Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Teachers vs Professors

Dear #edchat participants:

Yesterday we chatted about "How can K-12 and higher ed work together to promote positive change in education?" Well, you chatted, I listened while trying to do four other things. I'm sorry that I missed it, because I'm pretty sure the K-12 teachers involved in the chat outnumbered their higher ed counterparts by a large margin.

There were a lot of criticisms leveled at higher ed professors, that we are poor teachers and are stuck in a stone ages when it comes to ed tech. But, while most universities (as it was pointed out) claim evaluate their professors on teaching, research and community service, they actually spend a serious amount of time judging a professor's research output while just making sure they have taught and done something that remotely resembles community service. Research in your field is king. You get a PhD in your subject area, be it biology, literature, nursing or music.

Because we are not rewarded for improving our teaching, we don't do it. Our time is spent on administrative duties, our research and, yes, teaching.  But we have been told, you need to do research to get tenure. So we make research our priority. Our PD? Going to conferences in our field, to learn about the latest research and findings. We are expected to stay on top of what's going on in the field we teach.  Ed tech? What's that? Will it help me get tenure? No? No, thanks!

So I admit and agree that most university professors could learn a thing or two from the K-12 teachers who participate in #edchat on twitter. But, please give us credit for being experts in our fields. When professors complain about unprepared students coming into their classes, they are usually talking about two areas: not having what we would consider the basic knowledge/skills in that area and not knowing how to be independent learners ("good students"). Facing a room full of disinterested and unprepared students just makes us mad. We think we spend too much time teaching the students what they should have learned in high school and not enough time teaching what we are passionate about. That passion? It shines through, tech or no tech.

Professors are all good students: independent learners, highly motivated self-starters and passionate. If we weren't, then that dissertation would never have been written. Trust me. You choose grad school in part because of a passion you have for a subject and the right skill set (enjoy reading/writing/doing experiments).  We know our area, we love our area, and we want to share that knowledge. When we think of ed reform, we don't think about HOW you teach, we think about WHAT you teach. Because we love WHAT we teach. How we teach it is really a secondary concern.

I ask you, K-12 teachers, do you consider yourself experts in pedagogy or experts in your field ? Which do you think is more important? Is your PD exclusively in the latest ped or ed tech? Or do you brush up on deepening your knowledge and understanding of a subject area? If you teach English, have you ever done a grad class, not in ed, not in teaching English, but English literature or writing?

There is a division of labor that needs to be overcome. Yes, university professors need to work to be better teachers. But can K-12 become better at the subjects they are teaching? You can ace all of your education classes, but if you don't do well in the subject area classes, should you be allowed to teach that subject?  I agree with all of the suggestions about exposing K-12 students to the wonderful work and research professors are doing, to inspire them. But that should also extend to the teachers, so that they can remain current in not only how they teach, but what they teach.

Monday, June 28, 2010

The Difference Between Traditional and For-Profit Higher Ed?

Basically, nothing.

I was following the recent Senate hearing on for-profit institutions (#4profit) and joined in with my own Twitter rant, to go along with the Twitter rants of many supporters of for-profit education. Notice I say supporters and not apologists.  I am not so naive as to think that for-profits are all rosy and above-board, but what really makes me mad is that some of the same accusations that are laid at the feet of for-profits can and should be laid that the feet of traditional institutions of higher ed.  Let's go through the list, shall we?

CEO Pay:

The Chronicle of Higher Education provides wonderful information about BOTH traditional (both private and public) and for-profit earnings of their CEOs and Presidents. Notice anything? OK, there are some SERIOUS earners in for-profit education. But what the information provided by the Chronicle fails to really calculate is the external benefits that presidents often earn, even after they retire. Presidents often get homes, cars, trips, domestics, etc, all paid for by the university, and all "external" to their reported earnings for much of it. 

It makes me sick that a CEO in education get paid about a thousand times more than I do, but is this all about the greater-good? Or is it jealousy? And, I ask those Senators who it is they made their fortune in order to be able to afford to run for Senate. I bet most of them would have earned it in the for-profit world.

Bad Management/Accreditation

While I am sure that there are poorly managed and dishonest for-profit schools, if traditional schools were so above-the-board, then we wouldn't need the regional accreditation boards that we have. I invite you to read Kevin Carey's excellent analysis of a traditional college gone bad. Students left with debt and a worthless degree.  Accreditation boards taking a laissez-faire approach because of the non-traditional students the school served. Sound familiar?

As for the accusation that for-profit accreditation is meaningless because it is done by peers, who do you think does the accreditation for traditional schools? Peers. Peers who pay money. Discuss. Or, does one bad apple spoil the whole bunch in for-profit, but not traditional higher ed?

Credit Transfer

It's unclear, the claim goes, what your credits from a for-profit really represents. I point you to another essay by Mr. Carey describing his undergraduate experience at SUNY Binghampton: after receiving 24 credits for his high school AP courses (six courses, four credits per course), he also discovered that unlike other SUNY campuses, "awards four credits for classes that require only three faculty-contact hours per week." He continues:

I also talked to the provost, who insisted that Binghamton's four credits are more substantive than, say, the State University of New York at Stony Brook's three. But there are no external studies or standards to verify that. Speaking as someone whose housemate once entered slacker Valhalla by skipping the entire months of October and November while still earning 16 credits for a full four-course semester, I am, to say the least, unconvinced.

This is just one example, but if credit transfer were so simple for traditional higher ed, then why are many calling for an American version of the Bologna Process, Europe's plan to effectively standardize higher ed?  (I'm not saying we should, just raising the question)

Job Placement

Ah, can we repay our loans.  The Senate hearings brought out a student who got a degree from a program that wasn't accredited and now has obscene loans that she can't pay. Her advice, don't go to for-profit. 

I'd like to point you to a piece in the New York Times, profiling an NYU grad who is effectively unemployed and unable to repay her loans. Her advice? Actually, the advice is to think long and hard about going to NYU.

I have a lot of sympathy for both these women, as someone who has an obscene amount of debt, lots of degrees and no job (if they really want to investigate, try grad school for selling us a false bill of goods with no idea how to market ourselves and get another job).  What is interesting to me is the idea that somehow the for-profit school is more guilty for claiming high job placements while schools like NYU just strongly imply it.  Read the mother's comments about sending her daughter to NYU: "All we needed to do was get this education and get the good job. This is the thing that eats away at me, the naïveté on my part."


This rankles me a lot.  For-profits get dragged in front of Senate hearings for recruiting at McDonalds, while traditional schools get Federal grants for their efforts to diversify/attract non-traditional students.  For-profit schools are overwhelming non-traditional students in every sense: they are older (Stop calling them kids, Senator! was a tweet I read frequently), usually minority and usually first-generation college students.  If traditional higher ed was doing such a great job diversifying and educating all, then there would no market for the for-profits, would there?

No, wait, higher learning loves their rankings and rankings do not reward things like admitting underprepared students (Must. Be. Highly. Selective!)


This is, for me, the ultimate hypocrisy of this whole dog-and-pony show. We don't like it/trust it because it is for-profit, with shareholders and CEO's, etc...And we love traditional universities because it's not about the money, it's about education. Except when it isn't (cough, Harvard, cough). Because using (cheap) adjuncts to teach up to 70% of courses on campus while building new million-dollar football stadiums and basketball training facilities isn't about the money. It might not be "profit," but it's greed.

Perhaps I am defensive as well because I am now, technically, in the for-profit education business.  I care deeply about education. The system, at large, that we have now is broken, on all sides. The for-profits are exposing many of the cracks and chasms that exist.  We can attack or we could take the time to look at why so many students are spending their (and the government's) money at these institutions. We also need to look at all the ways all of higher ed can improve.  I want to be part of that change. And get paid doing it. 

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Dr. Jane Can't Network, Either

Johnny Can't (Net)Work, but neither can Dr. Jane.

As academics (especially in the humanities), we are trained to network as academics, in order to be academics.  Conferences are spent meeting other academics, creating valuable links that will either lead to jobs or academic collaborations (which lead to jobs).  We shouldn't waste or time meeting people outside of academia, heck, outside of our field, because what good would that serve?

We work (as pointed out by a recent article as teachers or researchers inside our discipline and sometimes even more narrowly in our specialty.  Why work outside of what we are training to do? 

But most importantly, we use social networking as an extension of the first two "networking" opportunities: to promote and connect our narrow research (and thus career) interests.  How many articles about looking for academic work remind newly-minted PhDs that talking about kids or hobbies on facebook is a no-no, lest a hiring committee think you aren't dedicated to your research 100% or, once you are hired, wasting your time on frivolous activities like family or your health?  Facebook and Twitter (and to a lesser extent, Linkedin and have become another non-networking opportunity, another chance for graduate students and PhDs to show how narrowly focused and single-mindedly dedicated they are to their research. 

So how is Dr. Jane supposed to advise Johnny how to network to his benefit? Johnny needs flexible skills, adaptable to a variety of different jobs and demands, and the ability to connect and communicate with a variety of people.  Dr. Jane knows how to narrowly present herself to a unique audience of like-minded individuals.  Is it any surprise that students aren't well-equipped for our present economy?

(Cross-posted at UVenus)

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