Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Conservative students more practically oriented

Colleges have been increasingly competing to offer "family friendly" policies - in the hopes of attracting the best academic talent from a pool of Ph.D.'s that includes both more women than ever before as well as many men who take parenting responsibilities seriously. A new study suggests that such policies may be important for another group that believes its needs aren't fully addressed in academe: conservatives.

The study - "Left Pipeline: Why Conservatives Don't Get Doctorates" - argues that the much debated minority status for conservatives in higher education may be the result of differing priorities of graduating college seniors of different political persuasions. The study presents evidence that conservatives are significantly more likely than liberals - at the point when college students decide whether to apply to graduate school - to value raising a family and having money. In contrast, liberals at that point in their lives are significantly more likely to value writing original works.

The authors of the study do not dispute that conservatives are a distinct minority in academe and that the imbalance is problematic. They also hold open the possibility - much proclaimed by other authors at the conference of the American Enterprise Institute where all of the work was presented - that there may be bias against conservatives (although they question whether this has been proven). But the authors of the work on the pipeline say there is considerable evidence that could show conservative self-selection out of academic careers.

"We're not suggesting causality," said Matthew Woessner, an assistant professor of public policy at Pennsylvania State University at Harrisburg. "There's much more work that needs to be done." But he said that the evidence in the paper pointed away from any one explanation for the ideological imbalance. "There's a lot of nuance in the findings. What we are showing is that there are a lot of little pieces that contribute to the overall imbalance, not one single thing," he said. Woessner wrote the paper with April Kelly-Woessner, an associate professor of political science at Elizabethtown College.

The husband-and-wife social science team based their findings on analysis they did from national surveys of freshmen and seniors conducted by the University of California at Los Angeles's Higher Education Research Institute. They found that in both choices of majors and in personal values, conservatives seem to be taking themselves off the track for academic careers well before graduate school. The authors did not find evidence of statistically significant differences in grades or measures of academic performance, so most of the report is based on the premise that interests and experiences are at play, not aptitude.

For starters, the paper finds that conservatives are much more likely to pick majors in professional fields - areas that tend to put students on the fast track for an M.B.A. (or for a job) more than a Ph.D. Only 9 percent of students on the far left and 18 percent of liberals major in professional fields, compared to 33 percent of conservatives and 37 percent of those who identify as being on the far right.

Further, the study finds that not only (as has been reported many times previously) do students who identify as liberal outnumber those who identify as conservative, but that those who are liberal are much more likely to consider a Ph.D. The UCLA survey of seniors found that only 13 percent of all students were considering a Ph.D. But the numbers were significantly higher for those on the left (24 percent of the far left and 18 percent of liberals) than on the right (11 percent of the far right and 9 percent of conservatives).

More here

"Doctorates" in name only

Crappy teacher-training colleges again

Arthur Levine, former President of Columbia University's Teachers College, has issued a no-holds barred critique of doctoral-level research in the nation's colleges of education. The report is pretty long and technical, but the punch line is significant for both parents and policymakers. The short story is that our colleges of education are giving Ph.D.s to researchers who aren't qualified to hold a Ph.D. These people, in turn, are providing the research on which public school policy decisions and teacher training is based.

Levine surveyed deans, faculty, education school alumni, K-12 school principals, and reviewed 1,300 doctoral dissertations and finds the research seriously lacking. He ultimately recommends that policymakers close many doctoral programs at education colleges and instead suggests a two-year M.B.A. type of degree for would-be school administrators.

Just how bad is the quality of doctoral-level research in colleges of education? Levine's review doesn't pull any punches: In general, the research questions were unworthy of a doctoral dissertation, literature reviews were dated and cursory, study designs were seriously flawed, samples were small and particularistic, confounding variables were not taken into account, perceptions were commonly used as proxies for reality, statistical analyses were performed frequently on meaningless data, and conclusions and recommendations were often superficial and without merit...

Frederick Hess, education policy director at the American Enterprise Institute, reported on papers presented by college of education faculty from around the country at their most recent national scholarly convention. Hess had more than a little fun with paper titles such as "Identity, Positioning, Knowledge, and Rhetoric in the Pedagogical Practices of Elderly African-American Bridge Players" and "The Educational Lives of Alaska Native Alumni of the University of Alaska-Anchorage."

There were even papers on outer space, such as "Education Policy, Space, and the `Colonial Present.'" Beam me up, Scotty. This might all go for a good laugh, if it weren't for the fact that these are your tax dollars at work, and that college of education faculty have the rather serious task of training future teachers.

In his report, Levine writes, "Most universities, after a barrage of reports over the past two decades on the need to strengthen teacher education, did little or nothing." Levine notes that many universities use colleges of education as a "cash cow"-enrolling far more students than they should by lowering admissions requirements for the program, while simultaneously cutting education college expenses.

I recently reviewed the course requirements at Arizona State University for teacher certification. ASU's elementary education program requires as many hours in fine arts as it requires in reading instruction. This in a state where 44 percent of fourth graders are functionally illiterate.

In 1998, Massachusetts required an academic skills exam for prospective teachers near the completion of their college careers. Fifty-nine percent failed the test. The state Board of Education chairman rated the exam at about the eighth grade level. Newspapers reported misspellings worthy of 9-year-olds, an inability to describe nouns and verbs, and the inability to define words such as `imminent.'

Clearly, a complete rethinking of teacher training and certification is overdue. But the need for reform goes far beyond simply revamping college of education courses and admissions standards and opening up new routes to teacher certification. Policymakers must make the teaching profession itself more attractive to academically talented students, vast swathes of whom avoid the profession completely.

There was a time when schools benefited from gender discrimination, but those days are over. Bright and capable women today rightly have their pick of career opportunities, and are unlikely to enter a profession completely divorced from any recognition of merit. Teachers typically receive compensation based upon a union negotiated pay scale that recognizes length of service, not effectiveness.

Education schools are cash cows for universities, and the public education system is a cash cow for unions. The beneficiaries of the status quo have thrown children and taxpayers under the hooves of a stampede. If we want our children to have access to the education they need, improved teacher training, new routes to teacher certification, and a compensation system that rewards merit must be pieces of the puzzle.


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