Tuesday, February 14, 2006

The New "C" in NCLB???

The 'C' in No Child Left Behind may take on an additional meaning come August. It may become No College Left Behind. The Secretary of Education's Commission on the Future of Higher Education has begun a national dialogue on the need for accountability and standards in higher education. In a press release before the first meeting of the commission last October Secretary of Education Spellings said,

As taxpayers, we all have a stake in our higher education system. Many people don't realize that federal dollars, including funds for research, make up about one-third of our nation's total annual investment in higher education. By comparison, the federal government's investment in K-12 education represents less than 10 percent of total spending. (snip)

I've convened this commission to ensure that America remains the world's leader in higher education and innovation. We are at a crossroads. The world is catching up. For example, according to the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, among young adults, Canada, Japan, Korea, Finland, Norway, and Sweden all have higher college graduation rates than we do.

And we're not keeping pace with the demand for skilled labor in the new high-tech economy.

Note the term "investment" in the first paragraph. So now the government is beginning to ask what they are getting for their money and demanding better results from our colleges to better compete in the global economy. They seek a way to to determine the "value added" in going to college. Since the federal government "invests" more money in higher education than other areas of education they want to make sure they get a high rate of return on their "investments". (This is also part of the reason they are switching from general student loans to more targeted loans in higher education for "rigorous" high school curricula. )

Corporations Want an Educated Workforce too.
Also involved in the commission are leaders from many large corporations. Nicholas Donofrio, executive vice president for innovation and technology at IBM was at the October meeting. In reference to his company's employment options he subtly suggested that if American colleges don't start to do better they will begin to look at alternative nations for skilled workers. (Source:Inside Higher Ed)

And with "suggestions" like that our nation's leaders think the federal government should take a more active role in assessing outcomes and holding our colleges and universities accountable.

A Look At Texas and the CLA Project
Charles Miller, the Chairman of the Commission on Higher Education, is from Texas. Many of the reform ideas discussed now at the federal level are currently being tested in a pilot project in Texas and a few other universities around the country. They have begun implementing an assessment project known as the Collegiate Learning Assessment Project. According to its website the CLA Project is not a test of individual students but of the institution itself. Its goal is to measure the "value added" by a college or university. By comparing tests scores at entry and exit they believe they will be able to assess what the student learned while attending school. The claim is that it will not measure individual students but the institutions themselves.

Charles Miller said in an interview for the NY Times,

"There is no way you can mandate a single set of tests, to have a federalist higher education system," he said. But he said public reporting of collegiate learning as measured through testing "would be greatly beneficial to the students, parents, taxpayers and employers" and that he would like to create a national database that includes measures of learning. "It would be a shame for the academy to say, 'We can't tell you what it is; you have to trust us,' " Mr. Miller said.

He said he would like the commission to agree on the skills college students ought to be learning — like writing, critical thinking and problem solving — and to express that view forcefully.

Once the commission agrees on a skills set, will it end there? How are they going to ensure that the graduates have those skills? And what happens when the students don't graduate with these federally "suggested" skills? Is it the university's failure or the college student's fault?

The Commission on Higher Education was given specific areas to consider in higher education; Accountability, Affordability, Access, and Quality. The full report of the commission will not be completed until August 1. We'll have to wait and see what they think every college student should know so they won't be left behind

For more information: The Dept. of Education website and National Academies.

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