VIA NYTimes: Educational Reform without “Pizazz”

In a New York Times op-ed, David L. Kirp tells us something crucial about the successful, if unglamorous, reforms that have taken place in the Union City, NJ school system:

From pre-K to high school, the make-or-break factor is what the Harvard education professor Richard Elmore calls the “instructional core” — the skills of the teacher, the engagement of the students and the rigor of the curriculum. To succeed, students must become thinkers, not just test-takers.

It seems to me that institututional success, when it happens, seems to occur in the convergence of these factors: better teachers, more engaged students, higher expectations embedded within a (well-designed) curriculum. Here’s his take-away:

What makes Union City remarkable is, paradoxically, the absence of pizazz. It hasn’t followed the herd by closing “underperforming” schools or giving the boot to hordes of teachers. No Teach for America recruits toil in its classrooms, and there are no charter schools.

So what are we doing to strengthen our “instructional core,” in Elmore’s sense of the word? [And for more about Elmore’s approach, try this interview]



VIA Inside Higher Ed: Memo to Trustees re: Thomas Friedman’s ‘Revolution Hits the Universities’

Here’s a smart piece by Kris Olds on the pros and cons of MOOCs, especially in terms of their implementation and potential impact.  These are the kinds of details that a writer like Tom Friedman, whatever his virtues, tends to ignore.  One crucial caveat should b highlighted:

while Friedman’s article implies a relatively easy Yes or No decision re. going ahead (we are, after all, supposed to be in the middle of a “revolution”) the direct and indirect resource base required to establish and maintain MOOCs is nothing to be sneezed at. For example, it was good to see that he profiled Mitchell Duneier’s Coursera course. What Friedman failed to note was that Princeton is an extraordinarily wealthy private university that has the capacity to provide undoubtedly brilliant and hard working Duneier with sufficient support to run his MOOC, including via designated assistants. Online teaching can scale more easily than in-person teaching, but the creation of the institutional space and support infrastructure to produce a series of quality MOOCs takes time, attention, resources, TLC, and so on. The production process also has to be preceded by the creation of a formal or informal governance pathway, as well as an assessment if your university has the technological and organizational capabilities to coordinate a legitimate MOOCs initiative.

Read the whole piece, and let us know what kind of potential you think these models have for public higher education.

“Efficiency, Productivity, and Quality in Texas Higher Education State Policy”: a Presentation by Dr. Lee Holcombe, 10/11/12

I think this will be an important discussion for us as we try to understand  higher education policy in this state. Please make every effort to attend.

Thanks, DM

VIA the Teagle Foundation: “What Works and What Matters in Student Learning”

The Teagle Foundation, a group devoted to improving American undergraduate education, held a convening this June on the question of “What works and what matters in student learning?” The page linked here will take you to the President’s opening address, along with summaries of discussion by Ashley Finley, Senior Director of Assessment & Research at the Association of American Colleges & Universities, and Laura Rosenthal, Professor of English at the University of Maryland.

Lots of interesting stuff here, but I’d like to point readers to the three major strategies, or “promising practices,” included in Finley’s essay, linked here: What-works-for-student-learning-Finley:

1. Develop an Organizational Culture that Makes Student Learning a Priority and Emphasizes Community Building in Support of that Commitment.

2. Enable Learning-Centered Environments that Foster Student Learning

3. Develop Better and more Meaningful Assessments to Understand Student Learning

The report discusses each of these points in more detail, but the takeaway for improved student learning is better community-building, learning environments, and assessments.  Take a look.


VIA Inside Higher Ed: The Bitter Reality of MOOConomics (Carlo Salerno)

Once again, in the continuing debate over whether MOOCs (Massive Open Online Courses) represent a genuine opening towards the future of higher education, economist Carlo Salerno analyzes the business model of these well-publicized courses (an issue we’ve discussed in our workshops and on the blog).  He writes:

Born at two of the nation’s most elite colleges, MOOCs have received an unbelievable amount of news coverage for offering the potential to solve one of the sector’s most nagging problems: how to provide world-class education for practically no consumer cost. The courses provided via MITx and by a handful of Stanford professors have generated considerable publicity, though it’s the recent announcement that Coursera (another Stanford spin-off) has lined up around a dozen elite institutions that will use their platform to offer similarly styled educational offerings that really has folks thinking MOOCs may very well be the answer to our system’s perceived ills.

Read more:
Inside Higher Ed
What I find fascinating about Salerno’s take is that he recognizes the same problem with MOOCs as earlier commentators: that even if universities can afford to hand out instructional materials for free (or as free as contingent faculty can make them), they cannot afford to lose selectivity over admissions or control over credentialing, if they are to maintain their institutional prestige and reputation.  These are the precise issues that caused the conflicts at UVA over Pres. Sullivan‘s firing, and they will bedevil any attempt to equate the instruction provided by MOOCs with courses in a degree program.  But the temptation to define higher education down will remain so long as institutions are faced with rising personnel costs and declining state support. We have not heard the end of this.

VIA the NYTimes: “Is Algebra Necessary?” by Andrew Hacker

I can’t say that I agree with Hacker’s position, that freshman algebra courses serve more of a gate-keeping than a preparatory function for high school and college students.  (The analogy might be to the Latin-based instruction in the classics, which was once seen as the primary purpose of secondary education)

Hacker writes:

Making mathematics mandatory prevents us from discovering and developing young talent. In the interest of maintaining rigor, we’re actually depleting our pool of brainpower. I say this as a writer and social scientist whose work relies heavily on the use of numbers. My aim is not to spare students from a difficult subject, but to call attention to the real problems we are causing by misdirecting precious resources.

Part of the reason for my disquiet is the concern I voiced the other day about our excessively short-term focus in our definitions of “use” and “usefulness.”  But I think that we have reached a point where either significant educational resources (time, teachers, coursework, practice) will have to be poured into this kind of instruction, or some kind of alternative developed. So I think it worthwhile, even for advocates of freshman algebra instruction, to articulate a convincing account of how it helps students in and beyond school.


A Response to Friday’s Panel from Peter Bishop (TECH)

[Editor’s note: Peter Bishop, of the College of Technology and its program of Future Studies, of which he is Coordinator, had this email exchange with Frank Holt.  He later agreed to share these thoughts on the CTE blog. We thank him for his interesting comments during the session, and for giving permission to quote his email here.–DM]
Thanks for your session today.  Since I came late and had to leave early, I’m assuming that were teaching the session!
Can you send me your slides?  I just came into the last one, which is also a favorite theme of mine.  For-profit universities almost always have central development and distributed delivery, almost all with para-professionals and part-time adjuncts who are usually working in the field full-time.  It’s a much more efficient model.  I know Phoenix could price their courses much lower as a result, but they price it just below state university rates in order to leave their healthy profit margins intact.
And yes, the rest of the system could move toward central development through the licensing arrangements you mentioned.  I’ve offered to license our futures curriculum many times since it is unique and very few colleges could mount such a course on their own, but so far no takers.  But maybe someday.
It occurred to me, however, that we do have a form of central development in the textbook market which is now expanding its effect on the course through CDs, DVD, test packs and now websites
And I found the discussion following your talk very interesting.  One tendency we have in thinking about the effect of trends that are changing an institution (like higher ed) is to believe that the new will completely replace the old.  That does happen, but much more often it reduces the old as it grows and gobbles up parts of the market, but rarely does the old go away completely.  And I love your analogy of college as the grand tour.  The undergrad experience will remain for many, but it will be expensive so smaller than it is today.
I found the rest of the discussion a study in dialectics.  Attached are the many either-or problems/dilemmas/dichotomies that people were bringing up.  I tend to be a both-and person myself.  Most of the New stuff is definitely on the rise, but it doesn’t mean that all the Old stuff goes away.  The task is to maintain balance and not let either, the New or the Old, take over completely.
So thanks again for holding this session.  Should be a lot more of this type of discussion…
So what do others think?  What would a “both/and” model of past, present, and future higher education look like?