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Every College Kid Left Behind

In the op-ed section of yesterday's Wall Street Journal, readers could find "Hands Off Higher Ed," a spirited rebuke to recent governmental attempts "to extend the testing and standards requirements of the No Child Left Behind Act to colleges." The author of said piece, Larry P. Arnn, is the president of conservative Hillsdale College--an institution whose appeal, to be frank, we have never quite understood. After all, conservatives are rightly appalled by the lack of intellectual diversity on the typical college campus; why, then, would they blithely shuttle their children off to a school with a similar lack of intellectual diversity?

Anyway, President Arnn believes that "an attempt to establish federal control over all colleges and universities" will be a disaster. And we can surely see his point. Such oversight would be engineered by so-called experts in education, and, to our minds, no traditional academic specialization is as dubious as education. Further, due to the erosion of the liberal arts canon at colleges nationwide, it would probably prove impossible to test American undergraduates on any common body of knowledge--save, we suppose, grammar and basic math.

Still, we're not quite sure that President Arnn's shunning of academic standards in American universities is entirely--or even mostly--correct. Just take a gander at this argument from the piece:

National standards are unnecessary in higher education. There are already plenty of accountability tools available to students and their parents--starting with the ability to pick up and go elsewhere. There are more than 2,000 accredited four-year colleges in the country. At Hillsdale we have long survived by attracting private capital and good students to our campus, so we are well aware that universities compete for students, donations and top-notch professors every year. We also know that those institutions that allow their standards to slip will soon find their best students and faculty members migrating elsewhere.

What President Arnn--and so few other commentators on higher education--never seems to mention is the ridiculous amount of attention placed on the prestige of a given university, as opposed to the degree to which this prestige is merited on the basis of actual educational quality.

Take Harvard, for example. With some rather large classes and its comparatively high percentage of graduate student instructors, it seems reasonable to assume that Harvard could produce some meagerly educated graduates.

Yet it's still Harvard, for crying out loud, and extremely few people would leave it to head to, say, Hillsdale College, regardless of how bad the educational opportunities at Fair Harvard may be. This is true across the board: The notions of "good," "mediocre," and "bad" colleges in America often have very little to do with the sort of education particular schools offer their pupils.

Thus lots of universities happily hire cheap, overworked, and sometimes under-qualified adjunct professors to teach a larger and larger percentage of their courses. The quality of the teaching matters so little that these schools would prefer to spend their funds on lavish rock-climbing walls, fancy eateries, and other niggling ephemeralities.

This does not, of course, mean that federal testing at the college level would be a good idea. But, when discussing these matters, we ought to start by being honest about the nature of higher education in the United States.

(Note: The crack young staff normally "weblog" over at "The Hatemonger's Quarterly," where they are currently envisioning a bill aimed at uniform federal testing for English majors called No Abstruse and Useless French Theory Left Behind.)


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Comments (29)

Allow me to join with my fr... (Below threshold)
Paul Hamilton:

Allow me to join with my friends on the right in condemnation of federal control of education at ANY level. NCLB has been a complete disaster.

NCLB has led to a revolutio... (Below threshold)
kim:

NCLB has led to a revolution of higher expectation. Why shouldn't teachers be accountable? The good ones are glad to be, in charter schools.
==============================

The Engineering school of m... (Below threshold)
jim:

The Engineering school of my alma mater, Rutgers University was notorious for it's **terrible** teachers. These people were hired for their research skills, to make the University look good by getting results from research grants. They had to teach classes in order to fulfill basic requirements.

They were such bad teachers, in fact, that they kind of had a reverse effect on the reputation of Rutgers: you had to be really smart to graduate Rutgers engineering, because you almost had to teach yourself the courses.

As for NCLB, just about eve... (Below threshold)
jim:

As for NCLB, just about everyone I've spoken to who knows anything about schools, is of the opinion that NCLB is a complete disaster.

And I can see why - it's taking a solely punitive approach. If a school is not teaching it's kids well, then a funds-cutting response *may* be effective - or it may be that the school doesn't have *enough* funds - in which case cutting it's resources will only hurt it worse.

Consider a school is a sick patient. Will cutting off the patients' food always help him get better?

In addition, the standards it imposes have resulted in schools concentrating on teaching their kids how to pass the tests - and not actually educating them.

Kim, if you have some other information on the success of NCLB I'd like to see it. That's just the information I've come across, that makes sense to me.

Out of my field, here, I wa... (Below threshold)
kim:

Out of my field, here, I was simply contesting that NCLB has been a 'complete disaster'. A more complete disaster is the state of public education in our urban areas.
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I just want the federal gov... (Below threshold)
goddessoftheclassroom:

I just want the federal government out of public education.

Reagan had the right idea. ... (Below threshold)

Reagan had the right idea. Abolish the Department of Education, and return control to the local level.

Standards are necessary for... (Below threshold)
jpm100:

Standards are necessary for High School and Grade School because there is no competition.

University level has at least some competition, so federal standards are much less necessary.

Federal standards would be ... (Below threshold)
kim:

Federal standards would be unnecessary when performance by students, teachers, and parents is a matter of local contract, as it is in charter schools.
============================

When one dollar of 'my tax ... (Below threshold)
Scrapiron:

When one dollar of 'my tax money' goes to a failed college system I want to see the communist professors held accountable for every penny. If you don't produce as a professor there are more openings in the strawberry fields. Replace a criminal with a failure.
Actually those school systems that have adopted and supported NCLB are now producing good students. Those that won't accept responsibility for anything are still producing almost 100% druggies and drunks. You get what you force the teachers to do and that only.

You needn't force them, S; ... (Below threshold)
kim:

You needn't force them, S; they'll willingly contract to perform well. The good ones will.
==============================

This is the point of charte... (Below threshold)
kim:

This is the point of charter schools. Why not spend public money where teachers, students, and parents are willing to contract to perform?

In fact, spending public money without those safeguards is an unholy outrage. Is the NEA mad, stupid, or evil?
=================================

Probably not evil. They di... (Below threshold)
kim:

Probably not evil. They didn't intend to ruin urban education.
========================================

You could google Green Dot.... (Below threshold)
kim:

You could google Green Dot.
=================

"why, then, would they <... (Below threshold)
Wieder:

"why, then, would they [conservatives] blithely shuttle their children off to a school with a similar lack of intellectual diversity?

The above has an incredibly simple answer: Because "intellectual diversity" is not what the conservatives are seeking. They want only and solely the confirmation of their one-dimensional non-intellectual world view. All else is to be discarded as distortion of their "reality.".

niggling ephemera... (Below threshold)
macofromoc:


niggling ephemeralities

crap

Is the NEA mad, stupid, or... (Below threshold)
bryanD:

Is the NEA mad, stupid, or evil?
=================================
Posted by: kim

http://www.amazon.com/NEA-Trojan-Horse-American-Education/dp/0941995070

An easy read. Explains such imponderables as why phonics was dropped for use in teaching a phonetic language. And why there's an extra hour of school for Gym Class. ****/****

"They want only and sol... (Below threshold)
Rob LA Ca.:

"They want only and solely the confirmation of their one-dimensional non-intellectual world view. All else is to be discarded as distortion of their "reality."."

Sound just like the democrats goal to me. Thanks Wieder. My Catholic high School had a class called "World Religions" and we had a Rep from various faiths etc. come in to speak to our class. That's something your democrat religion forbids at all costs.

"intellectual diversity"... (Below threshold)

"intellectual diversity" is not what the conservatives are seeking. They want only and solely the confirmation of their one-dimensional non-intellectual world view. All else is to be discarded as distortion of their "reality.".

Try this experiment sometime, Wieder.

Go to DU and post something supporting the War in Iraq, or opposing the impeachment of President Bush.

See how long you last.

Lefty websites don't want dissenting views. Conservative websites, like this one right here, let lefty kooks like you froth at the mouth.

Learn it, live it, love it.

Go to DU and post someth... (Below threshold)
James Cloninger:

Go to DU and post something supporting the War in Iraq, or opposing the impeachment of President Bush.

Or Daily Kos.

Hey jim, I was in grade, mi... (Below threshold)
Jordan:

Hey jim, I was in grade, middle, and high school throughout the 90's into about '04. We were already being taught to only attempt to pass tests. I had maybe 8-9 teachers from 4th grade till graduation who genuinely tried to instill a sense of learning and education into their students. The rest taught entirely on how to pass the tests involved. Nothing more. All NCLB does is shift the focus to different tests, and at least makes damned sure they qualify for the basics.

The problem with most criti... (Below threshold)
Steve L.:

The problem with most critics of NCLB is that they are the targets of the law. They are arguing against it because it casts them in a bad light. It isn't about "teaching the test." Our teachers don't do that any more or less than they did. They just now know that they are being evaluated on their successes or failures.

The system is far from perfect. The nechmarks are, in many cases, unrealistic. However, accountability in any endeavor is never wrong. our education system has become a joke. For every dedicated teacher, there are three who are simply drawing a paycheck. Their main concern is making sure that every single rule that is to their advantage is followed to a"T." It should be about educating kids, but it's not.

For Wieder, 'intellectual d... (Below threshold)
kim:

For Wieder, 'intellectual diversity' is the distinction between 'poop' and 'kook'.

A hint; look to the consonants.
====================

Oops, my bad; Wieder can do... (Below threshold)
kim:

Oops, my bad; Wieder can do metaphysics.
========================

As a student at Hillsdale C... (Below threshold)

As a student at Hillsdale College, I would like to take a moment to address the "appeal" of Hillsdale that you find so difficult to understand.

First, the supposed lack of "intellectual diversity" on campus is a farce. While the campus is solidly conservative, there is a strong libertarian element, many anti-war Catholics (following the direction of the pope), and even a very active (though small) College Democrats Club.

Second, intellectual diversity means more than just democrat-republican or conservative-liberal. Those philosophies have more fundamental principles which we debate all the time. I can tell you that I personally have stayed up till three in the morning arguing whether absolute truth is ascertainable with several of my friends, not only because it's college and I'm a dork, but because we understood the implications involved. If someone is looking for intellectual, rigorous debate, there certainly is enough of that here at Hillsdale.

Third, Hillsdale is proof that it is possible to educate students without politicizing that education. When Hillsdale students read Virgil, Dante, or Camus, we discuss the ideas contained within the books themselves, and not whatever feel-good nonsense the professor might make up. The course of study presented here would enrich the mind of any student regardless of his political affiliation. And, also regardless of his politics, that student will be graded fairly according to the quality of his work. Being conservative allows us to recognize the value of a true education, and Hillsdale College students are free to receive one without the "niggling ephemeralities" of a PC-driven public school.

Fourth, every conservative living in the world today is so bombarded by the liberal establishment that there is virtually no risk that he will not be "exposed" to what pass for liberal "ideas." Nearly every TV show, every movie, every popular song blasted into our ears from every radio, expresses a message contrary to our values and to our beliefs. This is especially true for students at public schools. My high school violated my rights so flagrantly that law firms offered to represent me free of charge. It is nice to be at a school where I don't have to defend my principles every living moment of every day, where I don't have to wonder whether the "B" on my research paper was deserved or whether it was given because of my beliefs, where I don't have to numb my ears to a constant hum of profanities, and where my parents don't ask me to avoid the crowded hallways for fear that someone will stab me with an aids-infected needle as a form retribution.

Finally, as those who visit Hillsdale College know, the quality of the students here-- intelligent, diligent, principled, virtuous, chivalrous, kind, compassionate, self-sacrificing and overwhelmingly Christian-- is so great that it inspires a feeling of camaraderie unlike that which I have ever known. There is a bond so firm that it lead a higher percentage of Hillsdale men to fight and die beside their brothers in the Civil War--under the direction of their classics professor!--than any other non-military school in the nation. There is a Hillsdale College alumni retirement community under construction: think about what that says of our college! I am only a sophomore here, but already I love my school and my fellow students. And that, I suppose, is what has driven to write this response. Because when someone criticizes the people I love, they had better know what they're talking about. So please, before you toss off your reproach from the comfort of your arm-chair, make very certain that you do.


So, whaddya think, DC, is t... (Below threshold)
kim:

So, whaddya think, DC, is the NEA mad, stupid, or evil.
================================

All of the above?... (Below threshold)

All of the above?

Correct, but you have to ju... (Below threshold)
kim:

Correct, but you have to justify your answer. This is an essay test.
=========================================

I have to find a job today,... (Below threshold)

I have to find a job today, so lets go for a "short answer." Assuming we're talking about the National Educator's Assoc.:

- The NEA puts the interests of the teachers ahead of the students, and tricks local communities into thinking the organization cars about their kids.
See: http://www.hoover.org/publications/ednext/3384186.html

- The NEA works to support only the lowest common denominator of their members. I believe many if not most teachers honestly care about their children's education. If we didn't have the NEA protecting bums, ignorami, and criminals (all of which I have seen), then the good teachers could get on with their job.

- Something like 99% of their PAC money goes to democrats.

- The NEA opposes measures such as merit pay, school vouchers, reforms to teacher tenure, curriculum reform, the No Child Left Behind Act (though I also oppose that, I oppose it because I believe it is unconstitutional; they oppose it because they're lazy), and practically every other accountability reform. If we only had to employ good teachers in good schools, they would be worth the figure salary and benefit package, even though they only work 212 days a year. As it is...

-And, from a personal standpoint, the NEA has sent thousands of dollars into my county to attack my values.

- Finally, I find the whole "where would you be without a teacher" nonsense irritating. Where would you be without your doctor or surgeon? Or Grocer? Or the guy who picks up your garbage in the morning? Teaching *is* a very important job for our society, but its one that nearly anyone can do (teachers score in the bottom of all collegiate fields). That's not to say anyone could teach well, but practically anyone could teach as good or better than the average teacher in the current system. There are many good teachers, and they keep our head above the water while working in a hostile environment, and for them I am thankful. But we're discussing the general mess the NEA and their cohorts of created.




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