Saturday, June 28, 2014

The Attack on Higher Ed Continues in the NYT

In the battle for American education, new fronts (aka new profit and growth opportunities) have been opening up steadily from Pre-K and Pre-Pre-K all the way up to colleges and universities. Today's New York Times includes a peek at what the attack on colleges and universities will look like.

Kevin Carey says not only do American public schools suck, but so do American colleges and universities.

Kevin Carey is the education policy program director for the New America Foundation. NAF bills itself as a non-partisan thinky tank based in DC. Eric Schmidt, Google's executive chairman, is chair of the NAF board. Their over-a-million-dollar funders include the Gates Foundation and the US State Department. They have their fingers in several pies in their search for bold new ideas that will make America sweller.

However, as presented in the NYT, their new ideas are not so new.

Carey's basis for saying that American public schools suck is that tired old chestnut, PISA scores. And his answer to the question, "How can we know how good our colleges are" is, "Another test from the OECD."

The new OECD project is called the Program for the International Assessment of Adult Competencies and it is stunningly dumb. The OECD gave a test to 166,000 grown men and women with college degrees between the ages of 16 and 65. The test itself, with its alleged emphasis on "real world" problems of literacy and math, sounds plenty dumb on its own. But we don't have to look at the test to see how pointless this exercise is. The test-takers were from the thirty-four member nations plus Russia and Cyprus. So that means roughly 4600 test takers per country, and only some of that small sample were college grads. Whatever tiny data slivers that remained were used to judge the quality of every iteration of every college over the past forty-ish years. That also means that the OECD gave a test to a sixty-year old person and assumed that his results were indicative of the college education he received forty-some years ago, and nothing that happened during those forty years.

This is quote possibly one of the dumbest studies I have ever seen touted as fact. But Carey's point is that American's need to stop thinking that our colleges and universities are any good. Actually, I suppose the point (although he stayed away from this, perhaps realizing it shows the ridiculousness of the study) is that American colleges have been sucking for the last forty-some years. It's funny, because if our colleges and universities had been so bad for so long we might have noticed. I guess those wily graduates of Giant Suck University have been covering it up successfully.

But this is going to be the new line of attack. We have this test, and it proves that our colleges and universities are terrible. I wonder if the solution will turn out to involve government regulation and private corporate take-overs. I would try to figure it all out, but gosh, I graduated from an American college in 1979, so I am probably too dumb.

[Edit: I made a huge mistake. When rereading the NYT piece, I realized that the test was not given to 16-65 year old college grads, but apparently all adults. Meaning that the sample of college grads being compared is even smaller. I have edited the text accordingly.]


  1. So if American universities suck so much, why do so many foreign students come here to attend them?

  2. @Lisa, simply because the grass is always greener on the other side of the fence.