Thursday, December 10, 2009

College education in USA

While the article by David Orr What Is Education For? mentioned in a previous post calls for new paradigms in education, That Old College Lie by Kevin Carey considers the failures of the American education with the existing paradigms about learning and training. Some passages:
"The near-total lack of useful information about teaching and learning has three main effects, all bad for students. First, it creates distortions in the higher-education market that drive up prices. Second, it gives colleges free rein to ignore their teaching obligations in favor of a mad contest for status and self-gratification. Third, it leaves colleges that serve the most disadvantaged students with the fewest resources.

The information deficit turns college into what economists call a "reputational good." If you go to the store and buy a shirt, you can learn pretty much everything you need to know before you buy it: the material, where it was made, how to clean it, and so on. College is different. You’re paying up-front for professors you’ve never met and degree programs you probably haven’t even chosen yet. Instead, you rely on what other people think of the college. Of course, some students simply have to go the college that’s nearest to them or least expensive. But if you have the luxury of choosing, in all likelihood, you choose based on reputation.......
Ten percent of the U.S. News rankings are based on spending per student, with additional points for high faculty salaries and other costly items. If an innovative college found a way to become more efficient and charge less while maintaining academic quality, its U.S. News ranking would actually go down.......
The information deficit also acts as a powerful impediment to reform. Anyone who has ever attended college knows that many college teachers are terrible at their jobs. Universities like to pretend that great scholars make great instructors, but one indifferent, outdated lecture from a tenured professor is enough to conclude otherwise. Because scholarly outcomes are visible, in the form of publications and citations, while teaching outcomes are currently not, colleges privilege the former above the latter. Tenure-track professors are routinely discouraged from spending too much time teaching, lest students distract from the mandate to publish. Legitimate evaluations of professorial teaching skill are practically unknown.

Putting the scholarly and teaching missions in better balance would require a confrontation with traditionally autonomous academic departments. That inevitably creates controversy, and controversy is poisonous in a market that depends so heavily on hazy, decades-old reputations."
Hr goes on to suggest some solutions and lobbies standing in the way of reform. Link via Felix Salmon who discussed the article in America’s broken colleges.

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