Friday, November 25, 2005


Some straight-shooting comments on American higher education lifted from Stephen Karlson, who is in a position to know. Lots of links worth following

University Diaries recommends this Neal McCluskey column in National Review. Mr McCluskey is skeptical about the Spellings Commission on Higher Education doing anything substantive.

In September, U.S. Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings announced the formation of a commission tasked with designing a "national strategy for higher education" to prepare us for the 21st century.

The commission is composed entirely of people in academia, government or big business, all of whom benefit when taxpayer money is shoveled into higher education. Its recommendations are therefore almost a foregone conclusion: The federal government should spend more on student aid supposedly to ensure, as Spellings demands, that we have a workforce for the 21st century, and on "basic" research that businesses want done but on which they would rather not risk their own money.

Of course, with a unified national strategy two more things will come: federal control of academia and an end to the competition for students that has driven innovation in American higher education and made it the envy of the world. It's the worst thing we could do according to a recent analysis by The Economist, which concluded that for a higher education system to succeed, it must "first: diversify [its] sources of income" and "second: let a thousand academic flowers bloom. Universities. should have to compete for customers."

Unfortunately, we are heading in the opposite direction. Think No Child Left Behind for the Ivy League. "Many people don't realize that federal dollars. make up about one-third of our nation's total annual investment in higher education," Secretary Spellings declared as she announced the formation of her commission. "By comparison, the federal government's investment in K-12 education represents less than 10 percent of total spending. But unlike K-12 education, we don't really ask many questions about what we're getting for our investment in higher education."

If the commission is going to be anything other than an exercise in public choice, it behooves interested parties to suggest courses of action and point out omissions.

The academy is broken, and the commission ought to understand why.

The commission ought to know, for example, about universities diversifying their sources of income by rescheduling football games to suit the broadcasters at ESPN and competing for customers with climbing walls, coreless curricula, and nonexistent admission standards. A post at the American Council of Trustees and Alumni lays down a marker.
As part of her ongoing investigation into American higher education, Margaret Spellings ought to consider the incuriousness of contemporary college students alongside the decline of liberal education and the spiralling costs of a bachelor's degree. It's a difficult, perhaps impossible, thing to quantify, but it is nonetheless a phenomenon that is every bit as current as the declining quality of higher education, and every bit as troubling. If we are to reform American higher education in a meaningful way, it will not be enough simply to reshape curriculum and costs along idealized lines. It will be necessary to envision this reshaping in the context of the modern undergraduate's intellectual sensibility. It cannot be taken for granted that this sensibility is inherently curious, inherently interested in learning, or inherently responsive either to the spirit of inquiry or to the more mundane spirit of intellectual respectability. Liberal education, in its tradition conception, is predicated on the idea that those engaged in it care deeply about questions, about exploring ideas, about discovery; it also presumes that those engaged in it want very much to acquire a breadth and depth of general knowledge that will save them from personal and professional embarrassment later on; it also assumes implicitly that a desire to avoid shame animates on some level students' quest for cultural literacy. Students must bring a certain type of determination, as well as a certain horror of ignorance, to their studies if liberal education is to be successful. In the absence of that determination, it's a real question whether liberal education may properly be said to exist.
The commission ought to know that a conclusion satisfactory to everybody may not be possible. There are two posts at SCSU Scholars that bear on workforce preparation and the future of higher education. One focuses on the continuing difficulties businesses face in finding skilled workers.
Firms are spending more in making investments in their own workforce. This demand for skilled labor will quite possibly also lead to increased demand for older workers, which would soften the blow raising retirement ages or the age at which one qualifies fully for Social Security. Indeed, what sense does it make to give skilled labor an incentive to not work?
What does that say about the academy's efforts at workforce development, all those business majors notwithstanding?

Another post links to a temporarily free Chronicle of Higher Education article on the battle between the University of Wisconsin System and the Wisconsin Legislature.
Along with paying a price for some political and management decisions that its own administrators concede were ill advised, the Wisconsin system appears to be feeling a backlash from broader higher-education trends. Those include rising tuition and admissions requirements, which have left many Wisconsinites feeling shut out of the system; tight state budgets and escalating costs, which have brought its expenditures under intense scrutiny; and a growing divide between the culture of colleges and the way the rest of society thinks and operates.
You think?

Much of the article touches on Culture Wars topics where the university appears to have done everything possible to be as transgressive as possible. But focus on this:
The system's enrollments from working-class and poor families have dropped substantially, and both Republican and Democratic lawmakers say taxpayers complain that many campuses have shut out their children by raising their tuition and admissions standards too high.
Herein lies a conflict the commission ought to be aware of. To the extent that university degrees augment human capital, those degrees are private benefits, and it makes economic sense for the beneficiary to bear the burden. To the extent that more rigorous curricula augment human capital, it makes economic sense for the university to avoid enrolling "clients" whose primary interest is getting wasted. And perhaps the local common schools have failed at their job of preparing Wisconsin's children for college.

Finally, the commission ought to know that the academy's common practice of admitting the unprepared and calling it "access" is sapping the morale of the faculty. Although each of the following sites is anonymous, allowing the poster to get away with characterizations of students that I consider impolitic, the frustration, irritation, and attempts at grim humor brought about by the antics of the unprepared, who nonetheless consider themselves entitled, are clear enough


If it weren't for brave teachers from overseas -- particularly Australia -- lots of London schools would be very short of teachers

The Government has missed its target for the recruitment of trainee teachers in priority subjects despite millions of pounds spent on "golden hellos" and other incentives. Graduates in modern languages, science and mathematics are continuing to reject teaching as a career, according to official figures released yesterday. The target set by the Department for Education was missed by nine per cent in the seven subject areas designated as "priority" because too few young people were willing and qualified to teach them.

The least successful recruitment was in modern languages, where the target was missed by 17 per cent, or 323 trainee places. In maths, the target was missed by 12 per cent, 292 recruits, and in science it was missed by seven per cent, 214 recruits. Trainees in these priority subjects receive special payments of between o2,500 and o5,000 after their first year and can command higher salaries.

Competition from other sectors for a dwindling number of graduates in these key areas was a factor, said the Teacher Training and Development Agency, which oversees recruitment and training. In addition, the trend towards "studies" and combined degrees, such as French with business studies or degrees in forensic science instead of chemistry or physics has led to fewer graduates with sufficient knowledge to teach the subjects, the agency says.

It is to provide 14-week "booster" courses next year for a total of 700 graduates with science and language-related degrees where the amount of subject knowledge required is insufficient to meet the entry requirements for post-graduate teacher training courses.

Ed Davey, for the Liberal Democrats, said young people were being discouraged from teaching by Whitehall's "micro-management" of the classroom. "This Government spews out initiatives, strategies and White Papers but can't get the basics right," he said. "More teachers in maths, science and modern languages are critical to improving secondary education. "This ought to be a far higher priority than structural change."


Disillusioned Australian mother opens own school

A mother of four disillusioned with the Victoria's primary schools has opened her own. Elisa Russell began the primary school, called Hypatia, last month after being unhappy with her children's progress. "We have had experiences with alternative and mainstream education but it just didn't work for us," Mrs Russell said. "We pulled the kids out and I home-schooled them as we started looking around, but we just didn't find anything that suited us as a family. "So we decided we would open a school and try a pilot program with our kids."

Mrs Russell said her three eldest children - Eleanor, 6, Fionnbarr, 5, and Greer, 4 - are the school's only students and are taught by one teacher. But she is hoping to enrol another 15 students next year and hire another two teachers. Mrs Russell said the school is based on Socratic education - treating children as thinkers rather than empty vessels, and allowing them to find the truth for themselves. "The most ground-breaking thing about the school is that it is one teacher to five students," she said. Mrs Russell, 33, also said the school would group students and teach them based on academic level, not age.

Annual fees would start from $9000 for three days a week and $12,000 for five days a week. Mrs Russell said the school was also family friendly, with more flexible hours than traditional schools. She said she has had huge interest in the school, with more than 50 calls from interested parents. The school is renting classrooms from Alia College's secondary campus in Hawthorn.

Mrs Russell said her children were loving it. "For the children it is going fantastically," she said. "Academically they are doing very well, but any child would excel in that environment where there is one-on-one learning with teachers."

Mrs Russell said she was applying to register the school with the Registered Schools Board of Victoria but it was expected to take some time. She said until the registration came through they could teach up to 15 students because it was classed as a home schooling environment.



For greatest efficiency, lowest cost and maximum choice, ALL schools should be privately owned and run -- with government-paid vouchers for the poor and minimal regulation.

The NEA and similar unions worldwide believe that children should be thoroughly indoctrinated with Green/Left, feminist/homosexual ideology but the "3 R's" are something that kids should just be allowed to "discover"

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