23.2.11

CHANGE WE CAN BELIEVE IN.  Washington Post columnist Daniel de Vise adopts the Cold Spring Shops position on higher education.  (Each link goes to that segment of the manifesto.)


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1. Measure student learning | 2. End merit aid | 3. Three-year degrees | 4. Core curriculum | 5. More homework | 6. Encourage completion | 7. Cap athletic subsidies | 8. Rethink remediation | Which idea is best? Vote now.
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I exaggerate, but only slightly.  We could spar over national assessment tests (markets are environments in which evaluation and selection is forever at work) or merit aid (don't admit unprepared people and the issue goes away), but your Superintendent is not going to argue with "Generations of Americans went to college to learn a common core of human knowledge: Plato's 'Republic.' Darwin's 'Origin of Species.' 'The Iliad' and 'The Odyssey.' The rise and fall of Greece and Rome. Enough Latin to read the school motto and enough Shakespeare to drop quotes at cocktail parties."  Nor with "Students don't work as hard because they don't have to."  Nor with "Stop re-teaching high school in community college."  It's not quite sending the high schools a bill for the remedial students they heave up, but when the status quo isn't working ...

The dean at Anonymous Community and Historiann are both holding bull sessions.

If one of the house organs of the Eastern Liberal Establishment isn't enough, consider an essay along similar lines in the house organ of the Academic Establishment.
What good does it do to increase the number of students in college if the ones who are already there are not learning much? Would it not make more sense to improve the quality of education before we increase the quantity of students?
Turf out the disengaged and the party animals and the time servers and it's no longer a before and after.  But when The Chronicle of Higher Education takes up the cry of unprepared students and administrative bloat, it's a good day at Cold Spring Shops.
Increasingly, undergraduates are not prepared adequately in any academic area but often arrive with strong convictions about their abilities. So college professors routinely encounter students who have never written anything more than short answers on exams, who do not read much at all, who lack foundational skills in math and science, yet are completely convinced of their abilities and resist any criticism of their work, to the point of tears and tantrums: "But I earned nothing but A's in high school," and "Your demands are unreasonable." Such a combination makes some students nearly unteachable.
Sometimes it's up to professors to develop a spine.

Everybody who is drafted by the Green Bay Packers got some votes for the all-conference team.  But some of those all-conference types will still get the request to see the coach and bring your playbook.  And everybody who enrolls in a top graduate program has a transcript from somewhere with high grades.  But some people can't manage income and substitution effects.
As the college-age population declines, many tuition-driven institutions struggle to find enough paying customers to balance their budgets. That makes it necessary to recruit even more unprepared students, who then must be retained, shifting the burden for academic success away from the student and on to the teacher. Faculty members can work with an individual student, if they have time, but the capabilities of the student population as a whole define the average level of rigor that is sustainable in the classroom. At some institutions, graduation rates are so high because the academic expectations are so low. Failing a lot of students is a serious risk, financially, for the college and the professor.
Access, assessment, remediation, retention, subprime.  Meanwhile striving students who lack the finances or the social connections to get into an institution where some of their classmates might be smart and motivated, even if the curriculum is coreless or trendy, end up in the academic gulags.
 Contingent faculty members, who are paid so little, routinely teach course loads that are impossible to sustain without cutting a lot of corners. One would think that tenured faculty members, at least, would have the time to focus on student learning, but, as the proportion of tenured professors has declined, the service expectations on the ones remaining have increased considerably, turning a growing number of tenured professors into part-time administrators. At the same time, research expectations for tenure-track faculty members have escalated steadily. Teaching becomes a distraction from the activities that are most highly rewarded. The easiest way to save time in the classroom is to limit assignments that require personalized feedback and to give grades that are higher than students expect.
My mood would be better if more students would read, understand, and act on the feedback they do receive.  It would be better if there were fewer trendy projects, started with great fanfare only to be abandoned, that suck up faculty time endlessly tweaking the wording on documents that will later be misplaced or ignored.  It would be better if I could carve out a few more hours of thinking time.
Students may be enjoying high self-esteem, but college teachers seem to be suffering from a lack of self-confidence. It starts in graduate school, when we begin to fear we are destined for unemployment, when we compare our pay with that of comparably educated professionals, and when we realize that—for all the sacrifices that we've made, often with idealistic motives—we are held in slight regard. Many people even think of us as subversives who "hate America." During the latest economic crisis—perhaps the endpoint of a 40-year slide—many of us have felt as if we've become expendable, if we are employed at all. That makes it hard for us to make strong demands on our students, or, perhaps more important, to stand up for any kind of change in our institutions.
This last point is a call for faculty to develop a spine. Tenure might lead to compensating salary differentials. It is also an opportunity to show good stewardship of the institution, perhaps by saying no when it's required.

After the Establishment's case, the Pope Center's proposal for North Carolina looks moderate.
In order to ensure that budget cuts lead to better quality and efficiency, we recommend that the following six criteria be used to determine whether to reduce or eliminate appropriations: 1) reducing excessive costs or excessive growth, 2) improving quality, 3) eliminating politicization, 4) eliminating “mission creep,” 5) eliminating redundancy, and 6) eliminating programs no longer needed due to changing conditions.
Not time to declare victory and go home, but perhaps time to go work on the railroad for a while.

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