Around the Web: Text and Context

This past week, New York City released individual performance rankings for its teachers, and The New York Times posted the numbers. Also in The New York Times, Michael Winerip waxed sarcastic on the trouble with numbers—these particular numbers are outdated and subject to a giant margin of error, but even if they were accurate, imagine “how it would feel,” for example, “to be summed up as a 47, and then have the whole world told.” Numbers need context. As This Week in Education pointed out, teachers’ value-added scores have as much to do with the quality of the school as with the quality of the individual. (Another post notes some interesting study results: those who do their student-teaching in a relatively cushy environment become more effective teachers no matter what kind of school they move on to.) Duck-Rabbit illusion

25% of the community-college students tracked into remedial courses don’t need them. (Last August, Washington Monthly published a long article on Accuplacer, the test that puts them there.) Meanwhile, the blog Schools as Ecosystems questioned the value of even correctly interpreted test scores-— we know, for example, that higher test scores correlate with higher GDP, but is higher GDP the only goal an educational system should pursue? “We need to update our education reform narrative from viewing schools as knowledge manufacturing facilities to viewing schools as dynamic learning ecosystems.” In a moving tribute to the late chancellor of the University of Virginia’s College at Wise, Robert Epp argues that institutions of higher education “need to be an active, everyday part of real communities whose histories and geographies, aspirations and troubles, inflect their curriculums and inspire their research.”

Dean Dad noted that community colleges have become a destination for wealthier kids, who bring with them salutary expectations of the full college experience, with mentoring, student organizations, and liberal arts. (A new study shows that a third of all students transfer at least once before graduating, and, for many, the final destination is a community college.) In response to the current tendency to approach education as an instrument for employment qualification, Columbia professor Delbanco fiercely defends the uniquely American conception of liberal education as a transformative process of self-discovery. Delbanco admits that reality doesn’t always match the ideal; his point is that we can’t forget the ideal as we figure out what form higher education is going to take as technology advances and demographics shift. The New York Times captured the implications of one of those demographic shifts in a special section on continuing education. While universities have been actively recruiting first-generation students, such students find the schools’ culture of individual achievement very alienating. College Ready Writing blogged about how that very same individualistic culture can impede the community-building efforts that improve students’ learning experiences. Hosting a joint conversation between high school and college instructors doesn’t count toward tenure, and admitting your failures in an effort to improve can invite accusations that you’re a bad teacher.

Number crunchers might have some answers for us after all: Ben Wildavsky reviews some of the for-profit sector’s better features, many of which are driven by an insistence on measuring outcomes and a tendency to respond to what the numbers say: nimbler curricula, a stronger understanding of what employers want out of college grads, and more systematic assessment of learning outcomes and evaluation of faculty.


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