We are non-commercial, all volunteer and supported by our readers. Please help sustain the Dew by making a donation.
No College Left Behind?
Ezra Klein from the Washington Post wrote a thoughtful piece last week on the connection between the runaway costs of medical care and college tuition. He argues that since these are two goods that people need so badly, there is very little leverage for the consumer and, therefore, no pressing reason for colleges and health care providers to curtail the rapid increase of costs.
Klein also sees a similarity in how the Obama administration plans on making the two industries more accessible to all Americans, namely by moving both from pay-for-service models to pay-for-performance models. Instead of health care providers receiving government subsidies based on the volume of services they provide, the ACA plans to issue subsidies based on the quality of those services. Likewise, Obama wants to change federal funding for colleges from a long-standing model where colleges receive government money based on enrollment to a formula where schools receive money based on quality measurements like graduation rates instead.
The pay-for-performance model for medical care seems like a logical way to discourage unnecessary (and pricey) tests and unproven treatments that have been a driving force behind ballooning medical bills. However, for higher education, the pay-for-performance model isn’t just potentially disastrous; it is guaranteed to wreak havoc on the two-year colleges that Obama champions.
Perhaps President Obama and his Secretary of Education have already forgotten about the ugly consequences of George Bush’s signature education reform. No Child Left Behind is a reform, by the way, that the Obama administration has effectively dismantled based on the damage the law did to schools and students that couldn’t meet its impossible requirements.
For those not intimately familiar with NCLB, the law required schools to improve standardized test scores and graduation rates each year in order to maintain levels of funding tied to student enrollment. In theory, it wasn’t a bad set of ideas, but in practice the law did far more harm than good. Schools focused excessive energy on test preparation for struggling students at the expense average and above average students who could already meet the minimum required scores. The focus on testing also meant far less time for teaching critical thinking and communication skills. Additionally, since graduation/promotion rates factored so heavily into the AYP formula by which schools were measured, teachers were “encouraged” to ensure that their students passed. This inevitably led to a lowering and complete abandonment of educational and ethical standards, allowing even the most unprepared students to matriculate.
It is worth mentioning that NCLB also negatively impacted post-secondary education, albeit indirectly, as colleges and universities became tasked with remediating the children who were indeed left behind. Currently, many states are experiencing a remediation crisis, with up to 40% of incoming college freshman needing remedial math and English classes because they were not adequately prepared by their NCLB-era public schools.
It is inexplicable that Obama is now touting a program for higher education that incorporates the same tragic strategy that compromised NCLB, especially after his administration did away with that strategy in K12 education. Nevertheless, an emphasis on completion rates at colleges is set to be a key component of Obama’s college improvement plan, and it will trigger an unfortunate series of causes and effects.
First of all, large four-year colleges and universities will simply become more selective. By weeding out students that need remediation and discontinuing remedial classes (which is already happening) in favor of what college presidents vaguely call offering “additional support,” these bigger schools will rid themselves of the students who statistically do not graduate (or graduate on time) at high rates. These at-risk students will then shift to smaller two-year and community colleges which have generous open admissions policies.
Because of open admissions policies, most two-year colleges already struggle with “on-time” graduation rates. With high percentages of unprepared students (in need of remediation) and part-time, non-traditional students who work to support families, it is ridiculous to hold two-year colleges accountable for on-time graduation rates. Yet this is a key part of what Obama is proposing.
According to Obama’s new scorecard for colleges, two-year schools can certainly earn points for their lower tuition costs, but if these same schools are penalized for on-time completion rates well beyond their control, one of two things will happen. Either these colleges will follow the example set by K12 public schools and lower their standards in order to artificially inflate completion rates and maintain funding, or they will maintain academic standards and lose federal funding, forcing them to raise tuition rates. Either way, America loses, be it a less rigorous two-year college system or a less affordable one.
Supporters of the president’s plan may say that it is not an either/or proposition. They will say that schools can keep their funding if they just do a better job of graduating students. Just remember, NCLB proponents said the same exact thing.
Worthy of Comment
Also on the Dew
Embattled car-maker Volkswagen plans to bring back the AMC Gremlin, Ford Pinto, and Chevy Vega so that its own vehicles that have been illegally pumping toxic pollutants into the air for years will suddenly look good by comparison. “We think consumers will re-think Volkswagen, see it in a different light, once they get behind the wheel of a Chevy Vega and just try to start the damn thing,” said a spokesman for the company that recently admitted it put software on its diesel cars to trick emissions test machines. The AMC Gremlin, Ford Pinto, and Chevy Vega were compact cars rushed to mar Read on →
I once worked for an abusive boss, a man who proved impossible to please. Congenitally mean, and though he wore no eye-patch, he had all of the charm, charisma and management style of your average, garden-variety Bond villain. After three days on the new job, I knew I'd made a mistake. A year on the job, my misery factor was so high, I prayed (I was a church-goer in those days) one of us would either get a better job and move on -- or that one of us would die, though preferably not me! About two years in, when nothing developed either wa Read on →
"A new mentality is needed, and this implies above all a recovery of ancient and original wisdom. And a real contact with what is right under our noses." -- Thomas Merton, in a letter to Thich Nhat Hanh On Thursday, September 24, I saw Pope Francis with my own eyes. That's the gospel truth. Now the confession. I was attending the Interfaith Moral Action on Climate rally -- organized to support the Pope's call to action on climate change. That's me on the right of the photo. That's Doug, my Buddhist friend and climate troubadour, on the left. Attendees watched the Pope's historic Read on →
Despite the seeming endless number of deficiencies the South can lay claim too, there have always been two aspects which have set the South apart: writers and football. Southern writers, when they are good, are very, very good. From Tennessee Williams to William Faulkner to Erskine Caldwell, Southern writers tap into a part of the human equation at a singular depth of understanding, an ability to strip away illusions and expose the raw nerve of life. There is a subline identification of excellence in the Southern Writer, but it is a real one. And football—especially college football—below the Mason-Dixon Line has the sam Read on →