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

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Arkansas State Takes the Randy Best Diploma Mill Route for Teacher Preparation

Best Associates has a strong commitment to the education industry and a track record of exceptional results. The market is huge, with the U.S. spending more than $700 billion annually. --Best Associates Website
While Arne Duncan was running Chicago Public Schools, he shepherded hundreds of Chicago teachers through Randy Best's for-profit diploma mill, the American College of Education. Now it appears that the oligarchs and their puppet are getting ready to scale up for delivery of their alternative teacher ed programs, even though the preparation offered by such programs does not come close even to the level of rigor of the traditional teacher ed programs, which have been repeatedly attacked over the years by the same corporationists who now want to offer something that is an insult to the notion of academic integrity.

This new strategy of the cheap online diploma mill ed degree will help generate a vast oversupply of "teachers," which can be used in the urban school chain gangs and then discarded for other eager recruits as soon they burn out from the ten hour work days that are being planned for the new KIPPs and KIPP knock-offs based on "no excuses." The skill level and benefits will be reduced to those of prison guards, which will be quite good enough to suit the oligarchs whose children, after all, will never encounter one of the Arkansas State or Lamar University or American College of Education alums. For the corporate welfare charter schools and the charity publics that will remain, where all the unwanted special populations will be warehoused, the key to manning them is volume, volume, volume.

Any university faculty member in a school of education who believes that there is something called faculty governance or even union membership that will protect you from the onslaught of corporate bottom feeders like Randy Best, you should have a look at what is happening at Arkansas State. If you want to save your profession, you need to take a break from your post-post-structuralist text long enough to get organized.

Some clips from a nice piece of reporting from Inside Higher Ed:

For some in higher education, what happened at the University of Toledo earlier this month was a small victory in a simmering war. For others, it was an illustration of academe’s resistance to a future that is coming, ready or not.

Faced with the prospect of partnering with a private company to deliver online master's degrees in education, the faculty at Toledo rose up in protest and managed to kill the deal. But the story of Higher Ed Holdings -- an ambitious Texas-based company selling distance learning support to universities -- didn’t begin in Ohio, and it’s not likely to end there. Moreover, a growing debate about how universities will be forced to change in the coming decades -- and the extent to which the private sector will play a role -- is a subject that’s not going to die with the Toledo deal.

At Arkansas State University, where a recent partnership with Higher Ed Holdings is getting decidedly mixed reviews, fissures are quickly forming. Just last week, a faculty member resigned from an academic committee in protest, proclaiming: “I simply refuse to be part of this HEH scam.” The professor’s e-mail is emblematic of the passion with which some faculty are resisting the company, even as others characterize its approach as “the wave of the future.”. . . .

. . . .

. . . .Prospective Arkansas students who visit the Academic Partnership's Web site are greeted by video of a company spokeswoman who springs forth from the bottom of the page hologram-style. The spokeswoman hits the high notes of the marketing campaign: Low price, quick completion. The degrees cost a total of $4,950, which is as much as 60 percent less than comparable degrees cost. The time to degree is as little as 18 months for a degrees that can traditionally take 24 months to complete.

Borrowing a marketing technique that's traditionally employed in infomercials, Higher Ed Holdings is also pushing a "limited time" offer. The first 500 students accepted into the Arkansas State master's program are given the "First Course FREE!" -- a $495 value. The discount is given in the form of a "scholarship" to the "first 500 qualified and accepted applicants."

In exchange for Higher Ed Holdings’ services, universities typically give the company 80 percent of tuition revenues, according to three contracts provided to Inside Higher Ed. While the universities forfeit significant dollars in the deal, state appropriations are rising in tandem. Public universities typically receive state appropriations based party on credit hour production, and that number is rising steadily, even though the enrollment growth hasn’t required any new brick and mortar.. . . .

So, in effect, state dollars go out the door to Randy Best, while a replacement supply of state dollars comes through the other door from the taxpayers.

. . . .

. . . .What unquestionably changes in a partnership with Higher Ed Holdings is enrollment, and some argue that this change alone has an affect on quality. At Lamar, where the partnership with Higher Ed Holdings is in full swing, classes have grown to as large as 2,000 students.

The large enrollments have raised questions in the minds of some professors about how they could possibly develop any kind of relationship or dialogue with their students. While Higher Ed Holdings officials maintain that faculty control curriculum, they don’t dispute that the large classes require faculty to rely more heavily on standardized testing than essays or other assignments that require more grading time.

“You’ve got to do your course to incorporate quite a bit of auto-grading, and strike a balance as to how much high-touch grading you have,” said Robert Riggs, a newly-hired spokesman for the company. “That’s a fact of life of doing it online; there has to be a pretty good component of auto grading.” . . . .

In a workshop for professors at Arkansas State, Higher Ed Holdings officials explained that coaches could only devote five to eight minutes per student, per week to grading, according to two faculty members who were present. Company officials also encouraged faculty to consider breaking down large essays into smaller pieces, say 150 words each or about a paragraph at a time, so they could be more easily graded, the faculty said.

Julie Grady, an assistant professor for curriculum at Arkansas State, said she felt the company was placing restrictions on assignments and content, even though they repeatedly said faculty could “absolutely … absolutely … absolutely” (they said it a lot) do whatever they wanted.

“It was ‘Oh yes, you have absolute control over the assessment. But it has to be something the coaches can grade,’ ” Grady recalls from the meeting. “‘Yes, you have control, but you’ve got to make sure it’s something the coaches can grade quickly.’ We can do whatever we want, but we have to make sure the coaches can handle 100 to 125 students each.” . . . .

. . . .

The compressed time frame is not dissimiliar from the way summer courses are offered at Arkansas State. Moreover, distance learning models are often arranged so students can take a series of shorter, intensive online courses -- as opposed to taking several longer courses at once. Even so, some faculty say they're unconvinced quality is retained in the Higher Ed Holdings model. Summer sessions involve longer, more frequent class periods where 14 weeks of content can be compressed into five weeks. With the Higher Ed Holdings model, where all courses are online and coaches have limited grading time for hundreds of students, faculty say there's less assurance that the five week courses will be equivalent to the 14 week courses.

Even as the numbers of students grow in classes, faculty may be expected to do less work. An internal Higher Ed Holdings document, which the company provided to Inside Higher Ed in a slightly redacted form, indicates that faculty can expect to spend three to five hours a week managing a class. Developing the course typically takes one to two weeks, according to the document.. . . .


  1. Anonymous11:44 PM

    This is shocking news.

  2. Anonymous7:01 AM

    I agree that this may be the beginning of a disturbing trend; however, there is one inaccuracy in your essay. You state that this degree program will create an oversupply of teachers. A glance at both the Lamar and Arkansas degree programs though indicates that neither is a teacher training program. Both are programs for people that are already teachers.

    It is disturbing that someone is trying to use the McDonalds - billions served - approach to providing higher education. One cannot fathom how quality will be maintained with such a large quantity of students.

  3. As a faculty member at ASU close to this issue, I'm freaked out, as in Halloween nightmare scene, wondering if our administrators will continue to sign contracts and reshape our programs without our consent or acclamation while reports are out that they are receiving $$ for every course formatted with HEH. Jason is back.....

  4. Anonymous6:30 PM

    What I have noticed in the many online courses I have taken is the "professor" does very little and, in many cases, really isn't needed at all. This simple fact is probably the faculty union's real issue with distance education. Calling Academic Partnerships a "diploma mill" when they don't supply the course content only reinforces my view. The louder you Captain Dunsels protest the more I am convinced that the archaic model of reading out of the book to a room full of bored students is destined for oblivion.

    1. The business plan is designed so that the professor "really isn't needed at all." At least, not needed in these lower caste schools that are planned to take advantage of the working poor and those working to climb into the lower middle class with a teaching degree. Professors are much in demand for the upper castes, where professors in material classrooms do not spend class time "reading out a book to a room full of bored students." We teach, discuss, lead out, parry, and do all the things professors have always done until dipshits like yourself came along with schemes to turn institutions of learning into revenue streams for corporate bottom feeders.