Saturday, September 30, 2006

There's a Chill In The Air

And it's not just from the cooler fall temperatures. Secretary of Education, Margaret Spellings wants to throw open the doors on higher education and begin the process of federalizing higher education. Citing a "remarkable absence of accountability mechanisms" in postsecondary institutions, in partnership with the states she would like to,

[D]evelop a voluntary, privacy-protected higher education information system that longitudinally analyzes performance. About 40 states have similar systems in place. We must connect these islands of data and make the information available to everyone. We propose providing matching funds to states and institutions that collect and publicly report information on student performance. And we will use the findings to redesign the Department of Education's college search Web site into a more user-friendly search tool.

The commission wrote that "higher education must change from a system primarily based on reputation to one based on performance." I could not agree more. To succeed, this effort must be led by the colleges and universities themselves. We must be careful not to harm the autonomy and creativity that has made them the envy of the world.

But we must act now. Our goal is nothing less than full access to the American Dream by every American who chooses to pursue it.

What state politician will refuse federal money in return for "voluntary" participation in this new accountability system?

The lie now being told to us now about holding universities accountable is the same lie that was told to get standardized testing implemented at the secondary level. The state convinced parents that the need for state standardized tests was to hold our schools accountable. Stuff and nonsense. It was to track each individual child. If it was truly for school accountability, then the test would be anonymous and a respresentative sample of students would be sufficient. But testing all children in every school has a much different purpose than school accountability. The same is true in higher education. The Spellings Commission on Higher Education is all about continuing the process of tracking students from preschool through college. (P-16) into a seamless educational system.

Today's education system works as separate parts with little coordination between academic levels or long-range planning. To meet today's challenges, America must create a radically different system. Such a system must be seamless from kindergarten (preferably preschool) through postsecondary education. The goal should be a P-16 system where students develop at different rates with different competencies and learning styles.
That's the long range goal. Once naive, twice stupid. Shame on us, if we buy this lie a second time.

If the federal government gets away with this then the real American Dream started by our founding fathers will begin to look like our country's worst nightmare.

In a related story, colleges are coveting homeschoolers.

Home-schooled students — whose numbers in this country range from an estimated 1.1 million to as high as 2 million — often come to college equipped with the skills necessary to succeed in higher education, said Regina Morin, admissions director of Columbia College.

Such assets include intellectual curiosity, independent study habits and critical thinking skills, she said.

"It's one of the fastest-growing college pools in the nation," she said. "And they tend to be some of the best prepared."

It remains to be seen how the "performance standards" desired by the federal government and a seamless transition from high school to college will affect this trend.

Another trend in higher education is making courses available online for free. Berkley is now offering over 100 introductory courses available.

I also just recently realized The Great Courses are available at our local library. We are listening to Long Island University Professor Bob Brier lecture on Ancient Egypt. So far it's been pretty good. All this university learning is making me wonder if getting the degree has become more important than getting the knowledge. My children won't get "college credit" for completing the lecture series, but is that the most important thing? I don't think so.

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