needs of high-achieving students from low-income families. This was not “elitist.” It was simply designed to meet an unmet need. Mr. Cooke, who had to drop out of high school during the Great Depression to help support his struggling family, was determined to help young people in similar circumstances get the education he never had the chance to receive many years ago.

With an endowment now worth about $640 million thanks to Mr. Cooke’s great gift, we are proud to have provided over $152 million in scholarships to nearly 2,200 students from 8th grade through graduate school, along with comprehensive counseling and other support services in the past 16 years. The foundation has also awarded over $90 million in grants to organizations that serve such students.

Even if we gave away every penny in the endowment in one year, which would mean the foundation would have to shut down and never help another student, we couldn’t fund the education of millions of low-income students in the United States. But we certainly support the work of government at all levels, colleges and other nonprofits to provide funds and programs needed to give students of all academic abilities – particularly those with financial need – the most appropriate education.

Educating our children must be a national effort. No one foundation or group of foundations can fund it all. At the Cooke Foundation we will continue to join with others with the goal of making equal educational opportunity a reality for every child. By doing this, we help transform young lives and build a better future for our nation and the world.

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Elitism in the Name of Access

Correction: I carelessly misstated the size of the Cooke Foundation’s endowment in billions of dollars instead of millions. It was not my intent to do so and I apologize for the egregious error. I have corrected the amounts below. Also, the market value of the endowment has changed; I have also made that correction. Thanks to David Egner of the Cooke Foundation for pointing this error out. I should have been more careful.

Providing access to college for all students who desire it has long been a worthy goal for schools, organizations, and colleges themselves. Why wouldn’t it be? We want our young people to be as prepared as possible for the challenges that continually face us as the future inexorably bears down upon up.

Most efforts in this area focus on finding a relatively tiny proportion of students, the “diamonds in the rough” deemed college ready but lacking the resources to follow through. They may have no guidance counselor, lack access to information, or simply lack the money they’ll need to attend. As worthy as these efforts are (at Chicago Scholars, I created and led very successful workshops, handbooks and other materials and activities for these students, their parents, and their mentors) they unintentionally create a significant divide in the educational world of these students.

Many organizations and even schools focus on the “gifted and talented” students who may thrive despite poor conditions. They are identified as early as possible and introduced to mentors, advisors, and programs that will help them get through school and to college. Many require that students have certain minimum GPAs and test scores to participate, and of course, students have to be made aware of the programs to apply. So the restrictions of college admission are transplanted to these organizations, once again limiting access while attempting to broaden it.


Still from Fritz Lang’s Metropolis with the Maiden from the underground world pleading for its children.

Other students who may suffer the consequences of poor educational and social conditions more severely are by default left behind. There’s no telling how many students from underserved schools could benefit even from the encouragement to do well if they are identified early enough, regardless of whether they are “gifted and talented” or not. In the name of “access” and with all best intentions, many organizations practice an early form of social sorting as early as eighth grade.

In setting up his system of public education in Virginia, Thomas Jefferson proposed a strict hierarchy, beginning in grammar school. From there, the winnowing process would continue:

Of the boys thus sent in any one year, trial is to be made at the grammar schools one or two years, and the best genius of the whole selected, and continued six years, and the residue dismissed. By this means twenty of the best geniuses will be raked from the rubbish annually, and be instructed, at the public expence, so far as the grammar schools go.

Thomas Jefferson on Public Education, Part 1   by George H. Smith

Jefferson made no bones about where public monies should be spent: on those who showed the most promise and had best achieved at their schools. Those who could pass the “trial” would be rewarded by being educated at public expense. The “residue” would be left on the rubbish heap, presumably to become laborers, farmers, and so on (an odd image for a man who considered farming and agriculture to be the backbone of American life and morality).

Many years later, the term “talented tenth” referred to the goal of establishing black colleges in the South to train black teachers and elites. W. E. B. DuBois adopted the term to describe the likelihood of one in ten black men (women were not yet included)

becoming leaders of their race in the world, through methods such as continuing their education, writing books, or becoming directly involved in social change.

It was important to encourage recently freed slaves and their descendants to aspire to leadership positions to lead the race out of its former servitude. The “talented tenth” was a goal, not a limit.

Even at the time, however, Henry Lyman Morehouse, the white liberal who coined the term in 1896 and for whom Morehouse College is named, realized the phrase reeked of elitism and sought to mitigate it. On the PBS website is his reservation about the term:

Obviously concerned that his argument would appear to be elitist, which it nakedly and unapologetically was — like Du Bois’ elaboration of it seven years later — Morehouse was quick to add that he was not unmindful of the importance of the contributions of the other so-called “nine-tenths”: “Without disparagement of faithful men of moderate abilities, it may be said that in all ages the mighty impulses that have propelled a people onward in their progressive career, have proceeded from a few gifted souls … men of thoroughly disciplined minds, of sharpened perceptive faculties, trained to analyze and to generalize; men of well-balanced judgments and power of clear and forceful statement.” The talented tenth man, Morehouse concludes, “is an uncrowned king in his sphere.”

We can argue that Jefferson, Morehouse, and DuBois saw the positives of this culling as far outweighing the negatives of consigning the less talented 90% of the population to using their “moderate abilities” as well as they could. Especially at a time when African Americans were beginning to emerge from slavery, it was important to find those who could lead their fellows into the higher reaches of American society, no matter the difficulties.

However, as the United States has essentially reached a point of universal education (no matter how inequitably it may be delivered) the emphasis on providing a “talented tenth” with specific advantages while letting the rest fend for themselves ultimately isn’t sustainable for the country as a whole. It provides lifeboats to specific individuals while the rest drown in dark, freezing waters. The systemic problems that damage every child, in other words, are left unaddressed.


Still from Fritz Lang’s Metropolis. The privileged cavort in a garden of earthly delights.

Unfortunately, even the best intentioned organizations still rely on a “talented tenth” ideology to address these concerns instead of challenging the system itself. A recent article in the Orlando Sentinel headlined “We Can’t Let Any Gifted Kids Slip Through The Cracks” outlines the efforts of the National Association for Gifted Children to “change minds and attitudes, change policies, and change practices when it comes to supporting gifted learners.”

One of its efforts revolves around creating a “Giftedness Knows No Boundaries” campaign that “will shine a light on gifted and talented children, and be a precursor to changing policies and practices, all of which will ensure these children are discovered, challenged and given the support they need as they strive to reach their personal best.” Presumably these lucky children will be “raked from the rubbish” and provided with educations befitting their genius, while the rest will have to make do with what they have. But why should an effort like this be only about those identified as “gifted and talented”? And if giftedness knows no bounds, why limit your search?

One organization that does plenty of raking is the Jack Kent Cooke Foundation, “a private, independent foundation established in 2000 to advance the education of exceptionally promising students who have financial need.” Its $640 million endowment enables it to choose not just the talented 10th but the talented 10th of a 10th as it sifts through thousands of applications from hopeful but underserved students each year. Over its history the Foundation reports it has awarded more than $152 million to nearly 2,200 high-achieving students from low-income families.

This number sounds (and is) very impressive. For individual students who win the award (after an extensive selection process that makes Harvard look like an open admission college), it’s a platinum lifeboat, with the possibility of paying all college and even graduate school expenses as well as other education-related costs. For the rest, though, the flotsam will have to do.


Lithograph of the Titanic sinking.

(Some simple math shows that over 16 years the Foundation has accepted an average of 138 students per year from thousands of applicants, spending an average of $69,000 per student for an average outlay per year of $9,500,000. Quite luxurious for the lucky ones. To be fair, the Foundation does other things as well, but in light of its endowment, this expenditure seems both paltry and underutilized.)

In a recent article on the website the74million, Harold O. Levy, the executive director of the Cooke Foundation, repeats all the old saws about how schools need to get better, while lamenting the under-funding of education. “We must figure out a way to do better, because failing to meet our responsibility to children today will cause irreparable harm to them and our nation far into the future.” This remarkably musty observation coming from the head of a foundation with two-thirds of a billion dollars in endowment funds dedicated to supporting only a tiny fraction of students is supremely ironic.


Still from Fritz Lang’s Metropolis showing the leader of the upper world where the privileged few live.

He lectures schools as if they were hoarding funds while stating the obvious:

Schools need to increase spending to get the best teachers, hold down class sizes so students get the individual attention they need, hire more and better-trained counselors, get the up-to-date books and supplies students require, run year-round classes for the weakest students and improve or replace aging school buildings.

And while he tells states and localities to “bite the bullet and raise taxes or find funds elsewhere in their budgets” for school funding, he surely knows these efforts have been consistently voted down or been stymied in just about every one of those areas. In Chicago, where I live, public schools are being starved by the state (which also has entered its second budget-less year under its billionaire Republican governor) and the city, which has had to raise taxes significantly just to pay into unhonored pension funds for public employees, including teachers. Mr. Levy, once the chancellor of the New York City School system, surely knows better than to repeat bromides that were cliches 30 years ago, like “We must figure out a way to do better, because failing to meet our responsibility to children today will cause irreparable harm to them and our nation far into the future.” Well, what do you know! And yet, here we are.

The problem, ultimately, isn’t that we’re not finding enough of the talented tenth to lift from the “rubbish heap,” but that we have consigned so many of our youth to such a huge rubbish heap to begin with. Providing lifeboats for the talented, the “gritty,” and the purely lucky, while terrific for those individuals, still leaves their peers floating in the darkness of an Arctic night clinging to whatever hope they can find. Sanctimonious reiterations about the terrible condition of education, especially when you have the resources to do more about it, reflect a lack of willingness to attack the problems at the root.

Much of that would require  political activity prohibited to foundations; however, funding research and even looking for ways to build luxury liners instead of expensive lifeboats so more lives could be saved through education and support, might be better ways to address the problems we face. Without the political will, however, the left out 90% will continue to sink. Relying on discovering just the “talented tenth” each year only prolongs most students’ agony while doing nothing to ameliorate it.






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