Tuesday, August 03, 2010

'Higher Education' Is A Waste Of Money

An old-fashioned call below for critical thinking to be encouraged. The guy hasn't got a hope. Indoctrination is the new aim of education. Just mention global warming in almost any American classroom and you will soon see the truth of that

Professor Andrew Hacker says that higher education in the U.S. is broken. He argues that too many undergraduate courses are taught by graduate assistants or professors who have no interest in teaching.

Hacker proposes numerous changes, including an end to the tenure system, in his book, Higher Education?

"Tenure is lifetime employment security, in fact, into the grave" Hacker tells NPR's Tony Cox. The problem, as he sees it, is that the system "works havoc on young people," who must be incredibly cautious throughout their years in school as graduate students and young professors, "if they hope to get that gold ring."

That's too high a cost, Hacker and his co-author, Claudia Dreifus, conclude. "Regretfully," Hacker says, "tenure is more of a liability than an asset."

Book excerpt:

Our concern, both in this book and for the world at large, is with the undergraduate years. We regard this as a span when young people are sufficiently mature yet still not fully formed, when they can begin to discover themselves and take on the universe. But before we go into particulars, we'd like to specify what we do not regard as higher education's obligations.

• As we've noted, we want to distinguish education from training. Today's young people are likely to live to be ninety. So there is no need for them to start preparing themselves for careers while they are in their teens. We join Diane Ravitch, who laments that "American higher education has remade itself into a vast job-training program." Indeed, since the mid-1960s, English majors have dropped 51 percent in relation to all degrees, history has experienced a 55 percent decline, and students opting for mathematics are down a whopping 74 percent, despite a putative demand for high-tech experts.

• Nor do we feel undergraduate years should be an apprenticeship for a PhD, let alone a first step toward an academic career. We feel obliged to say this because too many college courses center on topics of interest only to professors. But professors don't have a monopoly on erudition. We believe that the arts and sciences, properly understood, must have a broader and deeper base.

• Perhaps the best way to get support for higher education, or so it is thought, is to warn that the United States is falling behind other nations in skills needed in a competitive world. But the alarms so resoundingly sounded don't decry that we are lagging in philosophy or the humanities. Rather, it's that in countries like China, India, and Korea more students are specializing in the sciences and engineering. The worry is that our workforce —including college graduates —isn't ready for a high-tech age. At this point, we'd only ask, if our economy needs more scientists and engineers, why students aren't enrolling?

• Please give us a hearing while we suggest that a purpose of college is not to make students into better citizens. Of course, we'd like everyone to be committed to their communities. But we aren't convinced that we should look to colleges to instill "the knowledge needed to be a reasonably informed citizen in a democracy," as Harvard's Derek Bok puts it. The unstated assumption here is that people who have attended college will end up being better citizens than those who have not.

For our part, we're not that sure that the kinds of insights and information imparted in college classrooms lead to a higher quality of civic engagement. Nor should we forget highly educated cadres described as "the best and the brightest" have plunged us into unwinnable wars and onto economic shoals. For our own part, we haven't found that ballots cast by college graduates express more cogent thinking than the votes of other citizens. Even now, as a nation, are we more thoughtful than the Illinois farmers who stood for three hours as they pondered the Lincoln-Douglas debates?

• Or listen to Shirley Tilghman, Princeton's president, speaking at its 2009 commencement: "Princeton invests its considerable resources in its students in the belief that we are preparing young men and women to become leaders and change the world for the better."

Had we been there, we're sure we would have applauded. Still, to our mind, leadership refers to a willingness and ability to rouse people to a party, a purpose, a cause. Here, too, we're not convinced that what happens in classrooms or on campuses nurtures leaders more than other settings — than, for example, back roads of the Mississippi Delta or lettuce fields in California. We will agree that college graduates are more likely to attain positions where they rank ahead of others. Yet if Princeton and other colleges boast strong contingents of such people, most of them got to their corner offices by being appointed or promoted. If that's all Shirley Tilghman meant, we can agree.

What do we think should happen at college? We want young people to use their minds as they never have before, thinking hard about realities and issues that strain their mental powers. They should be urged to be imaginative and inquiring, to take risks without having to worry about their transcripts or alienating their teachers. To quote a friend, colleges should be making their undergraduates more interesting people. Higher education is an ongoing conversation, created for students poised at adulthood, which can and will continue throughout their lives.

This is a natural process, one for which young people are already fitted. After all, curiosity comes with being human. The problem today is that too much college teaching seeks to channel thinking into tight academic grooves. That is why we've deliberately avoided using terms like cognitive and analytic, or phrases like critical thinking and moral reasoning. There's nothing inherently wrong with these rubrics, it's just that they've been recast to force freshmen to view the world through professorial prisms.

In fact, there are thousands of undergraduate teachers who regard education as a lively interchange. We have sat, admiringly, in many of their classes. Yet few of them are recognized beyond their campuses, since they haven't conducted the research their disciplinary peers demand. So we'll cite some better-known models. There is Princeton's Paul Krugman, a Nobel Laureate, who makes economics explicable in the New York Times. Or Jill Lepore of Harvard, who brings history to life for readers of The New Yorker. Cosmologist Lawrence Krauss of Arizona State University, who loves meeting with high school students and brings his Nobelist friends to chat with them. These professors do not set boundaries between how they address a general audience and what they do in their classrooms. For them — and for us — it's all higher education.


Thousands left confused by British grade-school results

The war on assessment goes on. Teachers hate it because it exposes incompetent teaching and parents hate it when it shows that their little treasure is no genius: "He was just having a bad day/month/year"

Children and parents will be left in confusion as national Sats results and teacher assessments for around 600,000 pupils are published together on Tuesday for the first time, education experts have warned. Pupils who sat this year’s exams face being awarded different marks in the same subject if teachers’ appraisals do not match their test scores.

Sats were designed to give parents an indication of the academic standard their child has reached and to help schools stream pupils into the correct classes. Teachers now assess each pupil’s performance over the year and grade them based on their overall ability.

But confusion arose after Ed Balls, the education secretary at the time, decided last November to publish the two sets of national figures side by side. The move was designed to placate unions which had threatened to boycott the exams after teachers claimed they were forced to drop subjects including art, history, geography and PE in the final year of primary school and drill pupils to pass the tests.

A quarter of England’s 15,000 primaries refused to stage the exams in May, meaning pupils at around 4,000 schools will be judged on their teachers’ assessments alone.

There were calls last night for the Government to publish one set of results. Prof Alan Smithers, from the University of Buckingham, said: “Publishing the two sets of results together is confusing. If you are getting contradictory results that is a problem. But it is also information overload and what we need is good, simple, reliable information.”

Anastasia de Waal, the head of family and education at the think tank Civitas, said: “We would be much better off sticking with one system. “Testing needs to be a snapshot of what the children are learning, whereas at the moment all they are learning is the snapshot.”

Sats for 14 year-olds were scrapped along with the science exam for 11 year-olds after teachers complained they had to teach to the test, leaving gaps in the curriculum. Many secondary schools retest pupils in their first few weeks because they do not view Sats results as an accurate measure of ability.

Parents also called for the exams to be abolished, arguing that they were an unreliable measure of children’s ability. Margaret Morrissey, the founder of Parents Outloud, a campaign group, said: “Sats really should not exist. Most children do not perform that well under pressure. “It is a big possibility that they may get two different marks, and parents will be even more confused by this system than before.”

Sats tests were introduced for 11 year-olds in 1995. Teachers have been asked to assess their pupils individually since 1996, with these unofficial results released to parents alongside the test score.

Unions warned last night that pupils might receive worse marks from teachers than in their exams because they were unable to fulfil their potential in a curriculum geared towards the test.

One in five pupils could be given the wrong grade in Sats papers due to inconsistent marking, the exam watchdog Ofqual warned last month.

Michael Gove, the Education Secretary, has admitted there are “flaws within the current testing system” and is committed to a review.


A Damascene conversion for the Australian Labor Party?

How come the centralizers have discovered decentralization?

PRIME Minister Julia Gillard might describe herself as an atheist. But yesterday's speech arguing that principals and parents should be given the freedom to manage their own schools represents a road-to-Damascus experience when it comes to empowering school communities.

While the Prime Minister's statement that a re-elected ALP government will work "to ensure that core decisions that make the most difference to student outcomes are devolved to schools" is commendable, Gillard's record as minister for education proves that her epiphany is more about political opportunism than conviction.

It also smacks of catch-up politics when the ALP releases a policy giving principals power over their schools just weeks after the Tony Abbott-led opposition promised to give school leaders control over school infrastructure spending - a policy condemned by federal Education Minister Simon Crean. During Gillard's time in charge of education, even though schools are a state's responsibility and the commonwealth government neither employs teachers nor manages schools, all roads led to Canberra and, as a result, classrooms have been paralysed by a command-and-control model of education.

During her nearly three years in charge of education, Gillard championed a raft of centrally inspired programs involving a national curriculum and assessment regime, national literacy and numeracy testing and a national approach to teacher registration and certification.

It's widely accepted that the Rudd-Gillard education revolution is inflexible and statist in its approach. Not surprisingly, the eminent educationalist Brian Caldwell from the University of Melbourne, gives the education revolution 2/10 for school autonomy and 1/10 for introducing models of innovative school governance. Across Australia, primary as well as secondary principal professional organisations have bemoaned the educational straitjacket being imposed by the ALP's education revolution and called for increased school autonomy.

One cannot but conclude that any Gillard-inspired school autonomy program, not starting until 2012 and only with a sample of schools, will be a Clayton's one. The promise to give school principals and parents freedom and flexibility at the local level amounts to nothing if schools are constrained and shackled by the type of government directives and demands exemplified by the ALP's education revolution.

Best illustrated by the fate of government schools under the Building the Education Revolution fiasco, the result of Gillard's approach is that state schools are denied the power to manage their affairs and tailor programs and initiatives to best suit their needs.

Whereas Catholic and independent schools, given the freedom and flexibility they have, are able to deliver school infrastructure efficiently and economically, government schools have been plagued by dodgy deals, cost over-runs and white elephants.

Yesterday's admission by Gillard that "without control over decision-making, principals are limited in their ability to respond to problems and are impeded in attempts to improve educational outcomes for their students" makes a good deal of sense.

Unfortunately, it comes too late for government schools shackled with useless infrastructure, and cannot absolve her of the failure to give state schools the power to properly implement the BER program over the past two years.

Doubts about yesterday's conversion to school autonomy in the middle of an election campaign, three weeks before judgment day, are reinforced by Gillard's inaction on the issue during her term as minister for education.

Under the Howard government a report was commissioned into school leadership and principal autonomy, undertaken by Educational Transformations and completed in December 2007. The report, based on national and international research, concluded that school autonomy was critical for raising standards, and that Australian principals are concerned about the adverse effect of the centralising of control over education.

Not only did Gillard, while she was minister for education, bury the report for nearly two years, finally releasing it in November 2009, but the Labor government has failed to adopt any of the report's recommendations.

At the 2007 election, the then Rudd opposition promised to give every senior school student a computer and to build a trade centre in every secondary school; neither promise has been fully implemented.

There must also be doubts whether the promise on school autonomy will ever be delivered. As the NSW ALP-led government learned a couple of years ago when it attempted to allow principals to hire and reward staff, the Australian Education Union is vehemently opposed to giving state schools control over their own destiny.

It's no secret that the AEU regularly campaigns in support of the ALP, injecting millions into marginal seats campaigns and funding anti-Coalition advertising. If the ALP is re-elected, it should not be a surprise if the promise to deliver school autonomy is put on the back burner and that it disappears into the byzantine bureaucracy represented by bodies such as the Council of Australian Governments.


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