Monday, April 9, 2012

USC prez lets loose with reformy cliches. Not much else.

Looking through the April 4th issue of EdWeek, I found this back page commentary piece, "Reaching Beyond the Ivory Tower Into the Classroom" co-written by C.L. Max Nikias, the president of USC and USC prof William Tierney. I guess the very idea of the head of one of the world's most expensive and least accessible universities telling public schools what they need, kind of pissed me off. So I forced myself to read it all the way through.

Why it took two such highly-esteemed academics to rehash this corporate reform drivel is beyond me. They start out reminding us once again of the failures of our so-called "dropout factories." Don't they have to pay Arne Ducan a buck or two for using this patented, degrading cliche? Talk about the Ivory Tower! What an encouraging way to start a conversation with real educators.

Then comes the usual plea for schools to help make American corporations "globally competitive." According to Nikias and Tierney, it's public schools that are holding back Microsoft, Bain, GM and the hedge funds from beating the Chinese in the hunt for super-profits. Really? I wonder why public education never got the credit it deserved when the economy was on an upswing.?
With statistics like these, America cannot remain globally competitive and economically vibrant. Student performance in other industrialized nations regularly outpaces ours, and China and India are spending vast sums of money educating their children to catch up.
Not only are we hurting the economy, but public school educators are not even adequately preparing students for college. That reminded me of a recent Diane Ravitch tweet -- "There appears to be a bipartisan agreement that bad teachers killed the Dead Sea."

 Okay, so the pair do make some good points here -- although to put it all on the schools is ridiculous.
At too many schools, fewer than half the seniors will qualify to enroll in a four-year college or university. At many of our state universities, more than half the entering freshmen require courses in remedial math or English—or both. Several recent studies show that the performance gap between affluent and poor students in terms of test scores, high school completion rates, and, ultimately, wage earnings continues to grow at an alarming rate.
Yes, it does. But having the president of one of the world's most expensive private universities ($61,000/year), completely inaccessible to nearly all but the children of the rich, complaining about the gap in school completion rates--that takes chutzpah. This is the school where the gap was practically invented. I mean, USC is a school that pays its football coach $4 million a year to coach a team that is still serving a two-year NCAA suspension for having the ethics of a flea.

USC's 4-year completion rate of 70% is pretty good for most private schools, but it is still below the average for the nation's public schools. USC creams it applicants for high test scores and big, parent bank accounts and yet, still loses 30% of entering freshman. "Maybe USC should be called a dropout factory." And maybe there are some things public schools shouldn't learn from private university consultants.

So what solutions are offered by the men from Troy? Simple -- more university/school partnerships  "compacts". Wow, a compact! Just what every classroom teacher needs right now.  Is this some new school reform breakthrough? Aren't school districts already saturated by high-priced, outside university-based, professional developers? Charter school authorizers?  Consultants whose contracts soak up a huge portion of school budgets as they deliver their eye-rolling, power-point-heavy lectures?
We are not suggesting that research universities hold all the answers to our K-12 problems. Some colleges of education have already made significant strides in their involvement in schools. For example, at our own institution, we have a mentoring program [How nice for you. -mk] that helps low-income youths apply to college and a program that helps college-bound youths improve their writing. But the education of our nation's K-12 students cannot be left to a select few.
No, they say, education cannot be left to the educators. Instead we need to bring "our greatest minds to bear on one of our most vital organizations: the public school."  And if schools and districts are unwilling resistors to those "greatest minds," the two want their contracts mandated by legislation.
Our public schools and universities must work together rather than go it alone. If state policies need to legislate these relationships, then such steps should be examined.
Now, don't get me wrong. I'm all for building relationships between school and university. I've been working to do that for a few decades now. And there are a few really good colleges of education which are great at this and have also been doing it for decades. Academics can and should work with classroom teachers (on a voluntary basis). They can learn a lot from each other. Universities can also bring the power of their research into the public sphere by advocating for good ed policies. For example, here in Chicago, a group of 150 university-based researchers called CReATE came out with a damning report on the overuse of standardized testing in school and teacher evaluation. But this critical role probably isn't what Nikias and Tierney have in mind.

Besides the compacts, what other brilliant ideas do they have to offer? Well, they also want us to "think like rocket scientists." Okay, I'm down with that, although I wouldn't mind some rocket scientists thinking like teachers for a change. Then they want us to "knock down the knowledge silos." Yes, now you're talking. Knock 'em down. But also remember where these silos came from -- academia.

But what about, "thinking outside the box" and "becoming life-long learners"?  They must have missed those.

1 comment:

  1. Thanks, Mike. I LOVED it. And the nonsense about education in India and China! I could go on and on about what hogwash this is. But... your piece says almost e erything that needs to be said about the misrelationship between K-12 and 13 plus!
    Deborah Meier


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