An essay in Inside Higher Ed (“Accreditation helps limit government intrusion in U.S. higher education“) reminds us that the annoying intrusion of regional accrediting bodies is a way of avoiding the annoying intrusion of state and national governments.
Category Archives: Assessment
The Education Blog at the Dallas Morning News has a quick summary (“Gov. Perry vetoes a couple of interesting education bills“) of two education-related bills that Perry vetoed. The these bills had more to do with K-12 education, but those of us in higher education live with the consequences of these policies every day.
HB 2836 probably got into trouble with Perry because it mandated that “the assessment instrument must, on the basis of empirical evidence, be determined to be valid and reliable by an entity that is independent of the agency and of any other entity that developed the assessment instrument.” [Perry’s official statement on the legislation] It looks to me like the bill was vetoed because it challenged the cult of the standardized test and puts those tests on the defensive. Perry and the state education bureaucracy are probably worried about the possibility of the fig leaf being ripped off the state’s tests. It’s much safer to just assume that those tests are actually measuring something meaningful.
The big higher education veto was Perry’s veto of SB 15. Perry’s veto statement is heavily coded political gibberish. Basically, the legislation would have limited the authority of university boards or regents. Of course, Perry didn’t accept the concerns about the regents he appoints and vetoed the bill to preserve initiatives he is pushing through these regents.
I was recently asked to serve on another committee. I declined. This Non Sequitur comic sums explains my reluctance.
It has become hard for me to decide whether I’m more afraid of the Texas Legislature or the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board (THECB). It’s a bad sign when a bureaucratic agency becomes as politicized and erratic as our legislature. However, those of us who have witnessed the incomprehensible and pointless process known as “assessment” have begun to look to our legislature for respite.
The regular session has wrapped up and the Austin-American Statesman has provided a end-of-session review (“Session featured drama, substance on higher education.”
- Too much of the session was taken up by the ongoing obsession with the University of Texas. Perry’s appointees spend too much time trying to micro-manage UT and the Legislature spends too much time reining them in. The state’s leaders continue act as if UT and Texas A&M are the most important battleground for higher education policy and don’t seem to realize how dramatically different other campuses are.
- In some good news, the “Texas Grants” program was increased. This will help more students afford college.
- Governor Perry saw passage of his proposal to create “fixed-rate” tuition plans that mean students can count on tuition remaining steady over their four years of college. Of course, this means the schools will want to build in future costs increases as they consider what to offer incoming freshman. This becomes especially exciting because schools have learned that they can’t count on steady funding from the state.
- “Outcome-based” funding was imposed on two-year schools. This makes a school’s funding formula based partially on how many students complete a semester (rather than how many begin the semester). Increasingly, “accountability” does not always apply to students. Everyone I know who has faced a room full of students knows how naive this his. However, their form of educational socialism that is much en vogue with some of Perry’s advisors. Expect them to continue to continue to push rules that make schools responsible for student success. Exactly how you pass those students who don’t show up and do the work will probably be left to the individual instructor.
- Tuition bonds that would have funded new facilities perished in some kind of silly spat between the House and Senate. There are proposals to add this to the “call” of the current special session. Unfortunately, this is in the hands of the Governor and he has shown no interest so far. These project could get pushed back a couple of years when both construction costs and the costs of borrowing money increase.
- The hottest issue (and, in my opinion, an issue important largely for its symbolic value) was “campus-carry.” This would have allowed individuals with permits to carry concealed weapons into campus buildings. The Legislature did pass a bill that allowed people to keep such weapons in their vehicle when the park on campus. However, the right to carry them into buildings was not passed.
I don’t believe that most of the individuals in the coordinating board or our legislature intend to inflict hard on education in the state. However, collective irrationality can emerge from both bureaucratic and legislative organizations. The THECB currently holds the edge in regard. Expect to see campuses hiring more administrators doing nothing but respond to demands for reports that the people in Austin will not read. However, the massive flow of paperwork will allow our state’s leaders to crow about “accountability” (even as we cancel office hours to attend meetings to generate these reports).
According to a story (“China Bans 7 Topics in University Classrooms“) in the Chronicle of Higher Education, China’s political leaders have issued a ban on classroom discussion of topics including freedom of the press, the wealth accumulated by government officials, and the mistakes of the Chinese Communist Party.
I wonder how the Chinese will assess how effectively concepts like “universal values” are not being taught.
The movement to bring standardized tests to higher education seems to have fizzled (“Standardized Test Proposal for Texas Colleges Stalls“). This shouldn’t be a surprise since many Texans have discovered that similar tests in K-12 have been much more trouble than they are worth. Still, the desire to centralize control over the college classroom is strong and we shouldn’t expect the state’s leaders to give up.
I think this Calvin and Hobbs strip effectively summarizes the anxieties that professors and public school teachers have about seeing their salaries tied to standardized test scores or student course evaluations.
Faculty members have more reasons that ever to feel that higher ed anxiety. Getting students to read is harder than ever. Respect for faculty and education is dropping. Online course offer both new opportunities to reach students and new problems about who is on the other end and exactly what they’re learning. More of the university is being transformed in a bureaucracy serving rituals of assessments driven by political credit claiming.
The political dynamics surrounding higher education in Texas is making its own contribution. Frank Bruni, in a Op-Ed piece in the New York Times (“Questioning the Mission of College‘). Sums it up pretty well:
“I’d sound yet another alarm. Scratch the surface of some of the efforts to reform state universities and you find more than just legitimate qualms about efficiency and demands for accountability. You find the kind of indiscriminate anti-intellectualism and anti-elitism popular among more than a few right-wing conservatives…
In other words there’s some crude, petty politics in all of this. And as we tackle the very real, very important challenge of giving young Americans the best and most useful education possible in an era of dwindling resources, that’s the last thing we need.”
My biggest worry today is not that another generation of students will come along and present new challenges. My fear is that the state will strip us of the resources we need to meet those challenges and that the politicians of the state will be working against us. Getting students to read and explore new ideas will be even harder when their lack of respect for education finds comfort in the political rhetoric of the state’s leaders. Our state leaders ask only for superficial measures of success (lower tuition bills, higher diploma counts) without asking whether or not graduate or employers are better served. The irony is that while these politicians want to invest only in diplomas and job-related skills, they have no idea what jobs or skills will actually be needed in the future.
Young Texans get the wrong messages from the state: “Don’t learn the subjects in K-12, just passed the standardized tests. Don’t embrace the broad-based education offered by your college, just get the diploma as cheaply as possible. If you fail, the responsibility rests with the school.”
Some employers are already suffering through the consequences and pushing back. Unfortunately, we’ll have to wait for the private sector to unite and lead the rebellion against the decline in learning. The anti-intellectualism and anti-elitism built into the current political regime guarantees that teachers and professors will be the last people to be given a voice in education policy.
While higher education wasn’t mention in the President’s State of the Union Address on Tuesday night, the Chronicle of Higher Ed is reporting (“Obama’s Accreditation Proposals Surprise Higher-Education Leaders“) has some plans. The administration calls for benchmarks on affordability as well as assessment of student success that will be used in deciding how gets federal dollars.
While some of the data that the administration may be looking for sound useful, finding out what jobs our graduations get and what they earn will be difficult to gather. This data could prove expensive to gather an easy to manipulate. Graduates often take several months to settle into a job, some go to grad school, and it’s hard to image finding them all and getting them to complete surveys when they are at the point in employment that gives us the best view of their success.
Some schools have already been incomplete or insincere in the data they report and it’s not clear whether or not the federal government or anyone else should trust this data too much.
Every day the web of assessment data gets more complicated and time-consuming.