Aug 232017
 

The Sun tells what everyone already pretty much knows: fewer than half of the students in Maryland public schools are on track for college readiness, according to latest PARCC scores, or Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers. This is grim news given that the instrument is itself only the most basic indicator of college preparation.

Preparation is worst where the state spent most. Quoting the linked article:

In Baltimore, math scores held steady while English scores inched up. Still, fewer city students passed the exams than in neighboring districts. Only about three of every 20 city students in grades three through eight passed both math and English. Almost 12 percent passed math, about the same as last year. Fifteen percent passed English, an increase of 1.4 percentage points from last year.

Maryland implements spending plans, not education plans. For those keeping score, the state dramatically ramped up funding for public schools over the last twenty five years, measuring its success by how much it spends, not what students can do as a result of their often not-so-close encounters with schools. As a result, the present news will be viewed by officials as a success … after all, the checks cleared, which was the whole point. Too bad for parents who thought their taxes were supposed to have been buying more than teacher union fealty.

Anyone who thinks this doesn’t impact us at College Park is kidding himself. This is a campus that lists skin color and orientation (among other characteristics) among ways an applicant can be deemed prepared for the flagship, so dismal PARCC scores which don’t factor in those characteristics won’t significantly affect our admission practices. We will maintain business as usual at the front door. But the professoriate in charge of generating scholarship will increasingly struggle in the face of a student base that similarly struggles with preparation. Time spent back-filling substandard education coming in to the flagship is time not spent pushing back the frontiers of knowledge in our respective disciplines.

All this is a recipe for implosion. The entrepreneurial mindset of public school officials does not stop at our front door; overall we continue to increase tuition beyond sensible limits, basically just raking in cash because it is on the table. Thoughtful people watch this knowing it is not sustainable. We have previously pointed out here how the bubble is already bursting around us, and we thus say it again: the market will reach a tipping point, after which consumers will demand to know why they pay so much for such poor outcomes, often in restrictive environments that negate the entire argument for campus as a place of free expression and thought in the first place.

We’re doing it wrong.

 Posted by at 12:31 pm on August 23, 2017
Jul 122017
 

An article in Scientific American summarizes what lots of us observe: Students are Better Off without a Laptop in the Classroom.

We hope nobody here is shocked by this revelation. Kids use devices to mess with social media rather than for purposes of supporting instruction? Good gosh … who’d have thought …

Scholars will try new approaches in education, assess carefully and use what works by objective criteria. Of course, here we have instructors who will stampede the herd toward one or another trendy idea because it validates their notion of what ought to be done, not because they know it works. (We’ll see it when we know it, I guess.) We have administrators who promote the tech since it sounds cheaper than investing in quality people – for them tech is a replacement, or at least a force multiplier. And what about tech company support for computers in the classroom? Gee, those would be the companies that have built a business model around convincing people that tech is good? Maybe we shouldn’t be surprised if they don’t look kindly on the above study either.

 Posted by at 12:52 pm on July 12, 2017
Jul 062017
 

The labor market is evolving quickly; how we prepare young people to enter it isn’t.

Vocational Ed, Reborn tells about the evolution under way now. At least in some places, even if not Maryland where officials see students as means of sustaining business models that serve them, not consumers whose future needs might be better served if only we got out of our comfort zones a bit. Maryland educators continue to eschew the word “vocational” in our programs. Here it is called career and technology education.

 Posted by at 9:29 am on July 6, 2017
Jun 282017
 

Study finds pay for public college presidents up 5.3 percent confirms once again that it’s good to be king … err … president.

5.3 might be the mean for presidential bumps last year, but once again Maryland leads the way, as (according to the Diamondback reporting of salaries, which may be time-shifted due to how long it takes for public information to trickle out to the public) Wallace Loh jumped almost 15 percent in the last cycle ($526,590.30 to $600,314.00). The 2013 report listed him at $459,000.

Not bad for an era through which most of us have labored under wage freezes imposed by the state.

 Posted by at 8:25 am on June 28, 2017
Jun 152017
 

College education is supposed to involve more than just ‘knowing stuff’. It might be just that in the minds of bean counters who increasingly drive campus policies. After all, they want bigger revenue streams and lower overhead, so the faster they can declare delivered! on an undergrad experience, the sooner they can bring in the next customer. Get ’em up, move ’em out! Nevertheless, classically it was a lot more – and our society needs it to be a lot more.

That’s why interested scholars look cautiously at articles like Many Colleges Fail to Improve Critical-Thinking Skills. And you should too. (Sorry about the pay wall, but you should be able to get that from on-campus accesses.) Same for Is the U.S. Education System Producing a Society of ‘Smart Fools’? We might not like the answers to that question.

Objective evidence of our collective failures on campus can be found everywhere. We see activities reported such as The Campus Inquisition at Evergreen State College, and also Those ‘Snowflakes’ Have Chilling Effects Even Beyond the Campus. (Another pay wall.) These articles report how communication skills are going down, perspective is narrowing and any sense of respect for diversity or selfless dedication to causes greater than an individual is becoming lost.

[And there are plenty of examples of how the products of today’s educational systems think that there ought not be consequences in the marketplace, which historically has served a hard but most excellent mechanism for quality improvement. Take for example: The tech world is rallying around a young developer who made a huge, embarrassing mistake.]

Utterly not a coincidence is the economic link, as mentioned in The US college debt bubble is becoming dangerous. In fact some of us have been trying to raise the alarm that higher education is in a bubble which is bursting around us. (What a shame College Park is driving itself to a place that will not allow our campus to be one of the survivors, much less to a leadership role in transforming higher education for the better.)

 Posted by at 10:01 am on June 15, 2017
Jan 142017
 

As always seems to happen, then end of fall semester was a time of hard deadlines then the holidays were a time of fatigue and recovery. With that behind us, now is the time to comment on a few of the many articles we followed along the way even if there wasn’t time or energy to link to them previously.

The theme of today’s catch-up is a common one here: calling out how campus opportunities and academic freedom are threatened across the nation. While I’ve seen several great articles and commentaries on this over the last month, I flag a few representative examples below.

The Week carries a commentary about students who want to delegitimize the very institutions from which they seek credentials. This does seem odd, don’t you think? Paying money to buy the attention of experts in order to denigrate them for being wrong? Perhaps these students are not actually paying with their own money. If they were then it seems more likely that they’d care whether the resulting credentials might enjoy some legitimacy.

Not just students assail campus scholarship. Other scholars (or at least those charged with leading them) are doing their best to dismantle scholarship too. In a Washington Post opinion piece, José Cabranes, a federal appellate judge and former trustee of Colgate, Yale and Columbia universities, laments how the system is gradually narrowing the scope of speech on campus, to the detriment of our scholarly work products. To find the best results, scholars need freedom to vet all ideas; we learn even in shooting some idea down since the effort to articulate one’s rationale helps us better organize the body of knowledge. Stifling speech because it is unpopular or inconvenient – as happens even here at College Park – thus delegitimizes our results, since objective viewers won’t ever have seen them tested against competing assertions. They won’t have been shown how the results are better. As we’re fond of quoting, if everyone is thinking alike, then nobody is thinking.

We can’t note the limits of speech (as above) without linking to National Review’s roll up of 2016’s most ridiculously PC moments. (Look closely to see how many of those might well have been College Park antics.)

Finally, and with regret, we mark the final columns penned by Prof. Thomas Sowell, as the 86 year old thinker steps back from his regular on-line commentary. We have often quoted Dr. Sowell, and hold in high regard his scholarship, so we will miss him. His farewell column is titled Random Thoughts, Looking Back. But one of his best regular columns appeared just a week before, The Diversity Fraud; he may as well have been staring straight at College Park. We commend to you the tribute to Dr. Sowell published by the Foundations of Economic Education site, since it is grand. Professor Sowell: thank you.

 Posted by at 11:26 am on January 14, 2017
Nov 152016
 

Readers here may know I often lament the failure of campuses overall in genuinely bringing forth diversity in ideas and views, and this has been a topic shared with others as sidebar in the last week especially. One bit of writing from a good friend deserves to be more than sidebar, and with permission I reproduce it here.

I graduated from Oberlin in the late 70’s and I currently live in Portland, Oregon. I am not sure which place is causing me more embarrassment at the moment, but I have decided to blame Alanis Morissette for recent events. Her song “Ironic” has apparently confused a whole generation of snowflakes about the true meaning of the word. They therefore do not see the irony in talking about inclusion, diversity, and tolerance while proudly stating that they don’t know a single person who voted for Trump (Oberlin student) or blaming all the violence on “those anarchists” and then immediately stating that they don’t intend to follow any of Trump’s laws (Portland resident). Such complex people who are yet apparently incapable of seeing such simple inconsistencies. I have repeatedly asked a number of them why they don’t see the irony in their positions and statements, and they respond with a blank stare, all because Alanis has a whole generation believing that irony is something completely different. And that is just sad.

Robert M. Slugg PhD

 Posted by at 8:49 pm on November 15, 2016
Nov 112016
 

The Marine Corps culture of innovation gets some great visibility in this light HuffPo article.

Knowing how to distill quality – and do it fast for cheap – is central to my message in SEAM about why software engineering is more important than ever. Most attention in the industry is on cyber, cyber, cyber, but really, no stakeholder would be much happier for his system being down due to bad design as compared with being down for some outside hack. Down is down.

Quality is a holistic thing, and security is a piece of the quality puzzle. My view: knowing how to predictably make systems of good quality – they work and are secure – is important but knowing how to do that lean will be the life blood of any economic rebirth in this country. The field is actually less able to do the predictable part today as compared some years ago, so UM’s role in this should be to lead the way.

The saying used to be “pick any two” but we need good, fast and cheap, which don’t come as a set from most crap-for-practices software development environments today. (Yes, ridiculous practices are promoted on this campus too, since Main Admin has business incentive to cash checks and move students out the door fast without regard for long term impacts. A pity we don’t do this right.)

A renaissance in quality needs more than promotion of technology, of course; contracting practices need some liberation as well, since the exclusive club of companies which might know how to do things both good and fast have very little incentive to agree to do it for cheap. That exclusive club will only become more exclusive over time if there isn’t strong leadership. The lore of evidence-based process improvement in software systems will continue to fade.

Good on USMC for promoting a culture of innovation, quality, measurement and continuous improvement; too bad for UM that our culture does not reflect the same virtues.

 Posted by at 7:54 am on November 11, 2016
Oct 222016
 

Of course, to skeptics who lament the absence of privacy practices that put consumers in control of their own information, there is no surprise in the the following: Google Has Quietly Dropped Ban on Personally Identifiable Web Tracking (link to ProPublica). There was just too much money to be made not to join web tracking data with Google user profiles.

User profiles like in Google Apps for Education, for example. This would mean all Maryland students, faculty and staff who use our campus-supplied, Google-implemented mail and services are not only coloring in profiles for Google to use in commercial ventures – Google does that already – but these profiles will be joined with all our web activities (on and off campus.) All as a condition of being affiliated with University of Maryland.

Can you opt out? Maybe, but at some point employees will be opting out of getting official information from their employer and students will be opting out of getting traffic from their instructors. At least this is how it looks from here.

UM leadership puts our personal information into a stream of commerce in order to obtain its technology infrastructure. Once again Wallace Loh writes checks that we must cash.

 Posted by at 4:36 pm on October 22, 2016