Sunday, September 18, 2016

We all have secret stashes of Magic Teaching Dust and if we just agree to use it, everyone will graduate and get the top jobs and everything will be fine

So I just stumbled across yet another well-meaning (let's assume) article full of suggestions for "improving" college education in order to magically increase graduation rates.  Here's what the fresh thinkers at third way tell us we need:

Better Teaching & Supports: Every school with a graduation rate of less than 67% should develop and implement a plan to increase student completion, including improving classroom teaching by professors and adjuncts .

That's right, "improve" classroom teaching. Never mind how, exactly. Do we have to tell you everything? What's that, up to 87% of the variance in graduation rates is explained by the student, not the institution? Pfft. Show your fancy numbers to someone who cares.

Pell Floor: High-performing schools should be encouraged and incentivized to accept and educate far more low-income students.

Because accepting more low-income students will do wonders for graduation rates. That explains why top-tier universities insist on enrolling so many of them!

Open Data: We must end the opacity of college-specific outcomes data to help students, parents, and policymakers discern whether schools are succeeding or failing.

But not the kind of data that show that graduation rates can be reliably predicted by student characteristics.  Or the kind that show that where someone went to school explains only around 5 percent of the variation in their earnings  (p. 49). 

This article is from 2016. As is this one, damning nonselective public universities as "dropout factories" and demanding to know why, say, Alabama State University (average ACT 18) doesn't have the same graduation rate as UCSC (average ACT 27).  (Hey, guess what: No school with Alabama State's student academic profile has a 6 year graduation rate higher than 48%.)

I don't have some jar of Magical Teaching Dust hidden away, to be deployed only after I have been sufficiently hectored by fresh-thinking disruptopreneurs. I am already, believe it or not, doing my best. 
Here's an idea: How about disrupting poverty


  1. Yes, yes, yes to all of this! Thank you for summarizing this so cogently! This idea -- that the only factor that matters in student success is the professor in the classroom -- is what prompted me to vent in poetry form this week. At LD3C, many of us who teach developmental classes have been beating the poverty drum for years, but no one in the administration wants to address it because that would mean 1) actually acknowledging that issues in the community affect student outcomes in the classroom, and 2) addressing issues of race, which is something the admins at LD3C pay lip service to occasionally but don't actually want to discuss on any real level.

    This is, of course, the end result of decades of poor public policy in the U.S., including disastrous public education policies -- which also ignored the white elephant in the room (a.k.a, poverty).

    Thank you for the links. Very, very helpful.

    1. Oh, and I forgot to add that even though the admins at LD3C understand that poverty is an issue and that our students face enormous challenges in the pursuit of education -- including transportation, economic, health, and social issues -- LD3C is pushing heavily for a streamlined two-year program for each student who comes to LD3C, *regardless* of whether or not students need remediation before entering college-level work.

      We live and work in ridiculous times.

  2. There is a similar stash of secret management magic possesed by the administrative class, which convinces them both that they already "know" how to manage anything and that any detailed knowledge of the core product is not necessary. This is not limited to industry or education.

    I am off to drink, and when I return, I shall opine on why everybody is an expert in education.

    1. That's not magic! It's just cocaine.

  3. Another amen.

    And in possibly-related news, George Washington University, one of the most expensive private institutions in the nation, has opened a food bank, because they recognize that food-insecure students may just have trouble concentrating on their studies. That might, of course, also be true of housing-insecure, transportation-insecure, and health care-insecure, and, in fact, generally money-insecure students.

    Add an increasing percentage of faculty who may well share at least one of the above insecurities with their students (and stir retirement-insecure into the mix), and you've got a mess that no amount of faculty-directed carrots, sticks, exhortations, or professional development sessions is going to fix.

    What all of the above do have in common, of course, is that they keep administrators, outside consultants, and pundits in business.

    So, yes, ridiculous times.

  4. Thanks for the great post, Frankie. The recession is far from over.

  5. I'm reading the linked article from Third Way, and for fuck's sake, it's everything I thought it would be. Yet another gem:

    "Specifically, schools should be required to pay back some fraction of the federal loans their students cannot repay, a rate which can be adjusted based on the nature of the student body at particular schools. Having skin in the game will encourage colleges to care more deeply about student outcomes."

    Right. Just great. Because resource-starving schools with large populations of at-risk students works so well for K-12. But that's exactly what we're talking about with this "rebate" scheme. At least there's an escape hatch with the adjustable rate of rebate the probable outcome of which will be: the nature of the student body is highly covariant with outcome, therefore the rebate can be the same (e.g. zero) for all schools. Sweet idea, there, Third Whatever.

    Most of the population who drives a car would not think that they are therefore qualified to barge into an automobile factory and start telling the engineers and assembly line workers how they should be doing their jobs. Yet anybody who's ever been a student thinks themself a fucking expert in education, such that they can bloviate and demand to be taken seriously.

    On a scale of 1 to 10, their opinions are worth the equivalent number of years they've been in the trenches with the rest of us, i.e., zero. This shit has to stop.

  6. For shits and giggles, plod your way through the Third Way articles listed here.  Then check out this page belonging to the only member of the "education" team with discernible time in front of a classroom. Excerpt:

    "Prior to her time at Third Way, Tamara worked as a Network Coordinator for Teach Plus Los Angeles, where she helped to mobilize a network of solutions-oriented teachers working to elevate the teaching profession, and proudly taught 7th grade science and health at Johnnie Cochran Jr. Middle School for three years as a Teach for America corps member in Los Angeles."

    I realize that I'm arguing from incredulity, but I've yet to meet anyone who went through TFA who wasn't a "teaching tourist" more intent on padding their resume than going into the profession, and I am not likely alone in this.

    Some model example specimens of her (or "her team's") composition writing exposition:

    "Rather than waiting for the system to implode upon itself..." we're gonna wait till it implodes upon something else [snark added].

    " is unconscionable to think that they are allowed to serve students at all." Well, then, you should think something else! Or could it be that you are using that word, but it does not mean what you think it means?

    But here is a particularly galling pattern of prose (I say "pattern" because the thinking it reflects can be found in other articles):

    "This means that today, a first-time, full-time student who enters the average public institution is more likely to NOT graduate from that school than they are to graduate..."

    No. The fact that less than 50% of all students graduate does not mean that for any given student, the odds are less than 50%. Never do this again.

    1. iiinteresting. I suspect she didn't mean it to come across this way, but somewhere between "elevate the teaching profession" and "proudly taught," I get the impression that she doesn't think much of the great majority of teachers.

      And yes, I've got some serious reservations about TFA as well (and have strongly suggested to one young relative that if she isn't seriously considering teaching as a lifelong profession -- which she isn't -- she shouldn't be thinking of teaching for a few years, since the first few years of any teacher's career are hard not only on hir, but also on hir students). I believe there's also been some serious conversation about whether TFA teachers tend to end up in positions that might otherwise be filled with recent college grads who come from the neighborhood (or a similar one), and who may not have quite-so-sparkling c.v.s, but may be in a better position to reach the kids at those schools, and show them the path to high school and college diplomas.

  7. I read no further than this gem: "But in an analysis of full-time, loan-holding students at four-year private, non-profit colleges, we found a stunning level of institutional failure in fulfilling this mobility promise to students."

    As though we control the economy and job market on top of the learning? If I had that sort of influence I probably wouldn't be where I am today.

    1. Yep. One measure of our ability to influence job markets might be found close to home, where most departments at institutions of higher education are staffed almost entirely by full-time, tenure-track faculty earning wages commensurate with the local cost of living, with the occasional adjunct stepping in to teach an upper-level class in hir particular area of professional expertise.

      Or maybe not? I'm pretty sure that my tenure-track colleagues would prefer the above scenario to the current one, and I'm sure that my contingent colleagues would, so the issue isn't an inability to imagine a better system.

    2. Hey, guess what? More people go to college when there's something about the "real world" that they might wish to avoid; during the 1960s-70s, it was 'Nam, and more recently, it's a recession. And when the gig is up, it's not a given that conditions have improved over when they went in.

      College never was a magic ticket to a job. It certainly can't create jobs out of thin air when there are few to be had.