Monday, March 08, 2010

Pushing NCLB for Higher Ed

(((Extending the principles of K-12 to college; soon also grad schools -- why not?; all the stifling institutional crap that makes our students so bad when they get to college is about to ruin their college educations, too.)))

A Chronicle article by the policy director of an education think tank makes the case that Obama's "Race to the Top" should be extended to colleges, including a set of 60 standardized credits-worth of courses at all public universities, which would be accepted at all public universities (of course, this would happen at the state level, but it would be mandated at the federal level, and would not at all mean that everyone essentially goes to the same university, wherever they are); annual "audits" of "student learning" which would be where colleges prove that (and what) their students are learning (since it's just like proving that you mop your restaurant floors properly, or that you pay your bills); and "work-force outcome" measurement, where you prove that your students get jobs and make money "in their fields," ('cause lit majors who don't go to grad school in lit are failures, and anyway the point of college is just to make money).

Part of his argument on standardization is that students transfer a lot, and "assemble" their degrees from a variety of institutions. But it's not at all clear to me why, if you want my institution's name on your degree, you shouldn't take most (I might go as high as 80%) of your courses at my institution. Am I the only one thinking of Sarah Palin, here? Also, this seems clearly built around support for online-only institutions.

Anyway, while there is much to dispute in the column, the real issue is efficiency. For some reason, we just cannot admit that liberal arts education is not technical training, and will not be efficient. Look at online courses, where students go at their own pace. This is only "efficient" in the sense that students have no instructor, and it requires that they take initiative and do actual work. Shoot, if my students would do that in my live classes, my classes would be more efficient, too, and students would actually get much, much more out of their interactions with me and their class-mates. The one up-side I see here is that students in online courses have no one but themselves to blame when they fail a class. That said, at least one purveyor of online courses has 24-hour live online tutors. In other words, pretty soon there will be no faculty jobs except at the elite institutions (where the value of such things is recognized and the people have money to pay for it -- in other words, for the privileged), and instead of teaching in a classroom, I'll have the instructional (not educational) equivalent of a tech support job.