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

Saturday, June 23, 2007

Saving Higher Ed from Political Hackery

Just as Spellings and ED are directed by the political arm of the White House for K-12 policy decisions, we see the same corrupt, crony politics at work as Bush Co. surges forward in an attempt to reshape higher education. The education text-and-test industry, the student loan sharks at Sallie Mae and Nelnet, etc., the for-profit online diploma mills that feed off of federally-guaranteed student loans, and the fundamentalist church schools are allied in an attempt to gain a controlling interest in a higher ed system that has remained so far the envy of the world.

Commentary from the San Antonio Express-News:
Americans need to elect officials who care about them and their well-being. This means never again the likes of the current bunch of nincompoops.

I can forgive their lies, misappropriation of funds and even the bloody global mess they have gotten America into. But I cannot forgive their attempts to stupefy America's kids and create an environment of mediocrity in the U.S. higher education system.

The Bush administration is trying to manipulate and modify the accreditation process of the 1998 Higher Education Act. All bona fide institutions of higher learning are accredited by specialized agencies such as the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools, or SACS. The U.S. Department of Education designates these agencies to ensure that diplomas issued by the accredited institutions are valid and course credits can be transferred.

More important, these institutions are eligible for Title IV funding, which governs federal student financial aid programs, as well as other federal funding. Hence, accreditation is the operating license for educational institutions.

A battle has been brewing between the Department of Education and the Council of Regional Accrediting Associations, or CRAC, over the language and substance of the reauthorization proposal of the Higher Education Act. The Department of Education is insisting on inserting language to reflect three interests that have little to do with serious education.

The first involves "for-profit educational corporations" that have championed school vouchers. Using its power of designation, the department is applying pressure on crediting institutions to force institutions of higher learning "to accept credits without regard to their accreditation status."

The second demand is on behalf of interests pushing for TAKS-type testing. This means that testing would most likely be done by external for-profit agencies using standards far removed from goals, objectives and missions of the institutions.

The third and most important insertion demanded by the Department of Education is a provision "requiring an accrediting agency to demonstrate that it applies its standards in a manner that does not undermine the stated religious mission of any institution of higher education."

This means that peer review per se goes out the window and the University of Texas at San Antonio or UT-Austin must accept Gog and Magog 102 from one of the institutions controlled by the Southern Baptist Conference or any other religious institution.

I have no problem with religious institutions sponsoring universities. Indeed, some of them are very good and I went to one. But mine ceased to be strictly a religious school a century ago, and so has Harvard, Princeton and others.

Secular institutions shouldn't be forced to accommodate any mumbo jumbo they do not want to accept. More important, the proposed changes open the door to accepting courses and credits from such mediocre online organizations as the University of Phoenix and the many others that have exploded on the Internet.

The question is, who is pushing this? The answer is four Bush appointees with little experience in education.

U.S. Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings is one main actor. She has a bachelor's degree in political science, and the limit of her knowledge is working on the failed No Child Left Behind program. She is in her position because she served as political director of Bush's first gubernatorial campaign and as his senior adviser as governor.

The second is Charles Miller, who has a bachelor's degree in mathematics. A successful investment portfolio manager, he was appointed to the UT System Board of Regents.

Cheryl Oldham, a lawyer from St. Mary's University who was appointed to the Department of Education after serving at the White House, joined Miller.

The fourth is Vickie Schray, who worked with vocational programs at Mount Hood Community College in Oregon.

A letter from the Education Department threatened that if CRAC does not agree with the administration's plan, the department will be "free to recommend whatever rules it wishes."

CRAC's response was to inform the administration that it would not be swayed into changing its accreditation principles.

Congress has joined the battle and negotiations have ended without agreement. America now ranks 15th in education among the developed countries.

With mediocrity like this running the system, I am surprised it isn't behind Afghanistan.

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