"A child's learning is the function more of the characteristics of his classmates than those of the teacher." James Coleman, 1972

Friday, January 20, 2006

The Blind Whores of Mammon

The American Institutes for Research (AIR) just released a new study entitled The Literacy of America’s College Students (click here for pdf copy of Report). It uses the same instrument that was used in the National Assessment of Adult Literacy (NAAL) to focus on literacy of the current crop of college students who are nearing graduation. The study represents nothing more or less than continuation of mercenary efforts to offer a research-based grounding for the coming intrusions by federally-led education privatizers. Try this clip from the Executive Summary:
With the recent attention on accountability measures for elementary and secondary schools, accountability in institutions of higher education has been all but overlooked. The National Survey of America's College Students (NSACS) is a study that examines the literacy of U.S. college students, providing information on how prepared these students are to continue to learn and use the skills that they will need in the years to come. Such an examination provides a valuable set of indicators of performance in higher education, informing such issues as the relationship among educational experience, literacy, and preparedness for the job market.
AIR, which has profited mightily from federal research and Reading First oversight grants under the present regime, continues to prostitute itself by spinning its own research to pretend that it says something that it does not say. The current effort, which goes nicely with the recent one that tries to justify the use of chain-gang pedagogy in K-12 (see previous post here), represents a sustained attempt to the prime the pump for the anticipated gush of support for federal meddling in higher education by corporationist interlopers—which, in the end, is aimed at privatizing universities so that they become wholly the campus laboratories for corporate research and development. After all, the Chinese do it—except that their dictatorship is on a government payroll rather than a corporate one. Whatever—the world is flat, remember?!

The good news is that, despite efforts to give maximum negative spin to a press release headline and lead paragraph that could have been written by that whining dunce, John Stossel, there is not nothing that I can find in the study to justify this phony gasping:


WASHINGTON, D.C. – Twenty percent of U.S. college students completing 4-year degrees – and 30 percent of students earning 2-year degrees – have only basic quantitative literacy skills, meaning they are unable to estimate if their car has enough gasoline to get to the next gas station or calculate the total cost of ordering office supplies, according to a new national survey by the American Institutes for Research (AIR). The study was funded by The Pew Charitable Trusts.
Can you imagine! Then, in the very next paragraph, just when the education reporters have stopped reading and raced off to write their stories on the collapse of the American university, comes this:
The AIR study found there is no difference between the quantitative literacy of today’s graduates compared with previous generations, and that current graduates generally are superior to previous graduates when it comes to other forms of literacy needed to comprehend documents and prose.
This positive news is echoed on page 25 of the study itself:
Students in 2- and 4-year colleges had higher prose and document literacy than adults in the nation with similar levels of education, although differences in quantitative literacy between current and former college graduates were not significant.
Here are the full list of summary findings on from page 25:
This chapter compared the literacy of U.S. college students with the literacy of U.S. adults by key demographic groups. The results revealed the following:
∑ The average prose, document, and quantitative literacy of students in 2- and 4-year institutions was significantly higher than the average literacy of adults in the nation.
∑ Students in 2- and 4-year colleges struggled the most with quantitative literacy. Approximately 30 percent of students in 2-year institutions and 20 percent of students in 4-year institutions have Basic or below quantitative literacy.
∑ Across colleges and universities, the average literacy of male and female college students was higher than the average literacy of men and women in the nation.
∑ The literacy gap between men and women in the nation largely disappears among college students.
∑ With the exception of Asian students in 2-year institutions, college students from each racial or ethnic group outperformed adults from the same racial or ethnic groups in the nation.
The literacy gap between Whites and minorities in the nation remains among students in colleges and universities.
∑ In 4-year colleges, students with a non-English language background had higher average literacy than adults in the nation with an English-only language background.
∑ Students in 2- and 4-year colleges had higher prose and document literacy than adults in the nation with similar levels of education, although differences in quantitative literacy between current and former college graduates were not significant.
Note that there is no mention in the press release or the news stories that the achievement gap, which the neocons are strenuously claiming to alleviate in the K-12, carry forward through college. But this study is not about the long-term effects of poverty and discrimination, is it?

So what gives with the sad face by the heads of AIR? Why such headlines about nothing new, except that college students are doing better in prose and document literacy? Well, there is this clue from Dr. Baldi, who directed the study:
“The surprisingly weak quantitative literacy ability of many college graduates is troubling,” says Dr. Stéphane Baldi, who directed the AIR study. “A knowledgeable workforce is vital to cope with the increasing demands of the global marketplace.”
Oh, yes, that global marketplace thing, the same one that the head humanitarians at Microsoft and Yahoo want to fully exploit, even if they have to become accessories to torture and murder by the Chinese government. That’s right, see Cohen’s op-ed from yesterday’s Washington Post, "Business, and Repression, as Usual," about American corporate assistance to the Chinese government’s round-up of dissidents and and anyone else who speak their minds.

Standing by to provide more negative spin on the AIR research for the AP story by Ben Feller was Joni Finney, one of national advisory panel members who “guided the direction of the study.” Finney is a finance and governing consultant for higher ed, has written a book on public and private financing of higher ed, and will go down in history as responsible for the first state by state report card for higher education. Report cards are not just for K-12 anymore!

The AP story, which is now being circulated around the world begins thusly:
Study: College Students lacking literacy skills
By Ben Feller
Associated Press
WASHINGTON -- Nearing a diploma, most college students cannot handle many complex but common tasks, from understanding credit card offers to comparing the cost per ounce of food.

Those are the sobering findings of a study of literacy on college campuses, the first to target the skills of students as they approach the start of their careers.

More than 50 percent of students at four-year schools and more than 75 percent at two-year colleges lacked the skills to perform complex literacy tasks.

That means they could not interpret a table about exercise and blood pressure, understand the arguments of newspaper editorials, compare credit card offers with different interest rates and annual fees or summarize results of a survey about parental involvement in school.
Further down in the story comes this good news, which is immediately doused by Finney, who, remember, "guided the direction of the study":
There was brighter news.

Overall, the average literacy of college students is significantly higher than that of adults across the nation. Also, compared with all adults with similar levels of education, college students had superior skills in searching and using information from texts and documents.

"But do they do well enough for a highly educated population? For a knowledge-based economy? The answer is no," said Joni Finney, vice president of the National Center for Public Policy and Higher Education, an independent and nonpartisan group.
With efforts to sustain the "knowledge-based economy" having already eliminated the impetus for preserving civic, moral, and cultural values in the public schools, the focus is now moving toward the university, where nothing less is envisioned by the blind whores of Mammon.

The mis-information and negative spin coming from the researchers, authors, advisors, and coached reporters will most certainly find its way into the talking points of Spellings’ Commission on Higher Ed and the other privatizing efforts being staged at the corporate socialist think tanks. Don’t be surprised to hear about it, too, in the upcoming State of the Union Address, along with the lies derived from Rising Above the Gathering Storm, er, the "Augustine Report." That is, if you bother to watch the State of the Union.

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