Tag Archives: standards

Intellectual Standards = a Politics of Exclusion?

Universities today have lowered their standards of admission and
accepted more students regardless of their level of preparation. For example,
at the University of South Carolina, where I am presently employed, the number
of undergraduates has gone up from about 18,000 in 2006 to 22,000 in 2011. As a
result of the increased number of undergraduates, pressures are placed on
teaching faculty to accommodate students regardless of intellectual skills. For
one, political correctness has brought about that holding a student to an
intellectual standard may be perceived to imply a political act as part of a politics
of exclusion. This problem is further exacerbated by an increase in the integrative
aspirations attributed to higher education and the increasing diversity of the
student population, with all due ironic consequences.

On a purely educational level, the masses of students that are to
be taught despite their sometimes relatively low intellectual skills place a
rather distinct pressure on teachers to maintain standards in the face of
resistance. Even for the best teacher it is not an easy job, under these
circumstances, to not lower academic standards to accommodate students and avoid
trouble. Most tragically, there are pressures exerted by university
administrators towards departments to maintain enrollment or, in other words,
to keep students in college and have them pass their courses, whether they
earned it or not. Students of lesser skill-levels are not only admitted, they are
also given degrees, and that is the most worrisome trend. Obtaining a college
degree has become a matter of justice. The notion that prevails today is not
only that access to education is a right, but so is the successful exit
thereof. Under these conditions, the very notion of an earned degree has become
a mockery….

administrators have reconfigured universities as businesses and have abandoned
any idea of the university as a special institution with a calling. Under these
circumstances of an entrepreneurial university, it is a lack of morality, not a
particular political or ethical direction, but an absence of any moral
guidance, that has brought about many of the peculiar problems educators in
higher learning are facing today.


Mathieu Deflem is a
sociologist at the University of South Carolina. This is an excerpt from a
paper presented October 25 in New York City at a conference, “Changes in Higher
Education Since the 1960s,” sponsored by Manhattan Institute and the journal
Society. Full texts of all papers will be published in Society next spring and

Tawdry Sex and the Decline of Yale


My new book, Sex & God at Yale, covers many of the shabby low points of sex at the university: Live nudity in the classroom, oral sex seminars, masturbation how-tos and other examples of dedicated folly. But it’s important to focus on  the underlying problem I address in the book. Simply put:  Yale, along with other leading universities, has used academic freedom as an excuse for abandoning academic standards.  

I’m not the first to level this charge. In God & Man at Yale. William F. Buckley famously accused his alma mater of hiding behind “the superstitions of academic freedom.” That was more the sixty years ago. World War II was a recent memory. Buckley was upset that Yale employed professors who busied themselves promoting atheism and communism–ideologies which, he suggested, undermined the liberty that enabled Yale’s academic enterprise to carry on in the first place.

Continue reading Tawdry Sex and the Decline of Yale

Why Common Core Standards Are Likely To Fail


argued yesterday that the Common
Core State Standards Initiative
(CCSSI) is both necessary and a good
thing–but I must add that it just can’t work now.

It has the potential
to transform American K-12 education, but the plain fact is that it is destined
to fail because current teacher education programs neither prepare nor equip
grade school and high school teachers to teach the Standards.


Whether students
learn–and what they learn–depends largely upon what happens inside the
classroom as they and their teachers interact over the curriculum. “Skillful
teaching,” write Deborah
Loewenberg Ball and Francesca Forzani
, “can make the difference
between students being at the top of the class or the bottom, completing high
school or dropping out.”

Continue reading Why Common Core Standards Are Likely To Fail

Common Core Standards Can Save Us

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It’s no secret that
most high school graduates are unprepared for college. Every year, 1.7 million first-year
college students are enrolled in remedial classes at a cost of about $3 billion
annually, the Associated
recently reported. Scores on the 2011 ACT
college entrance exam
showed that only 1 in 4 high school graduates
was ready for the first year of college.

Continue reading Common Core Standards Can Save Us

The Neglect of the High Achievers

The Thomas Fordham Institute released the results of a study this week entitled “Do High Flyers Maintain Their Altitude? Performance Trends of Top Students.” This is among the first studies to examine the performance of America’s highest achieving children over time and at the individual student level. Produced in partnership with the Northwest Evaluation Association, this study’s results indicate that many high achieving students struggle to maintain their elite performance over their school years and often fail to improve their reading ability at the same rate as their average and below average cohorts.

This study raises a troubling but predictable question: Is the U.S. preoccupation with closing achievement gaps and “leaving no child behind” coming at the expense of our “talented tenth”?

Continue reading The Neglect of the High Achievers

Bothersome News from Overseas

Two noteworthy overseas higher-ed items recently crossed my desk. The first came from Britain, where the coalition government has decided to rework the nation’s science instructional standards. Among the proposed changes: eliminating the requirement that science classes “challenge injustice.” Education Secretary Michael Gove argued that such “irrelevant material” contributes “nothing to helping students deepen their stock of knowledge.”

While it’s not clear why science students should need to learn about challenging injustice, Gove’s move nonetheless attracted criticism on the grounds that it would diminish quality by making science instruction less topically relevant. The chief executive of the Association for Science Education, which describes itself as a “dynamic community of teachers, technicians, and other professionals supporting science education and is the largest subject association in the UK,” said that she “wouldn’t want to lose from the national curriculum . . . the idea that science is developing all the time and that it impinges on our lives.”

If this debate sounds familiar, it should–the inclusion of ideologically charged but pedagogically irrelevant requirements was at the heart of the “dispositions” controversy, when NCATE, a national accrediting organization, proposed requiring that all education programs individually assess whether prospective public schoolteachers had a disposition to “promote social justice.”

Meanwhile, from Australia comes news of a survey claiming that one in six female university students had been raped while in school. The finding is reported without any skepticism, even though buried within the article is the following sentence: “Rarely were the assaults investigated, with only two percent of women taking the matter to police, mostly because they thought it was not serious enough to report.” [emphasis added] Why an average reader should assume that something “not serious enough to report” constituted rape the article doesn’t explore.

It’s not surprising that victims’ rights groups–or most college and university humanities departments–accept such surveys as gospel. Yet for the media–or, much worse, a U.S. administration–to do so is appalling. Assume, for the sake of argument, that an equal number of these alleged sexual assaults occur each year. So, if one in five women is raped in college (which, as Cathy Young pointed out in her recent MTC column, was a claim in the recent OCR letter), that would mean 5 percent of the nation’s college women are raped annually, or around 2.5 percent of all college students are victims of this violent crime each year.

Compare that number to the percentage of citizens subjected to all violent crimes (not just sexual assault) in three of the highest-crime cities in the country, St. Louis (.21 percent), Memphis (.18 percent), and Detroit (.20 percent). The figures cited come from 2009.

Does anyone really believe that the typical college campus–whether in the United States or in Australia–has many times more violent crimes annually than does Detroit or St. Louis? Yet surveys such as the Australian one, or the offering in the OCR letter, are frequently reported by the media without even a hint of skepticism. But if the surveys are true, then clearly we need massive increases in the police presence on college campuses. Somehow, I doubt that the typical humanities department would welcome that result.

The Trouble With Rigor

The big news in higher education last week was the issuance of findings from Academically Adrift: Limited Learning on College Campuses, a scientific study of how much college students progress intellectually during their four years on campus. Two researchers, Richard Arum, professor of sociology and education at New York University and director of the Education Research Program of the Social Science Research Council, and Josipa Roksa, assistant professor of sociology at the University of Virginia, charted scores on the Collegiate Learning Assessment to determine changes from the time of their arrival to senior year. The CLA isn’t subject-based, so the study couldn’t gauge changes in domain knowledge, but it does aim to calculate abstract thinking and analytical “competencies.” The results were abysmal. (An excerpt is here)
For nearly half of the students (45 percent), no significant improvement took place during the first two years of college.
For more than one-third (36 percent), no significant improvement took place over four years’ time. They are, in the authors’ words, “academically adrift.”
Why the poor showing? Several reasons, the authors say.
One, more and more students “report that they spend increasing numbers of hours on nonacademic activities, including working, rather than on studying.” For all too many of them, the classroom is a part-time thing.
Two, more students “enroll in classes that do not require substantial reading or writing assignments.”
Three, they “interact with their professors outside of classrooms rarely, if ever.”
And four, “they define and understand their college experiences as being focused more on social than on academic development.”
The response to Academically Adrift has been voluminous and mixed. One common negative reply is to challenge the methodology (the CLA is limited, etc.), while a common positive reply is to agree and denounce higher ed corruptions. (See here and here and here and a video of one of the authors here.
But colleges are in a bind either way. They are under pressure to open access and keep retention rates high. But the obvious solution to the low-learning problem—raise standards, assign more reading and writing, increase rigor—might improve test scores, but the other rates will fall. That is, if homework goes up and assignments get more rigorous, dropouts and flunk-outs will rise as well. At the very least, grades will plummet. Reaction will follow. Colleges are under intense pressure to get kids in the door and keep them there. If the retention rate falls, they have a lot of explaining to do in public.
So keep that dilemma in mind. The more you make students work, the fewer students will cross the finish line.

Students Who Learn Little or Nothing

I can’t recall a book on higher education that arrived with so much buzz, and drew so much commentary in the first two days after publication. The book is Academically Adrift: Limited Learning on College Campuses, by Richard Arum, and Josipa Roksa (University of Chicago Press). Arum is a professor of sociology and education at New York University and Roksa is an assistant professor of sociology at the University of Virginia.
Inside Higher Ed reported on the work yesterday, hailing it, if that’s the right word, as “a damning new book… asserting that many college students graduate without actually learning anything.”
After looking at data from student surveys and transcript analysis of 2300 students around the country, the authors concluded that 45 percent of students “did not demonstrate any significant improvement in learning” in their first two years of college, and 36 percent showed the same lack of significant progress over four years. Students improved on average only 0.18 standard deviations over the first two years and 0.47 over four years. “What this means,” Inside Higher Ed reported, “is that A student who entered college in the 50th percentile of students in his or her cohort would move up to the 68th percentile four years later—but that’s the 68th percentile of a new group of freshmen who haven’t experienced any college learning.”
Since our copy of the book arrived only today, we haven’t finished reading it, but we assume that its huge welcome in educational circles has a lot to do with the many books and articles deploring the lack of study on our campuses, the large number of college grads working at low-level jobs, books arguing that partying is the main activity of a great many collegians, and articles such as Peter Sacks’ here reporting on the all too common disengaged and academically tone deaf college students of today. We will have more to say later about Academically Adrift.

Downgrading SATs Makes Sense

Many conservatives are groaning over a major new report from a commission of higher education luminaries calling on colleges to de-emphasize the SAT for college admissions.

The catcalls from the right erupted after the National Association of College Admission Counseling suggested that colleges should rethink their reliance on the SAT for admissions. Wrongheaded, de-evolutionary, politically correct in the extreme, and void of common sense, the critics said the NACAC report is a frontal attack on academic standards and will lead to the ruin of American higher education.

We’ve heard the dire warnings before, countless times. And countless times the cries that the sky is falling have been wrong.

The defense of the SAT as the linchpin of the college admissions process contains at least two major propositions, both of questionable merit.

Continue reading Downgrading SATs Makes Sense

The Perils Of Fake History

The University of Colorado’s dismissal of Ward Churchill for academic fraud was not only a welcome decision in support of scholarly standards, it will also go some way towards discrediting one of the most depressing tendencies of our era, the politicisation of history.

In Australia, Churchill has long been frequently cited by historians of Aboriginal affairs. In their introduction to a special “genocide” edition of the academic journal Aboriginal History in 2001, the editors supported Churchill’s contentions that colonialism in America and the Pacific was worse than the Holocaust and that the British were the most murderous of Europe’s imperial powers.

Thirty-five years ago, when academic fashions were quite different than today, one of Churchill’s precursors in the history of American Indian affairs, Francis Prucha, put the traditional view of how scholars in the field should practice their trade:

Continue reading The Perils Of Fake History