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

Monday, May 22, 2006

Higher Education at Risk

Her majesty's Commission on the Future of Higher Education wrapped up its fifth meeting on Friday with little concensus (as reported in this New York Times story) on how to solve the "perceived crisis" in higher education. One thing is certain -- the panel's report expected to be released this Fall will be met with the same fanfare as A Nation at Risk was in 1983.

Inside Higher Education provides some good insight into the goings on that is a must read for anyone concerned about special interests on the panel like Chairman and CEO of Kaplan, Inc. who have a stake in seeing that colleges are turned into the same test-prep factories as K-12.

Who is the report for?

In a session Thursday in which he tried to wrap up the first day’s work, Richard Stephens, executive vice president of Boeing, listed the various “stakeholders” that the panel had to address in its work: politicians and policy makers, college presidents, employers, professors, students, the general public.

College leaders on the panel and some higher education officials who have been watching its work closely have, like Ward, urged the commission to emphasize the positive as well as the negative in its final report. A report with a harshly critical tone, they suggest, will have a hard time winning over the college administrators and faculty members who ultimately will have to do much of the heavy lifting if the report’s recommendations are to succeed.

But Miller has bristled at times at the suggestion that the panel should pull its punches or soften its “tone” in any way to avoid insulting college officials. The most important constituent, he has said again and again, is the public, and the report needs to be written in direct and blunt language that will resonate with them. He has taken to referring frequently to “A Nation at Risk,” the 1983 report that decried a crisis in the country’s high schools and inspired significant efforts at fixing the problems.

While Miller has taken pains to note that higher education is not nearly in the mess now that secondary education was perceived to be back then, its resonance with him suggests that his idea of the right “tone” for his commission’s report might not jibe entirely with the one college leaders would prefer.
Has it dawned on anyone that the "inspired signficant efforts" aimed at fixing the nation's public schools are a colossal failure and have made lots of people very rich? The good news for Kaplan and those on the panel with financial interests in bringing new reforms to higher education, is that years of filling in the bubbles and bashing public education has paved the way for their upcoming media blitz and against academe that should resonate well in a gullible and fearful American public.
And, all this as the Administration and Congress slash the budget for higher education.

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