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

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Spellings Looking For Data in All the Wrong Places

Part of the Spellings stump speech to justify the creation of intrusive new databases on a massive scale for higher education focuses on the parents' need to find out comparative college data that is not now available. Someone needs to tell Spellings that all the information she was wanting on her daughter's college could have been found by walking down the hall at ED or by using ED's own website.

From Inside Higher Ed:
t’s part of Education Secretary Margaret Spellings’ stock speech on higher education, explaining why she appointed a commission to study what’s wrong with colleges — and why it’s time to change the accreditation system and make other changes to promote more accountability and document student learning, as the panel suggested.

The wording doesn’t change much from speech to speech. Here’s how she expressed it this month to a group of faculty members and deans at a meeting on promoting student success:

“The absence of information means we can’t answer basic questions families have during the college selection process,” Spellings said. “For example, how long will it take to get a degree? Will this institution prepare me for the field I want to work in? And how much is this education really going to cost? When my daughter applied to college two years ago, I found it challenging to get the answers I needed. And I’m the secretary of education!”

That sounds pretty damning. The secretary of education has a tough time finding out how long it would take a student to graduate or how much college costs? Spellings frequently refers to her daughter’s college search when making these points, so we decided to see what Spellings or any parent could find today. Is that information difficult to get? Spellings’ daughter enrolled at Davidson College, a liberal arts institution in North Carolina. According to Davidson, the top “overlap” colleges in applications to Davidson are Duke, Vanderbilt and Wake Forest Universities, and the Universities of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and Virginia.

It turns out that a parent whose child was looking at those institutions could find out how long it would take a student to get a degree and how much college would cost — and a lot of information suggesting whether college prepares students for careers — all in one place, available at no charge: the Education Department’s Web site.

COOL, the acronym for the College Opportunities Online Locator, isn’t the best known Web site. If you type in “college information” or “college search” to Google, you get a bunch of commercial sites first. Even on the Education Department’s Web site, it doesn’t merit inclusion on the home page or the main page for parents. But with a few clicks or a search, parents can find it — as well as answers to most of Spellings’ questions. . . .

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