Here is the "60 Minutes" segment on University of Maryland Baltimore County president Freeman Hrabowski. I am not sure he's right that the US needs to have a lot more math and science graduates, but I certainly wish that his no-nonsense, high expectations approach to higher education could be replicated at many other colleges and universities. The reason why it can't be is that far too many students want college to be easy and entertaining and far too many professors would rather do other things than spend time working with their students. UMBC looks like an oasis of excellence in a sea of mediocrity.
A recent piece at Inside Higher Education really has 'em going. The editor notes that it drew the most comments of any piece last month by far. The article focuses on a survey conducted by two economists, who conclude that Republican professors tend be tougher graders than their Democratic colleagues, who by contrast are more "egalitarian."
At a recent Liberty Fund Socratic Seminar on “Education and Liberty in the Digital Age,” the conferees considered whether the Internet cum computer constitute “disruptive technology” that will subvert and fundamentally change today’s crumbling educational monolith. We paid particular attention to online education, innovative for-profit programs, and the educational potential of videos on YouTube.
In today's Pope Center Clarion Call, my colleague Duke Cheston and I examine a recent AEI paper arguing that students and parents should be leery of schools with low graduation rates and arguing that the federal government should require that grad rate data be prominently displayed on communications. .
Annonymous Comment: In order to obtain my "Professional License" in order to be allowed to keep teaching, I have to take a bunch of inane Graduate Ed School classes. In order to pay for those classes, I have to take on a part time job. The part time job I have to earn the money to take the classes I need to be allowed to continue teaching high school math?
Last week Peter Wood, by discipline an anthropologist, was one of the first to analyze the implications of the American Anthropological Association's proposal to define "science" out of anthropology. He wrote:
Absent its scientific basis, anthropology would be little more than colorful travel literature (travelogues) occasionally mixed up with political hucksterism and theoretical obscurantism. But anthropology has never been only a science, and it ought to be sufficiently broad-minded to embrace the poetics of culture and some of its music as well.
After Peter published his piece on the story, it was covered by Inside Higher Ed and the Chronicle of Higher Education and a number of blogs, including Nature.com, picked it up.
Bill Ayers is back in the news. Robert Kennedy's son, newly on the board of the U of I Chicago, led a move denying Ayers emeritus status as a retired professor. Newsweek covered the story here (they lost a bit of the nuance in my quote but the story is an accurate summation of the controversy). I had not thought of Ayers since I blogged about him two years ago (“Little Red School House”). In retrospect, while the issue was balance, not bias (so I argued) how does one balance someone so far to the Left? Can one even imagine a former member of the John Birch Society sans explosives being welcomed with open arms by education schools? On turning radicals into academic entrepreneurs: The more incendiary, the better (think Angela Davis, Ward Churchill). And think of the speaking fees one can draw as a radical professor! Sure, sure, the student fees are supposed to represent the range of opinions in society at large (U.S. Supreme Court, Southworth, 2000). But who polices such Court decisions? The barbarians within the gates? Hardly. Professor Ayers, erstwhile domestic terrorist, lived on the wild fringe of sixties radicalism. Like so many others, Ayers secured a position in academe that allowed him to bore within education by promoting "social justice" and "revolutionary education." While his ideas on education might seem "out there," they are taught in education schools as part of the canon of "progressive thought"--often in "School and Society" courses required of all future K-12 teachers. Not that I am ungrateful. I must thank the Ayers of the world for making education school so stultifying that I left and entered graduate school to become a historian – for better and worse.
Do we finally have a national higher education agenda in the U.S.? Inside Higher Ed suggests we're close. The "now widely held view that the country must in the next 10-15 years significantly increase the number of Americans with a quality postsecondary credential," advocated by President Obama and numerous large foundations has its critics, IHE says. But "few strongly dispute the basic premise that more higher education for more people will be good for the country, its economy and its citizens." This is one of those times where NAS belongs to the "few." We vigorously dispute the premise that assumes that expanding enrollments will expand national prosperity. The fallacy behind this idea is mistaking most-educated for best-educated. Those terms don't mean the same thing. By 2020, or 2025, or whenever we finally reach the big goals set by President Obama, the Lumina Foundation, and others, we may have the highest percentage of college-educated people, but will we be the world's best-educated? A commenter on the IHE article, Burke Smith, articulates skepticism along these lines:
For instance, without objective standards of educational quality (which higher education does not currently have), incentives for degree completion could very easily lead to a cheapening of the degree. The nationwide growth of grade inflation and corresponding reduction in the amount of time spent studying is one example of such a possibility.
Smith is the CEO of StraighterLine, a company that helps students transfer college credit. We at NAS agree with Smith that incentives for degree completion could very easily lead to a cheapening of the degree. A lot of people with mediocre education won't aid our country in innovation and international competition. And as George pointed out today, more college degrees do not equal economic growth. Check out the full list of NAS articles on higher ed expansion here.
The NAS has published a long-buried study on the state of the history research paper in American high schools. The 2002 study sponsored by The Concord Review (TCR) went unpublished when its benefactor, the Albert Shanker Institute, found the results unflattering to high school teachers. Why aren't high schools doing a better job of teaching students to write? The suppressed study finds that 95% of high school teachers think research papers are important, but 62% never assign them. According to the report, the biggest barriers to teachers are time and class size. Most teachers said that grading papers took too much personal time, and that not enough time was provided for this in the school day. Teachers surveyed taught an average of 80 students each. Assigning a 20-page paper then means having 1,600 pages to grade. The Concord Review urged high schools to support teachers by providing more time for them to grade papers. Click here to read the press release.
Most college composition courses teach students "next to nothing" writes Troy Camplin in today's Pope Center piece. The problem is that most students have great deficits in their understanding of English thanks to their K-12 years and the small amount of time college profs have to cover the fundamentals of grammar is not nearly enough. Many people in the business world lament that the ability to write decently is a skill that is badly lacking among college graduates. This piece helps explain why. I also give Camplin three cheers for his advocacy of putting logic into the college curriculum.
I just read an article in the University Daily Kansan linked in Glenn's Collegiate Press Roundup this week. The article, "Women, Take Back Halloween" is written by a male student whose characterization of slutty Halloween costumes on campus echoes that of Nathan Harden in Proud to Be Right. He urges women at U Kansas to cover up this Halloween and dare to dress goofy instead of sexy. I'm heartened to hear this plea, especially from a male student, for sexual dignity, but what most caught my eye was his reason for entering a costume store: research for his class, "What Fictional Characters Wore: Jesus to Jacob from Twilight." First of all, why is Jesus being called a "fictional character"? Second, why is this a college course? The author is a in the film and media studies and journalism programs. His mention of the course is the only place it exists on the internet, and it's not included in the film and media studies course list. But if this really is a course at the U of Kansas, how is it justified as advancing higher learning? Is this what college level academic work has come to?
David Warren writes for The Ottawa Citizen and has a firm grasp on the reality of higher education. Consider this column published Oct. 12. Is higher education a great, crucial investment in human capital? Here's what he says:
The great majority of the universities -- founded since the Second World War to bureaucratically process and credentialize a large part of the general population, as a matter of 'right' and regardless of their intellectual capacities -- are in effect 'community colleges' or trade schools. Many of the trades being taught are perverse and wouldn't exist without further government subsidy ("women's studies" for instance, to produce professional feminist agitators). But most are the commonplace trades, and the colleges only provide incredibly inefficient and ineffective ways to replace the older apprenticeship arrangements, while cosseting the young from demands of the job market until they are thoroughly spoiled.
Read the whole, wonderfully iconoclastic thing. If you can stomach pure bile, read the comments too. I'll be on the lookout for more of Warren's columns. Hat tip: Geoff Hawkins.
Peter Wood takes on this question in "Nouveau Relativism in Academe":
What is the proper status of “opinion” in the university, as opposed to fact, established knowledge, theory, and belief? Simply listing these words suggests layers of complication. Higher education necessarily involves all these modes of knowing or thinking-you-know, and they are often tangled together. Still, we usually acknowledge a distinction. Opinions are what we hold when we cannot be sure. It isn’t a matter of opinion that 2 + 2 = 4. It is a matter of opinion that King Lear is a more profound play than Hamlet. We get into trouble when we confuse these matters. And we are courting trouble when we exaggerate the provisional respect due to other people’s opinions and thereby lose sight of some more fundamental goals of liberal education. Ideally, we teach students how to pursue truth, and where truth itself is unobtainable, to exercise the kind of discernment that separates the better-grounded views from the others.
In today's Pope Center piece, management professor Jason Fertig considers a recent book that is critical of, but still optimistic about, MBA programs. Fertig thinks that pessimism is perhaps more warranted. He sees the profusion of MBA programs as mostly credential inflation that does little to make the student a better decision-maker in business.
This just in from the MSN homepage, where there's a piece advising parents of prospective college students to check out what their hefty tuition buys them these days. The "weird" offerings include courses on dancing in laundromats (I'm not laughing - that really helped when my kids were young), the Philosophy of UFOlogy and the History of Furniture. Can you imagine that? Since I have a recollection that we may have run similar stories at this blog site, I thought I'd pass it along. I was unable to determine if any of them were freshman comp. courses, but I'll try to find out in light of George Leef's previous post on that fascinating subject.
That is the question Professor Robert V. Young of North Carolina State answers in this Pope Center piece we released last week. Back when he taught the course in the 1970s, it was like boot camp for college students who needed to improve their writing. There was a lot of work and it was rigorously graded -- tough on both the student and the professor. Unfortunately, the course metamorphosed over the years into one dominated by "composition theory" and like so many academic theories, that one has proven to be a dismal failure. More incoming students than ever need to improve their writing, but the way freshman comp is now taught, it's mostly a waste of time -- or worse.
In this week's Pope Center Clarion Call, I review Higher Education? by Andrew Hacker and Claudia Dreifus. The book has been getting a great deal of attention -- and deserves it. To put the authors' case in a nutshell, college and university education in the U.S. (with a few exceptions) costs much more than it needs to and delivers much less education than it should. It's a splendid deal for administrators and tenured professors, but bad for the rest of us who foot the bills and especially the students who get little education of lasting value. Do we have the beginnings of a left-right convergence here? The critique Hacker and Dreifus give echoes themes familiar to those who have read Charles Murray and Thomas Sowell. (In fact, Sowell blasts Hacker's book Money in his Intellectuals and Society, but they're in agreement on the waste and folly of our higher ed system.)
In Friday's Pope Center piece, English professor Sarah Adams argues that today's college students ("Millenials"), while often derided for their apparent indifference to serious reading and thinking, will respond to the material in a classical liberal arts curriculum. I think she's right. While some students will tune out (or avoid if possible) courses that make intellectual demands on them, others will rise to the challenge. That's better than serving up pabulum to keep everyone content.
Recently NAS alluded to the increased frequency of grade inflation among institutions of higher learning nationwide. According to a new study, students are now doing less work than ever before, but are expecting A's. Since when did an A mean only completing course requirements? Wouldn't it make sense that a C, the middle grade, is reserved for satisfactory completion, while a B means above average, and an A signifies above and beyond the "call of duty," so to speak? We can argue about fair and appropriate grading measures all day long, of course, but we live in a culture obsessed with good grades, the pursuit of which often compromises the quality of work. My concern lies with one particular aspect of the college course grade. While attending a liberal arts institution a few years ago, I noticed that more than a handful of classes had dedicated a rather large percentage of the grading rubric to the nebulous notion of "participation." Sometimes it was a solid twenty to thirty percent, and in one case, it was an astronomic fifty percent. Personally, I enjoy participating in class. In fact, discussing ideas openly with the professor and my peers was one of the more intellectually stimulating aspects of my education. These classroom discussions, however, were organic—they arose out of students' sincere desire to engage with the texts and each other. But when participation is a requirement, the outcome is a forced, stilted form of discussion. Since students are required to talk to make the grade, the carrot on the stick leads students by the nose into saying whatever comes into their heads, whether or not such musings are informed by a careful consideration of course materials. And because students are increasingly doing less work and expecting better grades, in a class with large participation requirements, students quickly learn how to cut corners. For example, the class in which participation counted for half of the grade was often a forum for empty talk because students quickly figured out that they didn't have to read everything prior to class in order to put their two cents in. They could spout opinions off the top of their heads with little consideration for critical thought, and they'd get their "check" on participation for the day. Of course, professors have the prerogative to set their own standards for their classes. And in certain class situations, like in introductory foreign language courses, participation grades are certainly appropriate, because speech practice—constantly talking in the foreign language—is a critical part of the learning process no matter what the content of the discussion. However, as someone who has gone through the system, paying close attention to what furthered critical thought and what didn't, I believe professors should reconsider the high emphasis placed on forced participation. Consider that some students may feel uncomfortable bringing up their real opinions in a classroom dynamic where everyone thinks the same. Consider also that a student who blabs away in class isn't necessarily the hardest working student who wishes to further critical thought. He may just be another grade-grubbing opportunist. In this sense, the participation grade is a paradox. While its purpose is ostensibly to further thoughtful inquiry and debate, it may end up producing a class full of parrots who talk just for the sake of talking. This guest post is contributed by Kate Cunningham, who writes about online university rankings. She welcomes your questions and comments at her email: email@example.com.
Today's Pope Center piece is the second part of my critique of the recent paper from the Georgetown Center for Education and the Workforce. It focuses on the prevalent notion that much of the labor force in the future will demand workers with "higher skills" and that going to college is the only way for someone to acquire such skills. It's almost amazing that the authors of the paper never pause to consider the impact of credential inflation when they write about the increasing numbers of jobs that "require" a college education. Nor do they ever tell us exactly what knowledge an intelligent high school graduate is lacking that would make it impossible for him to learn and perform most of the jobs that are available.
We hear a lot of chatter about how it's so vital that we get more young Americans through college because college teaches them the "higher skills" that the globalized "knowledge economy" demands. I think that's baloney. For many students, college doesn't even teach the most basic skill of all, namely the ability to write clear English. In this video of a talk presented at the John Locke Foundation, North Carolina State English professor Robert V. Young explains what has happened to freshman comp over the decades. It used to be a lot of hard work (for students and professor), but now.....
Medical school admissions people apparently think that medical training has been going too much toward students with demonstrated aptitude in science and the nation would be better served if more medical students were chosen on other grounds, including geography. In today's Pope Center piece, Duke Cheston, a recent UNC graduate who majored in biology, writes about the shifting emphasis in med school admissions.
In this week's Pope Center Clarion Call, Emory University history professor Patrick Allitt discusses the research finding that college students are putting in less and less time on their coursework, yet expect (and mostly get) high grades. I'm particularly glad to have Professor Allitt comment on this because his 2004 book I'm the Teacher, You're the Student was such an eye-opener, detailing his difficulties in getting students -- at a pretty strong university -- to take the work seriously. You can read my review of his book here.
Most good teachers had a model. Robert Pinsky had Francis Ferguson; Mark Edmundson had Frank Lears. I was lucky; I had two. My Freshman Comp. teacher was Dr. Idelle Sullens, a Stanford-trained medievalist specializing in 14th century literature. But I was mystified to learn that she had also been a naval officer in World War II and Korea. And rumor had it that she was something called a “Daughter of Bilitis.” But what really fractured my high school brain was seeing Dr. Sullens pull up in her brand new `64 Mustang. That I understood, and it elevated her beyond cool. My disturbing discovery was that one could seem professorial but also be startlingly complicated. Two years later, it was the Lincolnesque Beat Generation scholar Tom Parkinson. One drowsy afternoon in Berkeley’s Wheeler Auditorium, Parkinson recited Ezra Pound’s “The River Merchant’s Wife: A Letter”with tears streaming down his partially-paralyzed cheeks (he had been shot in the face by a student). I was embarrassed but also feared that this moment was profound in a way I might never understand. How could he so reveal himself? It took years to learn that throughout one’s life, good literature deepens and grows, accumulating, preserving, and incorporating intense personal associations. Now there are poems I can’t read aloud without leaking tears. Both are gone now, but the spirits of Sullens and Parkinson still gently remind me to be unexpected, singular, complicated, and exposed so that my students will see that one day they can do the same.
Princeton's Russ Nieli has an illuminating essay on Minding the Campus entitled "How Diversity Punishes Asians, Poor Whites and Lots of Others." It absolutely knocks the stuffing out of the contention we hear so often from college administrators that their reason for using certain preferences is that a more "diverse" student body will enhance learning and break down stereotypes. If they actually wanted to do that, they would look for students who really do bring different beliefs and perspectives and would drop the bias Nieli shows against students from military families, those who have been active in groups like 4H, and so on. They aren't looking for Justice Powell's phantom "educational benefits of diversity" but are merely looking to fill quotas. Nieli advocates that elite colleges get over their diversity mania and follow what he calls the Cal Tech model: focus on enrolling students who are the most academically talented and the most eager to learn.
George, thanks for sharing the Pope Center piece on student evaluations. I thought this paragraph was especially poignant:
Today’s student-survey approach may tell us how students viewed the course, but the data tell us nothing about actual learning. It is not that questionnaire designers disdain knowledge; they just cannot measure it, and thus they exclude a key element of teaching. Ironically, universities can now hire or retain teachers who impart nothing of value but have superb ratings.
Incidentally, NAS published an article by Peter Cohee on student evaluations last week. Cohee concluded:
A decade spent writing evaluations of public school teachers has brought me to this disillusion: evaluations as they are don't make teachers better, don't get rid of bad teachers, aren't needed by good teachers, and don't improve schools or student learning. They tend to induce cynicism and to engender ill will between the teacher and the evaluator. They are an almost complete waste of the enormous time, energy, and money spent on them.
He argued that several factors render evaluations useless:
Cohee offers some concrete suggestions for making evaluation meaningful and effective.
“The list of academically and morally corrupt practices that ensue from our inability to adhere to our own standards is rather long. One of our worst offenses is that we admit, and re-admit students absolutely unqualified and absolutely incapable of achieving a college degree. Many go into debt or cause their families to go into debt into [sic] order to attempt a college degree. This is an absolutely corrupt practice and it may be criminal. If we have done this to even one student, then we are guilty of a low form of corruption."
In this week's Pope Center Clarion Call, I write about an enlightening lawsuit involving a demoted dean's allegation that his school deliberately trashed its academic standards to help retain weak students. My argument is that colleges and universities have been doing this for decades, but have usually been subtle enough not to get caught (or sued, at least). The case also highlights the need to employ what economists call "Public Choice" theory -- i.e., the assumption that public officials will generally make decisions that are in their own interest rather than for "the public good"--when we think about the actions of college officials.
Katherine Kersten brings back an old topic on this blog: dispositions theory in education. There's a new design of teacher education at the University of Minnesota, she says:
The initiative is premised, in part, on the conviction that Minnesota teachers' lack of "cultural competence" contributes to the poor academic performance of the state's minority students. Last spring, it charged the task group with coming up with recommendations to change this. In January, planners will review the recommendations and decide how to proceed. The report advocates making race, class and gender politics the "overarching framework" for all teaching courses at the U. It calls for evaluating future teachers in both coursework and practice teaching based on their willingness to fall into ideological lockstep.
We were last down this road in 2005 during the KC Johnson controversy at Brooklyn College. Yet it continues unabated. At SCSU students in educational administration or in child and family studies have a form to fill out if they see a disposition that doesn't meet the professional standards. In the former field, if you "express an inability or unwillingness to work with some people" and "avoid collaboration", you have an area of need to work on. Teachers in graduate studies get courses in which their competencies are assessed to determine if they consider "multiple perspectives and willingness to challenge and analyze one’s own perspectives given alternatives" and "respond to items regarding lens of social justice and dispositions." Johnson reported on this blog last month that these Minnesota criteria are being highlighted at exactly the moment NCATE, the teachers' accrediting body, is turning away from them. So maybe this won't last for much longer around here.
A couple of weeks ago, I started reading the new book Crossing the Finish Line, which purports to make the case for getting a lot more young Americans not only into, but through college. Almost immediately, I got stuck on the authors' assumption that college does much to increase the human capital of students. That assumption is crucial to their case, but I think it's highly questionable. Many colleges and universities are chiefly interested in processing through as many bodies as possible and have therefore watered down their standards to the point where students can pass courses with only the mental toolkit they had in high school. In athletics, the saying is "No pain, no gain." To keep weak and indifferent students happy, a lot of schools make it possible to get through college without any pain. Whether college adds to human capital or is just a costly period of marching in place is the subject of my Pope Center Clarion Call piece today.
The NAS has long and wisely opposed the use of racial, ethnic, or other criteria unrelated to merit in (among other aspects of campus life) student recruitment and admissions. Those who support this view will find troubling the following requirement embedded in House Speaker Nancy Pelosi's 1,990-page health-care bill, which as I write she is trying to bring to a vote, and which fomer Lt. Governor of New York Betsy McCaughey, writing in The Wall Street Journal, has unearthed:
Secs. 2521 and 2533 (pp. 1379 and 1437) establishes racial and ethnic preferences in awarding grants for training nurses and creating secondary-school health science programs. For example, grants for nursing schools should "give preference to programs that provide for improving the diversity of new nurse graduates to reflect changes in the demographics of the patient population." And secondary-school grants should go to schools "graduating students from disadvantaged backgrounds including racial and ethnic minorities."
The academic community en masse should, but of course won't, reject such heavy-handed and unfair federal manipulation of student admissions in the name of diversity. This bill - among its other ill effects - will only add to division and lowered academic standards throughout our educational institutions.
At my college alone:
Professors have complained about student shortcomings for millennia but something new is going on here. I see two questions: How is it that the Internet’s “information super library” co-exists with, and is the playground of, what Mark Bauerlein calls “the dumbest generation?” And what is our role as professors when students display a fatal lack of elementary cultural, historical, political knowledge? Do we ignore it or do we try to address it? In my experience, most of us try to ameliorate the new vacuity—we are teachers, after all. But the problem seems so convoluted and systemic that we immediately face the question: “Where do I begin?” In each of the above cases, the professor interrupted his or her college-level lesson and college-level responsibilities. The philosopher, for example, decided to embark on a mini-course in Civics, taking his tabula rasa students on a quick tour of our nation’s founding and the establishment of the upper and lower houses. But only at the cost of the logic lesson. And the lingering question is: how do you arrive at 18 years of age not knowing how many states there are? No finger pointing at K-12. Ignorance does not mean that students have not encountered the knowledge before—it just doesn’t stick. In my Department, we are finding it harder and harder to teach anything that requires more than one class session. Frequently, what students heard on Monday has evaporated by Wednesday. At least the philosopher could solve his instant problem by supplying the absent knowledge, but the other examples are even more troubling. Consider the history student who felt herself competent to pass judgment on something that didn’t happen. She did not have a lack of knowledge, but a mix of garbled data and assumptions that she thought WAS knowledge. It’s one thing to realize that you don’t know something but it’s another thing entirely to think that you do know something which turns out to be absurdly, ridiculously wrong. The decline in student knowledge is bad enough but the replacement of student knowledge with junk and noise is worse because it provides the illusion of knowledge. How much class time would it take me to correct the one-in-ten Americans who believe that Joan of Arc was Noah’s wife? Where would I even begin?