Are college students adrift?
College is a transformative period in a young person’s life. It is a time for personal and intellectual growth, for casting off old ways of thinking, trying on new identities and shaping the person one will eventually become.
Or, it’s a place for kids to socialize for four years before joining the workforce armed with virtually no desirable skills.
A new book making waves in higher education circles this week posits that, for more than a third of American college seniors, the picture comes closer to the latter scenario. Academically Adrift: Limited Learning on College Campuses
tracked 2,300 students at 24 American four-year institutions. Its findings
are unkind to the view of college as a crucible of intellectual rigor:
- 45 percent of students ‘did not demonstrate any significant improvement in learning’ during the first two years of college.
- 36 percent of students ‘did not demonstrate any significant improvement in learning’ over four years of college.
The Economist, for one, questions what Arum and Roska mean by “learning”:
‘Learning’ in this case is determined by performance on a test called the Collegiate Learning Assessment, which gauges "critical thinking, analytic reasoning, and other 'higher level' skills”. This may not be what students go to college to learn. It is possible that collegiate learning mainly involves an increase in knowledge in specific study areas. That is, a history student might not improve his critical thinking faculties while at university, but he might learn an awful lot about history. On the other hand, employers probably value general critical thinking skills far more than they do course content.
The study is full of interesting angles for reporters, but one tidbit Arum notes in the Chronicle piece affects journalists directly: 30 percent of graduating seniors almost never read a newspaper. While it isn’t news that 22-year-olds have fallen out of the habit of reading print newspapers, this statistic includes newspaper websites as well.
"How do you sustain a democratic society when large numbers of the most educationally elite sector of your population are not seeing it as a normal part of their everyday experience to keep up with the world around them?” Arum asked the Chronicle. “We need higher education to take the institutional responsibility for educating people broadly to see this as a basic part of civic life."
What are administrators and faculty at your local institutions saying about the study?
Labels: college_completion, highered_reform, readiness
Teachers and Value-Added Measures
More states and school districts are moving toward using changes in student test scores to evaluate teacher effectiveness in the classroom. But researchers who work with value-added measures issued plenty of cautions as they reported their findings during the fourth annual CALDER Center conference at the Urban Institute January 14.
Among the difficulties researchers noted: Third-grade and fourth-grade tests may not be comparable, so the difference in how a student scored one year versus the previous year might not be a reliable guide to his teacher’s effectiveness. Because tests are not given in all subjects and grades and for other reasons, fewer than half of all teachers can be assessed through value-added measures. Class composition matters: Teachers and students are not randomly assigned to each other, and one classroom can be filled both with students prepared by an outstanding teacher the year before and others prepared by a weak one. There is no way to take into account a child’s outside tutoring. Value-added measures are more stable the more years of test scores you have, and not all teachers have been around for long. You must account for "decay:" One summer, or one year, after Johnny has a great teacher, he can lose what he learned, through no fault of that teacher.
"Classroom dynamics are extremely complex," said Amherst College economics professor Steven Rivkin.
Among the more interesting findings of the papers presented at the meeting at the Urban Institute in Washington, D.C.:
When a district lays off teachers by seniority, they may need to lay off more teachers total, since the first hired are also the least expensive. James Wyckoff of the University of Virginia conducted an experiment looking at what would happen if New York City schools had to make a 5 percent salary cut. Under a strict seniority provision, school districts would have to lay off 7 percent of fourth- and fifth-grade teachers.
Layoffs determined by which teachers had the lowest value-added scores would mean the dismissal of some more experienced teachers, and would cut 5 percent total.
Expect the last-hired-first-fired issue to crop up in the coming fiscal year, as attention to teacher quality grows and states and districts face budget cuts and probably layoffs.
Promise and Pitfalls in Improving the Teaching Profession
It's a hot ticket, most spots are gone and you have only three days to apply.
EWA, through the generosity of the Carnegie Corporation of New York, is gathering some of the nation’s top education thinkers, journalists and teacher-bloggers
for a daylong conversation on teacher effectiveness on Feb. 18. We'll focus especially on issues that get little media coverage but are imperative to the success of our nation’s schoolchildren. The deadline to apply for the limited slots is 11:59 p.m. Eastern time, Thursday, Jan. 13.
The conversation will go beyond the commonly discussed topics of teacher pay and evaluation to ask: Is it feasible to make entry into the profession more competitive? Why is there often a large gap between what aspiring teachers learn in school and the skills they need in the classroom? And why do so few teachers feel they are getting the help they need to improve?
There are several spots still open to attend the conference. Journalists from any medium who cover education nationally or cover districts or states in the midst of significant teacher quality reforms are invited to apply. Spaces are available for teacher-bloggers from all areas.
In addition to hearing from and talking with researchers, innovators, and education officials, participants will have plenty of time to learn from one another. You’ll leave with ideas for great stories and the tools to accomplish them.
The conference will take place 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. at the Carnegie offices in midtown Manhattan. Participants' travel costs, including transportation to New York and two nights' hotel, will be covered.
If you're a reporter, apply here
. If you're a teacher blogger, go here
Cheaper, Faster, Better? The Challenge Facing Higher Education
What budget cuts should colleges make? Should students graduate faster? Is there a way to improve productivity and makes colleges better?
Those are some of the questions the Education Writers Association is examining at the higher education conference Feb. 4-5 at the Poynter Institute in St. Petersburg, Fla. And the agenda
and bio sheet for speakers
are available to review.
The conference is open to journalists only, but we do have travel subsidies
available for reporters. The deadline to apply for a subsidy is Jan. 17.
And thank you to Lumina, Southern Regional Education Board and Chronicle of Higher Education for sponsoring the event.
Labels: access, college_completion, college_finance, higher ed, highered_reform, readiness, STEM
Texas A & M Follow
Happy New Year! We have a bit of good news to kick off 2011.
Texas A & M University System prevented journalism students from making public information requests a month ago because they were making the requests at the behest of their instructor at Tarleton State University.
The journalism community responded by sending a letter of protest
from 15 journalism organizations. (Full disclosure: EWA executive director Caroline Hendrie is one of the co-signers.)
And now the university system is rethinking its stance
. According to a report in the San Antonio Express-News, the A & M rule, which prohibits system employees from making public information requests of their employer, was implemented in the '90s after an employee apparently abused the system. Now the system's counsel says he'll review the directive and whether it is too restrictive.
That's a welcome move and a great way to start the new year.
Labels: data, journalism
Questions to ask about education technology
The term 'education technology' is so amorphous, you might have a hard time writing about it or getting a grasp on the topic.
Fortunately, during a recent Brookings Institution event
about the issue, White House chief technology officer Aneesh Chopra warned that school district administrators and board members often focus too much on the 'nouns' of technology and not the 'verbs.'
"For what purpose are these technologies being used?" he asked. "What problems are being solved?"
That raises an essential question for reporters to investigate. Are your districts caught up in bells and whistles and the technology itself, rather than "what is our goal?" Talk to teachers on whether the technology helps students learn and what training they've received to use it the right way.