A surprisingly wrong headed op-ed from the New York Times was the hot subject of the Comics scholars listserv today. I thought Iâ€™d share it and my commentary, with the class:
New York Times October 11, 2006
No Undergrad Left Behind
By EUGENE HICKOK
LIKE it or not, the No Child Left Behind Act passed under President Bush has transformed the conversation about American public education.
Already, we’re off to a roaring start. Suck it you liberal whiners! It’s the law!
The law has its ï¬‚aws, but the nation has beneï¬ted from its focus on results and its willingness to confront gaps in educational achievement.
Not that he’s going to give us any statistics or hard evidence for this but hey it’s an op ed, so he’s free to just throw his opinions into the ether. It’s a sweet gig, paid for by the NYT, no less. Wonder how I could get my biased and completely obtuse opinions on the internetâ€¦
Now the administration has extended the discussion into what has long been considered sacred ground in Washington politics: higher education. Recent studies have highlighted higher education’s skyrocketing costs, uneven quality and poor graduation rates. Even more disturbing are reports that reading competency and comprehension are declining among college graduates â€” as if there should be any question about the reading skills of people with college degrees. Education Secretary Margaret Spellings has addressed these and other concerns by embracing reforms that could strengthen higher education and improve access and opportunities for America’s students. Among her commission’s recommendations are heightening ï¬scal and academic accountability, improving access to ï¬nancial aid and assembling accurate data on the performance of students and institutions. While no one seems to be saying that No Child Left Behind policies should be applied to the country’s colleges and universitiesâ€¦
â€¦ it does make sense to consider how some of the program’s underlying principles might help to ensure that higher education in America remains higher education. A college degree provides Americans with a competitive edge on the job market. But what is coming under increasing scrutiny is whether a college degree is truly proof of a college education. It is time for colleges to develop accurate measures of student achievement, and of the value institutions of higher education provide. The Intercollegiate Studies Institute recently released a report from the National Civics Literacy Board, on which I serve, showing what sort of information the public needs and why it is so important that it be available. The study tracked student knowledge of American history and civics at select colleges and universities, with the goal of determining how much students learn in these subjects over four years of college. They measured the change in knowledge by evaluating freshmen and seniors. And the results were appalling: college seniors failed the civic literacy assessment with an average score of 53.2 percent.
How this is the fault of colleges is beyond me. Basic literacy (civic or otherwise) is taught in grade school, you know, where NCLB and its glorious effects are in full swing.
This sort of information is important for tuition payers, policy makers and institutional leaders to have when trying to determine the difference a college education can make. Institutions of higher education need to report an academic bottom line. While they’re at it, colleges and universities must make it a priority that their students graduate. While most tuition payers assume a baccalaureate degree takes four years to complete, the truth is it takes typically more than six years. In 2003, only 34 percent of graduating students had completed their degree in four years or less. There are reasons for this, some of them understandable. But in far too many institutions, the emphasis is on enrolling students, not on graduating them. And far too often, that includes enrolling students who are not adequately prepared for higher education, and who therefore drop out after one or two semesters of struggling, or else spend most of their time in remedial or developmental courses that are not really college-level. Behind the impressive numbers of low-income and minority students enrolled in higher education are grim statistics regarding completion for a degree.
Nice. You college kids these days can’t read and if you can’t read good, you won’t graduate! So let me attach that idea to, ” the impressive numbers of low-income and minority students enrolled in higher education” and see if I can’t subliminally point to what we here at the Heritage Foundation thinks is the real problem, all you minority kids dragging the poor white kids down. It takes years of higher education, fed through the GOP spin machine to be able to throw a nice conservative curve ball like that out there.
Americans should have more information about higher education curriculum and teaching. Higher education in this country differs substantially from elementary and high school education, most obviously in what is offered and how it is offered. The academy responds to the demands of disciplines and faculty. It is a culture that cherishes independence and freedom. And it is a culture seriously out of touch with much of America.
Faculty members decide what they want to teach and when they want to teach, if, indeed, they teach at all. This is particularly true regarding undergraduate instruction, which is something of an afterthought on many campuses. Faculty members typically spend fewer than 200 hours a year in the classroom. That amounts to just ï¬ve 40-hour weeks.
Right there in the emphasized line is where Eugene leaves planet Earth entirely. He was in a low degraded orbit before, but now he’s headed for the Moon. Faculty members don’t just scribble ideas for a curriculum on the back of some strip club napkin as Eugene dreams they do. All courses have requirements based on accreditation and all courses have to be approved by the board of trustees, at least at colleges here on planet Earth. Maybe things work differently at Mars U, which is obviously where Mr. Hickok went to school.
Take a look at what passes for subjects of scholarly and instructional focus on campuses. Should taxpayer dollars really go to underwrite courses in such things as the history of comic book art? Policy makers and tuition payers need to be made aware of what sorts of courses institutions consider appropriate to fulï¬ll core academic requirements, if anything resembling an academic core even exists. And there needs to be a greater emphasis on teaching students what they need to know, rather than what faculty want to talk about.
Ah, now he’s hitting me at home. I have a four year, accredited degree in Sequential Art. That’s right, my undergrad was in Comic Books, both the history of them and how to make them. And cultural studies apparently have no place in Mr. Hickok’s dream University. All the students at Mars U read Sophocles in the original Latin and they like it that way! Never mind that I went on to get a MLS and now catalog comics as a librarian for one of the largest art schools in the Southeast. Good to know my professors wasted their time and education and that my career is an aberration in the eyes ofâ€¦ the Heritage Foundation. Speaking of wasted educations…
One of No Child Left Behind’s hallmarks is transparency. Today parents know more about the performance of their children’s schools than ever before.
Transparency and performance, like a hamster wheel.
This same principle needs to be applied to higher education. Colleges and universities need to be able to explain why they charge the tuition they charge, what their graduation rates are, what they feel constitutes an educated person and how they propose to get ï¬rst year students from here to there. The various college rating systems and publications are entertaining and interesting to read, but they don’t provide the sort of objective data tuition payers need to make informed decisions.
For generations, a college education has been a big part of the American dream. Much of the world has come to America to get a higher education. But nothing guarantees that this will be the case in the future. Indeed, for more and more American citizens, that dream is coming into question. It is time for serious reï¬‚ection and reform in higher education â€” before it is too late.
Perhaps if the ever-present fear of having our jobs shipped overseas where some Indian or Chinese Grad student will do it for a quarter of the wages were taken out of the equation, that four year degree might mean a hell of a lot more.
Eugene Hickok, a fellow at the Heritage Foundation, was a deputy secretary of education during President Bush’s ï¬rst term.
Emphasis added, which explains everything.