Come Work For Me!

Saturday, May 23, 2009
The WSLS is hiring! Doug Harris and I seek an Associate Researcher to work on our randomized trial of need-based aid. Have an MA in public policy or social sciences, and some statistical skills? We need you! Click here for more details on the position, and visit our website for details on the study.

Cal Grant on the Chopping Block

Friday, May 22, 2009
I thought we'd seen the worst of it when yesterday the California Community College system began discussing enrollment reductions of 250,000 students. Now California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger has proposed to eliminate the Cal Grant--the state's Pell--affecting 100,000 low-income students each year.

I'm not sure where my nausea stems from at this very moment-- my pregnancy, or this insane bit of short-sighted policy-making. Forgive the Terminator, for he knows not what he does....

The Closed-Door Community College

Thursday, May 21, 2009
My skin can't stop tingling since I read in the Chronicle this morning that the 11% budget cut faced by the California Community College System will result in an enrollment reduction of 250,000 students.

That's a population nearly the size of Madison, Wisconsin. It's larger than the entire UC system combined.

Come fall students will show up to register for classes and find them full or otherwise unavailable. Those who sign up early-- and make no mistake, these are the most savvy and well-off among community college-goers-- will likely be fine. The rest will not. Where else are they supposed to go?

I spoke about the collision of high demand and low support for two-year colleges at Brookings a few weeks ago. I tried to impress upon the audience the severity of the problem. Well, folks, here we are...

Musical Elective of the Month

Wednesday, May 20, 2009
This month's Musical Elective is Gomez.

Gomez is a British indie rock band featuring five blokes who either met in or around Southport, England or at Sheffield University. In the music business for more than ten years, Gomez's debut album Bring It On was released in 1998. It featured the single "Get Myself Arrested." Since then, Gomez has released five studio albums, including one this year: Liquid Skin (1999), In Our Gun (2002), Split The Difference (2004), How We Operate (2006), A New Tide (2009).

The unique voice of frontman Ian Ball lends Gomez its most notable signature. You know it when you hear it. I see elements of Radiohead, Oasis, and even Beck in the music of Gomez. A couple of my favorite Gomez tracks include "Revolutionary Kind" off of 1999's Liquid Skin and "See The World" off A New Tide.

In recent years, Gomez has been trying to broaden its American fan base, participating in many large music festivals, including SXSW, Coachella and Bonnaroo. Gomez's latest, A New Tide, was released in late March 2009. The band is currently touring the U.S. through mid-June.

For more information, please visit Gomez's official web page.
See the world
Find an old fashioned girl
And when all's been said and done
It's the things that are given, not won
Are the things that you earned
-- "See The World," A New Tide (2009)

Visit here for prior Musical Electives

From "The Looking A Gift Horse In The Mouth" Department

South Carolina Governor Mark Sanford is still at it (The State: "Sanford's vetoes ignite budget battle"), rejecting federal stimulus dollars for his state-in-need. He's conjured up a convoulted argument to fuel his potential presidential campaign against President Obama in 2012. He says that the federal dollars should be used to pay down South Carolina's debt rather than be used to sure up budget shortfalls in areas like education or to create economic stimulus--the whole intent of the stimulus legislation.
Gov. Mark Sanford vetoed nearly all of the state’s $5.7 billion spending plan Tuesday, a move lawmakers are expected to override today in the latest tussle over $350 million in disputed federal stimulus money.

Sanford has argued the state should pay off an equivalent amount of debt or he will not request the money. Lawmakers included rules in the budget that would require Sanford to request the money within five days of the budget becoming law.
Of course, Sanford is positioning himself as a "fiscal conservative" against Obama, assumedly a "tax-and-spend" Democrat. It appears as though bipartisan majorities in both houses of the Republican-controlled South Carolina legislature are set to reject the Guv'nah once and for all. Now that's a horse of a different color--one that's blue AND red all over.

How Higher Ed Can Catch Up

Tuesday, May 19, 2009
Tomorrow at 1:30 pm EST the Hechinger Institute on Education and the Media will be hosting a webinar on the topic, "How is the U.S. Higher Education system competing in the Global Economy? Can we learn to do more with less?"

The webinar will feature a report by Art Hauptman, and commentary from folks at Jobs for the Future as well as a response from yours truly.

If you'd like to join us for this important discussion, register TODAY here.

Tenure and the Public Intellectual

Monday, May 18, 2009
The Chronicle this morning covers the case of Boyce Watkins, a "public scholar" engaged in a tenure dispute with Syracuse University. Watkins entered the tenure track in 2001 and was just denied tenure, ostensibly due to a weak case in both teaching and research. He is best known for his engagement in the public media, where he's taken on college athletics (the Holy Grail) and sparred with Bill O'Reilly.

The nature of tenure decisions make it very hard to know what's really happened here-- the specifics of the case aren't public, and are subject to so much interpretation. It's possible the decision represents the failings of the individual, his department, and/or the University's P&T committee. We can't know whom to blame. But what I think is most important here is how Watkins, as a junior faculty member, is reflecting on the words of his college president, Nancy Cantor.

In 2005 Cantor made several great statements calling for the kinds of systematic changes needed to support the growth and development of true public intellectuals from within academic settings. Cantor clearly understands how tenure and promotion criteria can actively constrain public engagement by placing a greater emphasis on placing research in dusty library journals than in a more public sphere. The former is said to reflect real "peer" review, when the latter-- truthfully-- receives much more extensive review and critique by a broader (and often quite smart) group of peers. (Anyone who is silently questioning the intellect of online readers should check themselves now and admit their snobbery. The vast majority of professors constituting the "peer" group aren't half as well-read as this highly engaged group of readers.) The focus on the former reinforces where time is to be spent, and where it's not-- if one hopes to continue acting as a public intellectual within academia past their 30s or 40s.

The role of the administration in setting the criteria for promotion and tenure varies by institution (and likely in systematic ways I'm unaware of- this is not my area of research). At some schools, faculty-governance rules. At others, the administration is able to set directions and lead the way. I personally think the administration, charged with setting the overall tone and direction for the institution, should have a much stronger role in tenure criteria than it does at faculty-governed institutions. I know many of you (especially faculty) will disagree with me here, and trust me I understand the dangers of administration having a heavier hand in the tenure process. But that said, I don't think our peers are any less likely to judge based on politics than our administration is-- in fact, with more cooks stirring the pot under the guise of objectivity, it's more likely to happen and less easy to detect.

I'm troubled by the way that the will of Syracuse's strong and forward-thinking leadership appears to have been compromised by its faculty-led promotion and tenure committees. We task our presidents and chancellors with bringing vision to the job, and helping move us into the future-- not maintaining the status quo. I think it's arguably hard to accomplish big goals with no control over how faculty are rewarded for their work.

For example, an administration could effect important changes in the climate and practices of a university by (A) Establishing undergraduate teaching as a criteria for tenure (B) Rewarding grant-getting in the P&T decision, and (C) establishing that the activities of a public intellectual (including blogging and media engagement) count toward service.

This would no doubt go a long way toward getting faculty in front of undergrads, increasing R&D funds, and increasing the popular visibility of the university, generating more public support. Right now, the work prized by most faculty results in publications in stale library journals hardly read by the general public, and an emphasis on graduate instruction. Hardly the university of the future....

Now, what happened at Syracuse is still hard to say. One thing makes Watkins' claims less than compelling-- he hit the tenure-track at Syracuse in 2001, and Cantor didn't begin talking about changes to P&T until 2005. So, at minimum, he should've spent several years doing the traditional things needed to get tenure, if he'd hoped to continue. The way this reads, it sounds like he read Cantor's statements to reinforce his own beliefs and at the same time to excuse what I suspect he recognizes is a somewhat weak record. That's kind of lame, and if he's honest with himself, he'll cop to it.

But in many ways it's beside the point. I'd like to see more attention paid to how the world has changed, and how our leaders can help bring the faculty along-- including providing compelling reasons to adjust our P&T guidelines to ensure that highly visible smart people can find a place in universities for a long time to come. They should not have to silence themselves until they've "earned it." After all, what the heck does earning it even mean?

The EduOptimists Multiply

Thursday, May 14, 2009
Our daily readers (oh, how I flatter myself!) may have noticed a rather pregnant pause this week in our postings... Well, friends, not only is Liam very busy on the road, but I've been a bit distracted. We've recently learned that the Education Optimists will soon be 4! That's right, we're expecting our second child come Christmas.

We're thrilled, and overwhelmed, and of course this is grading season and so for now I must return to my daily (and comparatively mundane) life as an assistant professor. However you can expect us to resume our regularly scheduled programming, along with a check-in to the Mama PhD front, shortly.

The Quality of Leadership

Tuesday, May 12, 2009
Reading Sunday's New York Times I was struck by a phrase used repeatedly by our president in describing a quality he seeks in Supreme Court justices. Not only must a candidate be smart, but also s/he should demonstrate the "depth and breadth of one's empathy."

Struck, quietly, struck.

This is why Barack Obama is my president.

He has the ability to elevate a personal attribute that many would consider "soft" to a high-level criteria for a most important job. To do it seriously, and cast it as pragmatic as well.

Imagine if more of the leaders in our daily lives were a bit less concerned with the bottom line, and a bit more capable of recognizing "who the weak are and who the strong are in our society." What if instead of protecting the powerful, the employed, the well-schooled, they instead emphasized the need to protect the powerless (even from themselves)?

Obama said, “I will seek someone who understands that justice isn’t about some abstract legal theory or footnote in a case book,” he said. “It is also about how our laws affect the daily realities of people’s lives, whether they can make a living and care for their families, whether they feel safe in their homes and welcome in their own nation.”

We could replace "justice" and "laws" with "education" and "policies" or "practices" so easily. Just think about it.

Can't We All Just Get Along?

Sunday, May 10, 2009
I've been thinking a lot about how the citizens of some states view their public universities, and in particular the people who work there. In a week I'll begin a trip around Wisconsin on a bus, with a group of UW faculty, staff, and administrators (included Chancellor Biddy), as part of the "Wisconsin Idea Seminar." I really have two personal goals for this trip-- first, to get a clue about where my students grew up and what those places look and feel like, and second, to hear how citizens around the state think about the UW.

I have to admit- I'm a bit nervous. Having listened to political scientist Kathy Cramer Walsh talk about her research in towns statewide, where she found quite a bit of animosity, partly related to claims of unfair admissions practices and ivory tower elitism, and having recently experienced the wrath of anonymous commentators on online websites who mistake my interest in protecting the kids from poor families for a belief that they are stupid-- well, I'm going in quite concerned.

Then there's this New York Times piece that says that traditional town/gown divides are heating up during the recession. I know something about these, having attended both George Washington University (famous for taking over Foggy Bottom) and the University of Pennsylvania (famous for creating bourgeois schools and coffee houses across West Philly). In contrast, Madison seems quite friendly. But in so many places college students are shunned from local neighborhoods, and their activities said to blight the town. Well, in some ways that's right on. Adolescents on the transition to adulthood probably don't make good neighbors. Bars and pubs don't either. I've watched lots of nice yuppie-fied places get absolutely trashed by students sleeping on couches, spending long hours with a single cup of coffee and a laptop not spending money, etc. But I've also seen the opposite-- empty stores, bored clerks, etc, when the students are gone.

I've got no solution to offer here. I just know one has to be found-- and it probably needs to come from more adults in the state (any state) feeling more a part of the institutions that take their tax dollars. Feeling disenfranchised is crummy, and people respond in kind. I'm not for PR-stunts intended to make colleges think they've done their part and can pat themselves on the back; I'm for trying effective ways to bring more people into the college experience, and helping them to feel that they've got a fair shot. Let's think of some good ways to get that done.

Stimulus Watch: Front-Loading and Favoritism

Friday, May 8, 2009
Michael Griffith, senior finance analyst at the Education Commission of the States, has authored a fascinating policy brief detailing where states are beginning to invest the State Fiscal Stabilization Funding portion of the federal stimulus money. As of May 8th, the U.S. Department of Education has approved preliminary applications from governors of nine states (CA, IL, ME, MN, MS, OR, SD, UT, WI).

The ECS brief notes that the applications provide assurance that the state will: (1) fund both its K-12 schools and institutions of higher education at or above FY 2005-06 levels, and (2) identify how much of the stabilization funds it will expend in FY 2008-09, FY 2009-10 and FY 2010-11.

Here are the results:
  • FRONT-LOADING OF FUNDS - "States are allowed to use their Education Stabilization Funding starting this fiscal year (FY 2008-09) through fall 2011. The expectation was that states would spend some of their funds to finish out this fiscal year but would use the bulk of funds in FY 2009-10 and FY 2010-11. However, these first nine states have greatly front-loaded their spending. On average, the nine states are spending 55.0% of their Educational Stabilization Funds to complete FY 2008-09." The states of California, Illinois, Oregon and Utah will have spent down all of their stabilization funds and will have none remaining by FY 2010-11; on the other end of the spectrum, the state of Mississippi will reserve 52% of its funding for FY 2010-11.
  • K-12 FAVORED OVER HIGHER ED - "Over the past three years states have spent an averaged 76.9% of education funding on K-12 programs and 23.1% on higher education. While the average expenditures from the nine states with approved applications hews close to traditional expenditures (80.1% on K-12 and 19.9% to Higher Ed), each of the nine states planned expenditures varies greatly." Wisconsin would spend all of its stabilization funding on K-12, while neighboring Minnesota will spend 38% of its funding on higher education.
The decision most states have made to front-load these funds is no doubt driven by fiscal crises, partially due to the recession but also by poor budgetary choices made by states over time. That K-12 garners most of these dollars reflects existing spending priorities wherein higher education takes a backseat -- perhaps because tuition is seen as an available revenue stream to make up for state stinginess.

Showing That You Care

Oh how Wisconsin loves its higher education system! Let me count the ways...

1. Today it agreed to pass the responsibility of funding its premier flagship institution (UW-Madison) onto the shoulders of students and families.

2. Yesterday we learned that our promised 2% pay raises (yippee) are no more.

3. Furthermore, all "non-represented" state employees--faculty included-- will have the lovely experience of 8 days without pay during the coming year. This on top of the 2/9 rule that says we can't draw salary for more than 11 out of 12 months!

4. Take a look at how WI is investing its stimulus funds for education. 9 states have had their ARRA applications approved: CA, IL, ME, MN, MS, OR, SD, UT, and WI. Of those 9, 7 plan to spend between 19-38% of those funds on higher education (the most generous are MN and SD). One state, Illinois, plans to throw higher ed 2.4%. And then there's Wisconsin. What, you ask, does Wisconsin intend to do with its stabilization funds for education? 100% will go to k-12.


America Must Put Community Colleges First

Thursday, May 7, 2009
Sara's op-ed ("America Must Put Community Colleges First" ) is published in the Chronicle of Higher Education. In it, she argues that community colleges -- given the much larger number of students they serve as compared with four-year institutions -- need a renewed government commitment to their support and leadership.
Faced with high tuition, a weak economy, and substantial competition for admission to four-year colleges, today's students are more likely than ever to attend one of the nation's 1,045 community colleges. According to Department of Education statistics, enrollment at community colleges grew by 741 percent from 1963 to 2006, compared with 197 percent at public four-year institutions and 170 percent at private four-year colleges. It increased from about two million in 2000 to 6.2 million in the first half of this decade alone. Yet, based on data from the Delta Project on Postsecondary Education Costs, Productivity, and Accountability, community colleges receive less than one-third the level of federal support per full-time-equivalent student ($790) that public four-year colleges do ($2,600), and have correspondingly poorer outcomes.
The op-ed offers four recommendations included in a report [policy brief] authored for the Brookings Institution by Sara, Doug Harris at UW-Madison, Chris Mazzeo at the Consortium for Chicago School Research, and Greg Kienzl at the Institute for Higher Education Policy.

The four recommendations are:
1. Development of national goals and a performance-measurement system. The overarching goal of national higher-education policy should be to effectively educate students at the postsecondary level. While colleges should focus on the needs of their students, it is important that they also have clearly defined goals along those lines, with incentives to match. Success in a new system should be measured by progress. Right now appropriations to community colleges are primarily based on enrollment, without regard to whether their students earn degrees or get good jobs. That gears incentives toward inputs and process, rather than outcomes.

The federal government should invest resources specifically to promote greater success for students. Colleges that receive more money should be required to track and report student results, consistent with the many community-college missions, such as whether they completed a minimum number of credits, transferred, or earned a degree. Over time, a majority of federal dollars would be awarded based not on enrollment but on colleges' performance on such crucial measures.

2. Expanded federal support. To bring community colleges to the table and convey its strong support for their work, the federal government should double its current level of direct support, from $2-billion to $4-billion. Resource needs are significant and pressing. Since 1974, the net number of new community colleges has been just 149, a growth rate of only 17 percent. The result: Many campuses today are bursting at the seams, and increasing numbers of students must be turned away. In the short-term, federal spending would support infrastructure upgrades that truly stimulate the economy. Over the longer term, that investment would add modestly to higher-education expenditures but more than pay off by increasing the number of students who can enroll, graduate, and contribute to the nation's economy.

3. Innovation to enhance educational quality. We further call on the Department of Education to focus half of the proposed $2.5-billion college access and completion incentive fund on efforts to create innovative community-college policies and practices and then evaluate them. The two-year sector is not only overutilized and underresourced, but it also has too little information about how to effectively improve student outcomes. That problem can and must be remedied by connecting practitioners with well-trained researchers who share a common goal of helping community colleges succeed in meeting goals and gaining more support in return. For example, practitioners and researchers could collaborate on putting in place and evaluating approaches that accelerate progress in developmental education, integrate occupational and academic content in new curricula, or develop systemwide assessment and placement policies.

4. Accountability through student data systems. Finally, the federal government should support the improvement of student-level data systems to track community-college performance. That is the only way to operationalize real accountability and track progress and improvement. Most states do not have the ability to track individual outcomes throughout the education system and into the labor force. But thanks to the federal stimulus package, more will have that opportunity. Those efforts must be continued, for without the ability to evaluate outcomes based on hard data, student and institutional progress cannot be measured.

Sara is participating in a discussion of the report at the Brookings Institution in Washington, DC today.

FY 2010 Federal Education Budget

The Obama Administration released details of the President's FY 2010 federal budget today.

Here is a fact sheet from the Office of Management and Budget.
Here is full education budget proposal.

In education, there are number of notable increases with regard to teaching and learning:
  • The Teacher Incentive Fund would receive a five-fold increase and would focus on more than just teacher compensation reform, but also a broader range of activities to improve teaching quality
  • A seven-fold increase in School Improvement Grants -- which can be used for professional development -- from $606 million to $4.5 billion
  • A $15 million appropriation for Teach For America
  • $100 million more for the ARRA-authorized What Works and Innovation Fund
  • $10 million increase to the School Leadership program to expand efforts to recruit, train, and retain principals and assistant principals in high-need school districts
There are also several initiatives and programs focused on college access and completion:
  • The maximum Pell Grant award is increased by $200, to $5,550. It also shifts the Pell program to the mandatory side of the budget and ties future Pell increases to the Consumer Price Index-plus-1 percentage point.
  • $500 million in 2010 for a new five-year Access and Completion Incentive Fund to support innovative state efforts to help low-income students succeed and complete their college education.

Finding the Truth

Wednesday, May 6, 2009
The Wisconsin Center for the Advancement of Postsecondary Education (WISCAPE) has released an "executive memo" to the UW System Board of Regents regarding the Madison Initiative for Undergraduates (MIU). It was expertly crafted by our director Noel Radomski. I'd like to share some of its highlights with you here.

"I have spent several months reviewing the MIU proposal, which has included meeting with Chancellor Martin and her senior cabinet; reviewing creative innovations at other universities and systems; and comparing the initiative’s components with the research on potential benefits and unintended consequences. Based on my findings, I strongly encourage you to refer the proposal to a future meeting so that stakeholders at UW–Madison and the UW System can invest more time and energy in crafting a proposal that truly maintains and enhances the university’s quality and affordability."

Noel then states some important facts-- among them are the following descriptions of our economic situations:

1. Due to a worsening economy and falling tax collections, the Wisconsin budget deficit could add as much as a $1.2 billion to a projected state budget deficit already estimated at nearly $6 billion earlier this year (Wisconsin State Journal, May 6, 2009).

2. Wisconsin’s unemployment rate hit 9.4% in April 2009, surpassing the national rate for the first time since June 2007. The state lost a total of 8,700 non-farm jobs in March and has shed more than 112,000 jobs since March 2008 (Wisconsin Department of Workforce Development).

3. The Wisconsin Poverty Report, published this month by the UW–Madison Institute for Research on Poverty, painted a dismal picture of increasing poverty rates in our state and participation in the federal Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) program.

4. In 2006, 20% of Wisconsin residents had incomes in the lowest income quintile compared to only 8.9% of UW–Madison freshmen (University of Wisconsin–Madison).

5. Earlier this week, the Joint Committee on Finance approved an amendment to Governor Jim Doyle’s proposed state budget that shifted Wisconsin Higher Education Grant (WHEG) revenue from the UW System to the Wisconsin Technical College System; as a result, current estimates predict 7,700 UW System students could see their financial aid packages reduced.

He then goes on to make several suggestions, among them:

1. Require all undergraduates to complete a FAFSA before enrolling at UW–Madison, although an “opt out” option can be added for personal and philosophical reasons.

2. For students from families with incomes of $80,000 or less (or some other number), the proposed tuition surcharge should not be assessed (i.e., a waiver rather than a reimbursement). The reason for this suggested change is to reduce administrative complexities and costs, but more importantly, to send the message to hard-working Wisconsin families that they will not have to pay a tuition surcharge in addition to a tuition increase. The suggestion is aimed at reducing “sticker shock” effects, especially for first generation students.

3. The UW–Madison campus should review other state and campus need-based aid programs (publicly and privately financed efforts) that could serve as a model for the design of a uniquely crafted UW–Madison private-public, need-based aid program. WISCAPE has already completed an environmental scan of innovative and effective public and private need-based programs that could be uniquely designed for Wisconsin.

4. UW–Madison should be asked to design and integrate an accountability system into the MIU proposal, which should include benchmarks and indicators so current and prospective students, parents, grandparents, guardians, campus leaders, the UW System Board of Regents, and elected officials can easily access findings and reports illustrating the efficiency and effectiveness of the proposal.

He closes with the following: "Whatever may be the limitations which trammel inquiry elsewhere, we believe that the great state University of Wisconsin should ever encourage that continual and fearless sifting and winnowing by which alone the truth can be found" (taken from a report of the Board of Regents in 1894).

Ok-- I think at this point, 'nuff said. It is up to the thoughtful people of the great state of Wisconsin, and their leaders, to bring this one home. Tomorrow (today) I turn my attention to Washington DC and what our national leaders can do to better support our community colleges.

I (Finally) Figured Out Why I Want Tenure

Monday, May 4, 2009
Today was a big day. This morning’s paper ran a story containing quotes from me and from this blog that many of my colleagues will likely view as uncouth. Others will misinterpret it as desire for publicity and name recognition. These folks just don't know me like my family, and particularly my Poppa, does.

To my mind, I had little choice but to do what I did. My University is moving in an untenable direction, one that makes middle-class folks feel good, while at the same time trampling the long-term opportunities of the voiceless. I'm not alone- my family members have a long history of doing exactly this. I went on the record as opposed to a policy that is strongly supported not only by my administrators and supervisors, but also by most of the faculty around me. I wish I could say I felt brave and confident as hung up the phone with the reporter. I didn’t-- in fact, I ran to the bathroom and lost my lunch.

Over the course of the past many months, I’ve received a lot of advice about the Madison Initiative. Advisers have patiently explained to me that the policy is going forward with or without me, and that my time and energy spent fighting will be wasted. I’d be better off simply recommending a few minor alterations and falling in line; at the bare minimum this would help to ensure I could devote my energies to peer-reviewed publications and the kinds of thing academia typically rewards. A fight like this one, I was told, was something I had to earn the right to participate in—something I needed tenure for.

This is all undoubtedly true. The numbers of hours I’ve spent agonizing over the Initiative, pouring over its details, listening to the administration, reading what students have to say, reviewing relevant research on the topic again and again—it’s taken plenty of time and left room for very little sleep. If I were more prudent, that time could have been spent on my many R&Rs, helping put the icing on my tenure case.

Except until now, I really wasn’t sure what tenure was good for. I never set out to be a professor—I just wanted to question conventional wisdom and address it with the best available social science evidence. I'd do it in whatever setting allowed it. I never worried about unemployment; heck at times I find myself with 3 or even 4 jobs at a time. I am insanely fortunate, I know it, and so I thought how could I expect more? Tenure, I began to think, could be phased out in favor of more competitive salaries.

But today, I get it. At the end of my 5th year as an assistant professor, I just spoke out in a manner that could hurt my job prospects, possibly my research agenda, and who knows what else. I’m not saying anyone will directly throw the hammer at me- not at all. But people will be pissed, and they’ll find ways to make my life difficult. I recognize that.

So why bother? Why not wait until I had tenure- and true academic freedom? Because I’m not a professor just anywhere—this is Madison. Madison, for pete’s sake—the place where every academic in the country believes anyone can and does speak their mind, and is praised for it. I am deeply proud of this University’s tradition, and I want it upheld.

And in this case, the truth simply couldn’t wait. In my reading, the research here is unequivocal. I’ve got mountains of evidence that truly open discussions were not occurring, and could not under institutional constraints. I spend my days with students who have struggled to gain access to UW-Madison, and also with many of those who’d hope to attend but for major financial barriers. Yes, this policy increases financial aid—and that is a wonderful thing. But there were other routes to achieve the same end, and much better policy designs that were never considered or outright rejected. And so it was time to stand up for my students—and even more importantly for the Wisconsin high school graduates from poor families who will never find their way here. My own personal interests (e.g. salary, community of faculty, even tenure) be damned.

I have a two-year-old. When I leave the house every day I think about why I’m bothering. Today, the world knows why. And honestly, I’m both proud—and scared.

Cheerleading for NCLB

I guess my reaction to today's Washington Post shout out to No Child Left Behind ("'No Child' in Action") from former U.S. Education Secretary Margaret Spellings is a question: "If NCLB's accountability alone is such a silver bullet, then how come test scores at the high school level didn't improve?"

Although Spellings mentions that NCLB requires math and reading tests in grades 3-8, it is quite disingenuous of her not to mention that such tests were also required in high school. If the achievement gains aren't sustained through high school, what real difference does it make?

The wise Aaron Pallas offers his take on this issue ("Wishful Thinking"), calling into question Spellings's claims:
But what portion of those trends can be attributed to NCLB? Margaret Spellings refers to changes since 1999, which is convenient for her story, because there were sharp increases in grade 4 reading between 2000 and 2002, and in grade 4 and grade 8 math between 2000 and 2003. But NCLB was signed into law in January, 2002; the first final regulations dealing with assessment were issued in December, 2002; and initial state accountability plans were approved by the U.S. Department of Education no later than June, 2003. The 2003 main NAEP was administered between January and March of 2003. Is it realistic to claim that NCLB affected scores before the 2003 NAEP administration? I, and a great many other analysts, think not.

Only in Margaret Spellings’ world can NCLB affect NAEP scores for the four years before the law was passed and implemented. Now that’s wishful thinking.

UPDATE -- Diane Ravitch comes to similar conclusions in her blog post.
Thus, when one looks at the patterns, it suggests the following: First, our students are making gains, though not among 17-year-olds. Second, the gains they have made since NCLB are smaller than the gains they made in the years preceding NCLB. Third, even when they are significant, the gains are small. Fourth, the Long Term Trend data are not a resounding endorsement of NCLB. If anything, the slowing of the rate of progress suggests that NCLB is not a powerful instrument to improve student performance.
Caveat emptor.

Update: Madison Initiative for Undergraduates

Todd Finkelmeyer at The Capital Times offers this update ("UW-Madison chancellor's proposed tuition hike elicits little pushback") on the Madison Initiative for Undergraduates.
At first glance, a key premise of Chancellor Biddy Martin's undergraduate initiative seems absurd. In an effort to make the University of Wisconsin-Madison "affordable to all," she is proposing a tuition increase.

Yet Martin's Madison Initiative for Undergraduates -- the first major proposal of her eight-month-old tenure -- has met with little organized resistance from students, who, in the past, have howled at any attempt to raise the cost of a college education.

"There is a lack of critical thought and a lack of sifting and winnowing, and I'm not sure why," says Noel Radomski, director of the Wisconsin Center for the Advancement of Postsecondary Education, a higher ed think tank based on campus. "Perhaps it's just a reflection, quite frankly, of the lack of true involvement by faculty, staff and students on significant issues on the Madison campus."

The UW System Board of Regents will vote on the proposal at its meeting later this week.

For background on the Madison Initiative from the Education Optimists, click here.