Striking adjuncts

If adjuncts want more workplace rights, they have to take them. As Inside HigherEd reports, “That message was echoed throughout a discussion on non-tenure-track faculty rights here Monday at the Coalition of Contingent Academic Labor, or COCAL, conference. It’s being held this week at John Jay College of Criminal Justice of the City University of New York.

“The biennial gathering draws participants from the U.S., Mexico and Canada, and adjunct activist panelists from all three countries advocated striking as a real and valid means of achieving short- and long-term goals.

“Unless and until faculty, including part-time faculty, hit the streets and occupy the classrooms,” said Stanley Aronowitz, a tenured professor of sociology and urban education at the CUNY Graduate Center, “there won’t be any change of substance.”imgres-1

“Aronowitz, who has worked as an adjunct professor several times throughout his career, said this idea applied even in those states where collective bargaining or strikes among public employees is prohibited by law. Faculty members at Nassau Community College who went on strike last year over protracted contract negotiations paid hefty fines for violating New York State’s Taylor Law, for example. (Under the law, the union was permitted to engage in collective bargaining, but not to strike.) But Aronowitz and other activists said that striking is a fundamental right that should be ensured by the First Amendment; without the right to strike, he said, collective bargaining too often becomes “collective begging.”Participants here responded to Aronowitz’s remarks on strikes with strong applause.

“Maria Teresa Lechuga, a Ph.D. candidate in pedagogy at the National Autonomous University of Mexico, added: “We need to stop asking for permission to organize ourselves.” Panelists said that striking is always a “last resort,” to be exercised only when adjunct faculty members and administrators can’t otherwise reach common ground. But in order to ensure public support when and if the time to strike comes, advocates said, adjuncts need to nurture relationships with other kinds of workers, along with parents and students.Maria Maisto, president of the New Faculty Majority, a national adjunct advocacy organization, said adjuncts shouldn’t be afraid to bring up their working conditions with their students. She said such conversations are part of students’ “civic education” — an essential part of their studies. Continue reading “Striking adjuncts”

Fighting tenure for school teachers

David Boies, the star trial lawyer who helped lead the legal charge that overturned California’s same-sex marriage ban, is becoming chairman of the Partnership for Educational Justice, a group that former CNN anchor Campbell Brown founded in part to pursue lawsuits challenging teacher tenure. As the New York Times reports:images-2

“Mr. Boies, the son of two public schoolteachers, is a lifelong liberal who represented Al Gore in Bush v. Gore and prosecuted Microsoft in the Clinton Administration’s antitrust suit. In aligning himself with a cause that is bitterly opposed by teachers’ unions, he is emblematic of an increasingly fractured relationship between the Democrats and the teachers’ unions.

“As chairman of the new group, Mr. Boies, 73, will join Ms. Brown as the public face of a legal strategy in which the group organizes parents and students to bring lawsuits against states with strong tenure and seniority protections.

“In a suit filed in New York last month, plaintiffs supported by Ms. Brown’s group argued that tenure laws make it too difficult to fire ineffective teachers and force principals to make personnel decisions based on seniority rather than performance. The suit argues that such laws disproportionately harm low-income and minority students.A California judge recently ruled in a similar case that teacher tenure laws violate students’ civil rights under the state’s constitution. The group that brought that case, known as Vergara v. California, said it would be pursuing similar litigation elsewhere as well. In a sign of the legal firepower attracted to the cause, Theodore B. Olson, Mr. Boies’ partner in the California same-sex marriage case, has been advising the Vergara plaintiffs.In an interview in his firm’s offices in Manhattan, Mr. Boies said he viewed the cause of tenure overhaul as “pro-teacher.”

“I think teaching is one of the most important professions that we have in this country,” he said. But, he added, “there can be a tension” between union efforts to protect workers and “what society needs to do, which is to make sure that the social function — in this case teaching — is being fulfilled.” Mr. Boies, who said he viewed education as a civil rights issue, is offering his services pro bono. Continue reading “Fighting tenure for school teachers”

Multiplayer games as the future of learning

Appearing in today’s edition of The Atlantic: “It was just supposed to be a quick trip to Beijing, a touristy group thing to take in the sights. It wasn’t supposed to go down like this.There wasn’t supposed to be a lost manuscript; the travelers weren’t supposed to turn on each other. The only good, if any, to be found in this godforsaken quest, this unholy mission, was that by the end of it, they would all know how to speak Mandarin.imgres-1

“This intricate Maltese Falcon­-like story will unfold each day, over the course of semester, as a multiplayer game at Renssalear Polytechnic Institute in New York. It is being  designed as a language-learning exercise by Lee Sheldon, an associate professor in the college’s Games and Simulations Arts and Sciences Program. “Using games and storytelling to teach­—it’s not that radical of a concept,” says Sheldon. “It makes them more interested in what’s going on.”

“Sheldon is a pioneer in gamification, a new movement that essentially takes all the things that make video games engaging and applies them to classroom learning. Sheldon started developing the theory eight years ago. Since then, gamification now comes in all shapes and sizes and is used across educational levels, for kindergarteners through adult learners. Its practitioners range from individual teachers experimenting with game-like elements in their classrooms to entire schools that have integrated the games into their curricula.

“The goal is to change the student’s mindset to a mastery orientation­—to promote motivation, engagement, active learning­—and to cultivate 21st century skills like collaboration, problem solving, creativity and systems thinking,” says Joey Lee, a research assistant professor of Technology and Education at Teacher’s College, Columbia University. “Learning looks very different today, so we need to move away from the Industrial Revolution one-size-fits-all model that still plagues much of education.” Continue reading “Multiplayer games as the future of learning”

U.S. schools fail to help disabled

U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan on Tuesday focuses his quest to improve classroom performance on the 6.5 million students with disabilities, including many who perform poorly on standardized tests.imgres

As Huffington Post reports, “Duncan, who has spent his years in the Obama administration using accountability measures in existing laws to drive improvements in student performance, on Tuesday joins Michael Yudin, assistant secretary for the Office of Special Education and Rehabilitative Services, to announce a new framework for measuring states’ compliance with the Individuals With Disabilities Education Act, the federal law that supports special education and services for children with disabilities. The law originally was known as the Education of Handicapped Children Act of 1975.

“After years of holding states accountable under the law for such things as timely evaluations of students and due process hearings, the Education Department plans to look at results. For the first time, the government will define compliance with the law not just in terms of what states do for students with disabilities, but with how those students perform.

“Focusing on inputs has worked on improving that type of compliance, according to information the Department released Tuesday. For example, in 2006, 84.8 percent of initial evaluations of students with disabilities were completed on time. By 2010, that number had increased to 96.9 percent. At the same time, national average math proficiency hardly budged from 33.2 percent in 2005-2006 to 35.2 percent in 2009-2010 — representing a dip from 38.7 percent in the previous year.

“Basic compliance does not transform students’ lives,” Duncan said on a Tuesday call with reporters. “It’s not enough for a state to be compliant if students can’t read or do math” at sufficient levels by the time they graduate from high school, he added.

“According to this new results-driven accountability framework, states will be responsible for students with disabilities’ participation in state tests, gaps in proficiency between students with disabilities and their peers, and performance on the National Assessment of Education Progress, or NAEP, the only national standardized test. This marks the first time the NAEP, which is often described as a low-stakes test, has been used for school accountability. Continue reading “U.S. schools fail to help disabled”

The true student debt crisis

If you borrowed money from the federal government to finance your education and you’re having an extremely hard time paying it back, I have good news for you. As Slate reports, “President Obama has just signed an executive order that expands eligibility for Pay As You Earn, a newish program that caps the monthly debt payments of eligible borrowers to no more than 10 percent of their monthly income. And if you still have outstanding debt after 20 years, or 10 years if you work in the public sector or for a nonprofit, it will be forgiven, like a youthful transgression.imgres-1

“You crazy kid! Remember when you thought taking on this student loan debt made sense because getting a college education meant that you’d eventually earn enough to pay it off? Oh gosh. Those were the days. Clearly you had been passed the peace pipe once too often.

“Cutting debt payments for cash-strapped borrowers is a nice gesture. In 2008 and 2012, Barack Obama fared well with under-30 voters, and Pay As You Earn will give some of them a nice little boost, just in time for the midterm congressional elections. But there is a much larger problem that the president’s feel-good proposal fails to address, which is the fact that people who take on federal student loan debt aren’t earning enough to pay it back. America’s higher education institutions aren’t offering value for money. And that’s a problem that tinkering with the federal student loan program won’t solve.

“To state the obvious: Borrowers can’t handle their debt payments because of the general weakness of the economy. It would be far easier for borrowers to repay their student loan debt if they weren’t unemployed or underemployed, and it would be easier still if they were employed in jobs that offered robust wage gains over time. Yet the debt crisis also reflects the corruption of mass higher education in America.

Continue reading “The true student debt crisis”

Charting disaster

As an antidote to the “grow grow grow” mentality of the elected officials and business leaders pushing charter schools, a recent report by University of Oregon professor and political economist Gordon Lafer outlines what’s wrong with privatization of public schools.

The report, titled Do Poor Kids Deserve Lower-Quality Education than Rich Kids? Evaluating School Privatization Proposals in Milwaukee, focuses on the model of Rocketship, a national charter elementary school organization that hopes to expand its Milwaukee footprint to eight schools by 2018.

City officials have even considered carving out the lowest-performing parts of the city’s schools for charters to operate, similar to the New Orleans “recovery district.” Milwaukee’s Chamber of Commerce and Democratic Mayor Tom Barrett are among the charter chain’s supporters, raising millions to help it grow.

Rocketship’s investors, who are tech industry heavyweights, claim altruistic intentions: they care about the kids! But they’re also profiting from the expansion of charter schools, a market for their own products and services.

Case in point: Netflix CEO Reed Hastings, on the board of Rocketship, is also an investor in a company called Dream Box, which runs software the schools use for math applications. In the public sector this type of self-dealing is often prohibited, because schools should be choosing the service or product with the best track record, not the one that will enrich investors.

So it’s no surprise that businessmen like Hastings find investing in charters much more appealing than paying more taxes to support public schools. Continue reading “Charting disaster”

“Degrees of Inequality”

We’re having the wrong conversation about higher education in our country.As reviewed in the New York Times, “So argues Suzanne Mettler in her ­provocative new book, “Degrees of Inequality,” based onthe eight years she spent studying a college system that she argues works well for those born into well-off families but few others. Tuition rates of $50,000 or more at private four-year colleges? The trillion-plus dollars Americans collectively owe on college loans? In ­Mettler’s ­telling, those should be the least of our worries when considering the “caste system” that is now higher education in the United States.images

“The picture Mettler offers of the ­postsecondary-education landscape in the United States is not pretty. Looking past the top stratum of elite colleges that normally dominate discussions of higher education (Mettler herself is a professor of government at Cornell University), she chronicles the deterioration of the country’s once-vaunted state college system, where a majority of students pursuing a postsecondary degree are enrolled. She bemoans the fact that the community ­colleges, which play a central role in educating the “less advantaged,” must beg for money, and she lays into for-profit ­colleges like the University of Phoenix, the largest of the 1,000 or so of these institutions that have sprouted up in recent years.

“For-profit colleges are the true bad guys in this tale. Though their “ardent defender,” the Republican Party, contends that the schools provide “meaningful opportunities for low-income and minority students,” Mettler mounts a persuasive case that something like the opposite is true: These institutions are generally more skilled at getting rich off those living in the lower economic reaches than they are at preparing them for the job market. She has mined congressional reports, newspaper accounts and academic ­studies, piling up example after example of recruiters who’ll say practically anything to enroll a student, any student, in their programs, resulting in graduation rates not even close to those of traditional colleges. Continue reading ““Degrees of Inequality””

On valuing teaching

How do you change academic culture? One reason that question gets asked a lot is that it’s so hard to answer. Another reason is that so much of academic culture needs changing.images

How might we create a culture that actually esteems effective teaching? The value of such a thing ought to be clear, if only because it would blunt some of the frequent public criticisms of universities for a too-narrow focus on research. But creating a teaching culture hasn’t proved so easy. It’s not that campuses don’t harbor great teachers—even the most research-intensive universities do. But those professors usually tend their personal classroom gardens on their own. They don’t labor as members of a community—or culture—that rewards their teaching and propagates their best ideas about it.

The challenge of how to make good teaching into a communal value has been the subject of the Teagle Foundation’s academic philanthropy for some years now. Last month the foundation convened a meeting, “Community of Scholars, Community of Teachers,” to showcase the efforts of some of its grantees. Professors and administrators described what they had done to create “teaching-positive” environments in the liberal arts at their institutions.

Every one of the grant programs centered on the teaching of undergraduates by graduate students. That’s not surprising. Graduate students do an enormous amount of that work at most universities, so they’re necessary members of any university’s teaching community. But the programs on display at different institutions employ graduate students differently, and at different levels.

Cornell University is working from the bottom up. The university’s teaching center recruited graduate students (in both the humanities and the sciences) for a new fellowship program that leads to a certificate. Fellows studied technology, assessment, and related topics, and did independent research on teaching. Continue reading “On valuing teaching”

Whither the dean?

An interesting dilemma lies ahead — where will all the academic administrators come from?images

Historically, most administrators in academic affairs, whether they be department chairs, program directors, deans, or provosts, have come out of the ranks of tenured faculty. However with faculty increasingly being contingent and off the tenure track (70 percent), there has not been much consideration of where administrators within academic affairs will come from.

Clearly very different opportunities  and constraints exist at different institutional types,  but the problem will occur across all institutions of higher education to a greater or lesser degree. Fewer tenure-track faculty at research-focused institutions could mean that those who do have tenure will be expected to continue to focus more on grant and research production over leadership.

Teaching-focused institutions, including liberal arts college and community colleges, may be more reluctant to transition faculty from classroom duty to campus leadership. Regardless of institutional mission, it seems as though little action is taken toward leadership succession planning. There are often reports of difficulty filling positions. It’s not unusual to hear of department chairs or deans being chosen because someone was the only individual willing (and able in terms of being tenured, not necessarily commitment or capability) to take the role rather than best suited for it.

An emphasis on related experience, if tenured, has become more relaxed. It is not unusual to hear of an internal dean moving into a provost role, or a chair moving into a dean role after just a year or two, not because the person is an undeniable choice, but because so few other individuals have the experience needed and an external candidate could not be identified. Continue reading “Whither the dean?”

Who graduates and who doesn’t

When you look at the national statistics on college graduation rates, there are two big trends that stand out right away. The first is that there imagesare a whole lot of students who make it to college — who show up on campus and enroll in classes — but never get their degrees. More than 40 percent of American students who start at four-year colleges haven’t earned a degree after six years. If you include community-college students in the tabulation, the dropout rate is more than half, worse than any other country except Hungary.

The second trend is that whether a student graduates or not seems to depend today almost entirely on just one factor — how much money his or her parents make. To put it in blunt terms: Rich kids graduate; poor and working-class kids don’t. Or to put it more statistically: About a quarter of college freshmen born into the bottom half of the income distribution will manage to collect a bachelor’s degree by age 24, while almost 90 percent of freshmen born into families in the top income quartile will go on to finish their degree.

When you read about those gaps, you might assume that they mostly have to do with ability. Rich kids do better on the SAT, so of course they do better in college. But ability turns out to be a relatively minor factor behind this divide. If you compare college students with the same standardized-test scores who come from different family backgrounds, you find that their educational outcomes reflect their parents’ income, not their test scores. Take students like Vanessa Brewer, who do moderately well on standardized tests — scoring between 1,000 and 1,200 out of 1,600 on the SAT. If those students come from families in the top-income quartile, they have a 2 in 3 chance of graduating with a four-year degree. If they come from families in the bottom quartile, they have just a 1 in 6 chance of making it to graduation.

The good news for Vanessa is that she had improved her odds by enrolling in a highly selective college. Many low-income students “undermatch,” meaning that they don’t attend — or even apply to — the most selective college that would accept them. It may seem counterintuitive, but the more selective the college you choose, the higher your likelihood of graduating. But even among the highly educated students of U.T., parental income and education play a huge role in determining who will graduate on time. An internal U.T. report published in 2012 showed that only 39 percent of first-generation students (meaning students whose parents weren’t college graduates) graduated in four years, compared with 60 percent whose parents both graduated from college. So Vanessa was caught in something of a paradox. According to her academic record, she had all the ability she needed to succeed at an elite college; according to the demographic statistics, she was at serious risk of failing. Continue reading “Who graduates and who doesn’t”

Separate and unequal

Saturday is the 60th anniversary of Brown v. Board of Education, the landmark case where a unanimous Supreme Court held that “separate educational facilities are inherently unequal.” The following year the justices ordered that states end school segregation with “all deliberate speed.”images-1

As reported in Slate magazine, “In the popular narrative, this is the beginning of American integration, a process that goes from Rosa Parks to Martin Luther King to the Civil Rights Act and eventually to President Obama.

“But for as much as we share an integrated culture, millions of Americans—and blacks in particular—live in segregated worlds, a fact illustrated by the persistence and retrenchment of school segregation, as detailed in a new report from the Civil Rights Project at the University of California–Los Angeles.

“Before considering the report, it’s worth taking a closer look at the process of school desegregation. Almost immediately after Brown, white Southerners met the decision with “massive resistance.” In Virginia, segregationist Democrats pushed sweeping educational changes to combat integration. In 1956, the Commission on Public Education—convened by Gov. Thomas Stanley—asked the General Assembly to repeal compulsory education, empower the governor to close public schools, and provide vouchers to parents to enroll their children in segregated private schools. In the next few years, whites would open “segregation academies” across the state, while closing public schools to block integration.

“Following Stanley’s lead, whites across the South worked to keep blacks out of their schools with rules, legislation, angry mobs, and outright violence. But it failed. Within the decade, new civil rights laws had enhanced federal power. By the end of the 1960s, the federal government was authorized to file suit against segregated school districts and work to dismantle them “root and branch.”

“As Nikole Hannah-Jones details for ProPublica, federal desegregation orders helped “break the back of Jim Crow education in the South, helping transform the region’s educational systems into the most integrated in the country.” She continues, “In 1963, about 1 percent of black children in the South attended school with white children. By the early 1970s, the South had been remade—fully 90 percent of black children attended desegregated schools.” Continue reading “Separate and unequal”

Hereditary advantage in school

Americans don’t like cheaters. William C Durden writes in InsideHigher Ed that “When it comes to how we learn and what we’re able to do with our acquired knowledge, a game has been going on. And many will find themselves systematically locked out of opportunity.

This is not about students cheating on tests or principals downplaying ineffective teaching strategies. Nor is it about the latest argument concerning higher education — that college is too expensive and there’s no guarantee of gainful employment. It a national reckoning of how much we’re willing to tolerate regarding class, status and the suppression of economic mobility. This issue demands that we take responsibility for the way that our educational decisions play out in our lives and throughout our communities. Until we take ownership of these things, we will continue to play a fool’s game of winners and losers.

imagesFor the vast majority of Americans — myself included — a college education remains the key to an engaging, financially viable life. Nothing should be done to disrupt this trusted vehicle by zeroing in on the undergraduate degree solely as preparation for a first job whose “of-the-moment” skills and knowledge are likely be eclipsed in short order in a rapidly changing economy.

I am a first-generation college student. My father, while I was growing up ,was an assembly line worker making wooden boxes and a cook at a hospital. My mother did not work outside the home. Continue reading “Hereditary advantage in school”

On the humanities meltdown

Public colleges and universities across the country are under the gun as state budgets face huge shortfalls. NPR reports that “Universities are now ending low-enrollment programs and increasing class size.images

“The State University of New York has had to cut $640 million from its budget, and the president of its Albany campus recently announced the suspension of five humanities programs, including French, Italian, Russian, classics and theater.

“Although there have been cuts at SUNY Albany in everything from journalism to business, the fact that five humanities programs have been suspended has resonated with the public and the press.Upon learning about the suspension of the foreign language programs, David Wills, a professor of French, was shocked at first, but then he was angry.

“None of us accepted that it was something that a university could do and still call itself a university,” Wills said. “This is not a university if you only have one non-English European language program left standing.”To be fair, students can still take some classes in these subjects. Suspension means new students will not be able to major in these areas, at least for now.Juniors and seniors at SUNY Albany will be able to finish their majors in French, Italian, Russian, classics and theater. But most freshmen and sophomores will have to choose alternatives.

Alexandra Cialeo, a sophomore majoring in Italian, transferred to SUNY Albany a few months ago. Noting that SUNY Albany’s slogan is “The World Within Reach,” Cialeo asks, “How is the world within reach when a school is going to take away the foreign language department so you can’t communicate around the world?” She says the program suspensions sadden her because she wants to be a teacher and has a passion for Italian.

SUNY Albany Provost Susan Phillips says up until now, cuts in the humanities have been 4 percent — less than in other areas. She says there have been more faculty losses in the social sciences and in the professional schools. And she emphasizes that no decisions have yet been made to close down these programs permanently. Continue reading “On the humanities meltdown”

The popularity of death studies

At Kean University, students are dying (as it were) to get into Norma Bowe’s class “Death in Perspective,” which has sometimes carried a three-year waiting list. images-2WSJ Online reports that “On one field trip to a local coroner’s office, Dr. Bowe’s students were shown three naked cadavers on metal tables. One person had died from a gunshot, the other from suicide and the third by drowning.

“The last corpse appeared overweight but wasn’t; he had expanded like a water balloon. A suspect in a hit-and-run case, he had fled the scene, been chased by police, abandoned his car and jumped into the Passaic River. On the autopsy table, he looked surprised, his mouth splayed open, as if he realized he had made a mistake. As the class clustered around, a technician began to carve his torso open. Some students gagged or scurried out, unable to stand the sight or the smell.

“This grim visit was just one of the excursions for Dr. Bowe’s class. Every semester, students also leave the campus in Union, New Jersey, to visit a cemetery, a maximum-security prison (to meet murderers), a hospice, a crematory and a funeral home, where they pick out caskets for themselves. The homework is also unusual: Students are required to write goodbye letters to dead loved ones and to compose their own eulogies and wills.

“Sure, it’s morbid. But graduates of Dr. Bowe’s death class and others like it across the U.S. often come away with an important skill: the ability to talk frankly about death. Continue reading “The popularity of death studies”

Weighty academic issues

Overweight professors across academe describe battles to achieve self-acceptance, full inclusion in academic life, and genuine respect from students and colleagues. Vitae reports that:

“Some struggle daily to navigate campus spaces that don’t comfortably accommodate their size. Some stand in front of classrooms and wonder whether their bodies influence how students perceive their minds. Some say they have trouble adhering to exercise plans or healthy eating habits because their jobs come with lots of research and little structure.Yet larger professors often grapple with these concerns in isolation and silence. On a national level, discussions of obesity have become increasingly common—and, at times, increasingly contentious. But many fat professors, along with allies in the emerging field of fat studies, feel that colleges and universities have yet to hold productive conversations on the topic, especially when it comes to “fat shaming” and how size influences hiring, tenure, and promotion decisions.

“The situation for fat academics has worsened as our national discourse about obesity has ramped up,” says Christina Fisanick, an associate professor of English at California University of Pennsylvania.Fisanick has tracked the discourse for some time, in part because she herself has struggled with obesity. (Due to a binge-eating disorder, her weight has risen as high as 353 pounds; it’s now down to 228.) Writing in 2007 for Feminist Teacher, she pointed out that the few fat professors depicted on film are treated farcically: Think of Sherman Klump in Eddie Murphy’s remake of The Nutty Professor, for example, or the unnamed (but Colonel Sandersesque) biology professor played by Robert Kokol in Adam Sandler’s The Waterboy. These images, according to Fisanick, affect students’, professors’, and administrators’ expectations of what a scholar should look like.Fisanick’s piece also hinted at a question that many fat academics have found themselves asking: Will they face bias in job interviews or in tenure and promotion decisions? Continue reading “Weighty academic issues”

It’s rejection season

Enrollment at American colleges is sliding, but competition for spots at top universities is more cutthroat and

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anxiety-inducing than ever.In the just-completed admissions season, Stanford University accepted only 5 percent of applicants, a new low among the most prestigious schools, with the odds nearly as bad at its elite rivals.

As the New york Times reports, “Deluged by more applications than ever, the most selective colleges are, inevitably, rejecting a vast majority, including legions of students they once would have accepted. Admissions directors at these institutions say that most of the students they turn down are such strong candidates that many are indistinguishable from those who get in.Isaac Madrid applied to 11 colleges, a scattershot approach that he said is fairly typical at his private high school, Bellarmine College Preparatory in San Jose, Calif. Students there are all too aware of the long odds against getting into any particular elite university. “It was a crazy amount of work and stress doing all those essays by the deadline and keeping up my schoolwork, and waiting on the responses, and we had more than $800 in application fees,” he said.Mr. Madrid, 18, got a taste of how random the results can seem. He was among the 95 percent turned away by Stanford, but he got into Yale, which he plans to attend, and he admitted having no real insight into the reasons for either decision.Bruce Poch, a former admissions dean at Pomona College in Claremont, Calif., said he saw “the opposite of a virtuous cycle at work” in admissions. “Kids see that the admit rates are brutal and dropping, and it looks more like a crapshoot,” he said. “So they send more apps, which forces the colleges to lower their admit rates, which spurs the kids next year to send even more apps.” Continue reading “It’s rejection season”

Disabilities and college life

New college students with disabilities are often insecure.

As InsideHigher Ed reports,”Navigating a complicated bureaucracy for the first time with far less institutional support than they had in high school, these students often must overcome stigma and ignorance surrounding their disabilities and advocate for themselves, which they’re often not used to doing. The alternative: risk not getting the tools they need to succeed academically. That’s difficult enough. But some people make it harder.

“I literally had a professor say, ‘Well, I’ve never had a student of that kind before, so I don’t know what to do,’ ” one college employee said here Tuesday at the American College Personnel Association’s annual conference. “But the student was standing right there ready to take their test. It felt so violating.”At a session here exploring what students with physical and psychological disabilities have to say about their collegiate experiences, it was clear that professors have a lot of learning to do.

“I have faculty who are more dismissive of something like bipolar disorder than they would be of something like cerebral palsy,” one attendee said. Because the affliction is psychological rather than physical, she said, “they don’t see it as being as challenging.”But the student affairs and services staff in the room blamed themselves, in part. One person admitted it’s “embarrassing” that his small private college does not offer any disabilities service training to workers in the campus writing center.

Continue reading “Disabilities and college life”

Rethinking plagiarism

Professors often frame plagiarism as an ethical problem, with a simple solution: don’t do it. imagesAs InsideHigher Ed reports, “For students tempted to plagiarize knowingly, that approach might work. But the academic integrity rhetoric ignores the fact that students sometimes unintentionally plagiarize or misrepresent source material in their work, panelists said Thursday during a session on the topic at the Conference on College Composition and Communication.

“Stephanie Roach, associate professor and director of writing programs at the University of Michigan at Flint, recalled a class discussion about why students misuse sources in their work. Students named all the usual suspects – the assignment was too hard or they ran out of time, for example.

“But Roach was struck by a student who said, “I didn’t think I was that person.” The student had crossed a boundary she’d never thought she would, and Roach wondered how it had happened. The professor said she later mused with colleagues that the war on plagiarism was like the war on drugs, in that academe tells students to “Just say no,” painting a bright line between right and wrong and assuming students have the tools they need to make the right choice.

“But sometimes they don’t. Students might misrepresent a source because they don’t understand it, or don’t know how to weave it in with their own thoughts, panelists said. And open-source culture, where facts and thoughts easily can be “plucked” from webpages, makes that supposed bright line dimmer still.Valerie Seiling Jacobs, a master of fine arts in nonfiction writing candidate at Columbia University, doesn’t lecture her first-year writing students on intentional plagiarism, she said. She tells students that if they’re going to deliberately misuse others’ work, “then you have bigger problems than I can ever help you solve.”Instead, Seiling Jacobs focuses on inadvertent misuses, which are far more plentiful. Continue reading “Rethinking plagiarism”

Protecting the public from for-profit colleges

The Obama Administration announced today new steps to address growing concerns about burdensome student loan debt by requiring career colleges to do a better job of preparing students for gainful employment—or risk losing access to taxpayer-funded federal student aid.

The proposed regulations released by the U.S. Department of Education “will help to strengthen students’ options for higher education by giving all career training programs an

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opportunity to improve, while stopping the flow of federal funding to the lowest-performing ones that fail to do so.

“Higher education should open up doors of opportunity, but students in these low-performing programs often end up worse off than before they enrolled: saddled by debt and with few—if any—options for a career,” said U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan. “The proposed regulations address growing concerns about unaffordable levels of loan debt for students enrolled in these programs by targeting the lowest-performing programs, while shining a light on best practices and giving all programs an opportunity to improve.”

“To qualify for federal student aid, the law requires that most for-profit programs and certificate programs at non-profit and public institutions prepare students for gainful employment in a recognized occupation. Some of these programs, whether public, private, or for-profit, empower students to succeed by providing high-quality education and career training. But many of these programs, particularly those at for-profit colleges, are failing to do so—at taxpayers’ expense and the cost of students’ futures.

Students at for-profit colleges represent only about 13 percent of the total higher education population, but about 31 percent of all student loans and nearly half of all loan defaults. In the most recent data, about 22 percent of student borrowers at for-profit colleges defaulted on their loans within three years, compared to 13 percent of borrowers at public colleges. Continue reading “Protecting the public from for-profit colleges”

About letter grading

Letter grades are a tradition in our educational system, and we accept them as fair and objective measures of academic success. Jessica Lahey writes in The Atlantic that: “If the purpose of academic grading is to communicate accurate and specific information about learning, letter, or points-based grades, are a woefully

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blunt and inadequate instrument. Worse, points-based grading undermines learning and creativity,rewards cheating, damages students’ peer relationships and trust in their teachers, encourages students to avoid challenging work, and teaches students to value grades over knowledge.

“Letter grades communicate precious little about the process of learning a given subject. When a child earns a ‘B’ in Algebra I, what does that ‘B’ represent? That ‘B’ may represent hundreds of points-based assignments, arranged and calculated in categories of varying weights and relative significance depending on the a teacher’s training or habit. But that ‘B’ says nothing about the specific skills John has (or has not) learned in a given class, or if he can apply that learning to other contexts. Even when paired with a narrative comment such as, “John is a pleasure to have in class,” parents, students, and even colleges are left to guess at precisely which Algebra I skills John has learned and will be able to apply to Algebra II.  Continue reading “About letter grading”