via Washington Monthly: Dropout Factories?

Along with its yearly ranking of America’s colleges and universities, Ben Miller and Phuong Ly at the Washington Monthly write about the poorest performing schools in their survey, the so-called “Dropout Factories.”  There is certainly an assumption here that we can diagnose the mismanagement of schools by doing cross-comparisons between schools with similar student profiles.  I wonder whether this is true, and what kinds of solutions might be possible.  One of the commenters makes the following observation:

Suggesting that funding should be tied to performance is a facile and superficial response. Other than that, good article.

This suggestion suffers from the same problem as No Child Left Behind in K-12 — it makes no sense to take the schools with the biggest problems and add to those problems by slashing their budgets. If the problem is a failure of management, how is budget reduction while leaving the same management in place going to solve it?

It seems to me a better answer is a form of receivership — seize control of the institution and spend MORE money on it, installing an academic turnaround specialist such as one of those you identified and replacing the board of trustees with competent overseers. Incompetent management is not going to make itself competent simply because you cut their budget.



via Insider Higher Ed: “What your Ph.D. Didn’t Cover”

Jen Wingard, a Rhet/Comp faculty member in English and currently one of the people running the Writing pedagogy course there, was kind enough to pass this Inside Higher Ed piece along to me.  Since we’re still developing our own certificate program at the CTE, I’m interested in others’ reactions to this trend: what are the benefits, what are the costs, of setting up a program like this to professionalize students in this manner?  My thought is that it would certainly raise the overall quality of CC teaching, if done right.  I also suspect that it would refocus the Ph. D. programs that were feeding their graduates into those jobs.  What do others think?


Higher Ed Round-up: from this week’s Houston Chronicle

Here are a few items of interest:

–Rick Casey, in his Sunday column, had an excellent discussion of the ten-percent rule, and its implications for prospective college students across the state.  Find it here.

–It’s conventional wisdom among college administrators and faculty that colleges want their students living and studying on campus. Sociologist Ruth Lopez Turley, now at Rice, is examining more closely the effects of residential living on students at a wide variety of schools, and finding the effect is not as dramatic as you might expect.  Read her interview with Jeannie Kever here.

–Another piece from Jeannie Kever, this time on Texas universities’ efforts to improve their 4-year graduation rates.  The UH CTE seems to be briefly alluded to as a “faculty led effort to improve teaching.”  Find it here.


via ProfHacker: Brian Croxall’s Open Letter to New Graduate Students

We had a great time this week meeting many of the new TAs and TA supervisors in our pilot program this fall.  In keeping with these discussions, I’m passing along a very helpful set of hints about making it through this new phase of your life and learning, grad school, courtesy of a regular column in the Chronicle of Higher Education, ProfHacker (a group blog that UH’s own Natalie Houston contributes to).

There’s lots of good stuff to sort through here, but my favorite piece of advice was this:

Share what you know with others. As you uncover the hidden knowledge and practices of your university, be quick to pass those insights on to others.

This works on a number of levels, but I think of it as one of the keys to having a reasonably happy life in an academic setting.

Try to be a reasonably good teacher and mentor to your students; pass along any useful bits of information that you’ve gathered about the program to the newcomers; form study groups, writing groups, or reading groups to stave off the inevitable isolation of grad school; see how you might benefit from all the learning going on around you.  And so forth.

All of this reflects the basic pedagogical principle that I’ve seen validated over and over again in my own teaching: people learn much more by explaining things to others than by having things explained to them.

This kind of intellectual generosity, then, is not simply about making yourself and your knowledge available to others, but learning something in a more lasting way by communicating it to your fellow learners.

Good luck in the coming weeks,


Is everything working?

Hi everyone,

A few of you have visited the site without leaving a comment, so I’ll throw out an opening question to see if others would like to contribute.

In the remaining week before classes begin, do you have everything you need to begin teaching?  Are your resources in place, your students listed in peoplesoft, your ducks all in a row?

My own situation is that my email on the exchange has been intermittent since last week’s power outage.  This has affected BlackBoard and peoplesoft, too.

So do you have what you need to begin next week?


How to sign up for a username and password

The UH CTE blog is currently open to users, but blocked to search engines.  This should enable the curious to visit without a hassle, while allowing others to comment simply by providing an email ID.  Comments are always welcome, so long as they relate to the CTE and its mission.  As I’ve already mentioned elsewhere, this is a moderated forum.

For those who will be involved with our activities like the CTE Board, the DTAT, and so forth, we especially invite you to sign up with WordPress so that you can post and/or edit contributions.  These activities require a WP username and password, which WP provides free of charge to its users.  To sign up for WP username and password, please follow these steps:

Follow this link to

When you get to the WP homepage, click on the “Sign Up Now” link in the upper right hand corner.

Fill in the boxes for username, password, email address, and then (THIS IS IMPORTANT), select the JUST A USERNAME, PLEASE option at the bottom of the form, NOT the “gimme a blog” option which is the default.  (if you do this by accident, just visit our blog and hit the comment to let me know, and I’ll show you how to delete your accidentally created WP blog)

Once you have a WP username, hit the comment button or email me ( offline and let me know the email and WP username you have created, so that I can assign you your status as an Editor or Administrator for the CTE blog, which can always be located at

Thanks, DM

Welcome to the Center for Teaching Excellence Blog

Welcome to the UH CTE blog.  We are using this online moderated forum to get input from UH faculty, staff, and graduate students regarding our activities in the Center for Teaching Excellence.  If you have any suggestions for topics you’d like to see covered in our discussions, either online or in our brown bag events, please hit the comment button and let us know.

Best wishes,

David Mazella,