Can Public Education as We Know it Survive?

Americans are now confronted with two radically different visions of public education. Which vision ultimately prevails will go a long way toward determining the quality of the education available to future generations of children.

Read the full article at Huff Post Education.

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A Call for New College Songs

Gimme an M!       M!
Gimme an O!       O!
Gimme another O!     O!
Gimme a C!                 C!
What have we got?  MOOC!


Far above Cayuga’s waters with its waves of blue, buy
Stand our noble M-O-O-Cs, advice glorious to view.
Massive Open Online Courses, loud their praises tell.
Hail O dig’tal Alma Mater, now called e-Cornell.

On Wisconsin

On, Wisconsin! On, Wisconsin!
Fight on for our MOOCs.
They make teachers into rock stars.
Who needs Yale or Duke? (rah rah rah)

We take classes in our jammies
Any time of day.
Oh, how we love to learn
The online way.

Notre Dame

Cheer, cheer for old Notre Dame.
And for the MOOCs that bring us our fame.
Send a volley cheer on high
’Cause our instruction comes from the sky.

Though the attachments be great or small,
Our CPUs can handle them all.
Open access sets us free
To seek out an e-degree.

Gaudeamus Igitur

Gaudeamus igitur.
Don’t need classrooms, that’s for sure.
Libraries are so passé —
Remnants of another day.

We’re creating new tradition.
Ours is wireless erudition.
We eschew all printed words.
Rest in pace Gutenberg.
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Book Review: Ted Fiske on Stewart, A World-Class Education

Today’s guest post, written for BookMarks by Edward B. Fiske, is a review of Vivien Stewart’s A World-Class Education: Learning from International Models of Excellence and Innovation (ASCD, 2012).

Delving into Vivien Stewart’s new book, A World-Class Education: Learning from International Models of Excellence and Innovation, is, to indulge a metaphor from Chinese cuisine, a simultaneously sweet and sour experience. The savory part comes from the fact that no one is better qualified than Stewart to discuss what the United States has to learn from other countries with successful school systems, and she does so clearly and persuasively. The sour taste emerges as it begins to dawn on you that most reform-minded educational policymakers in the United States are not only oblivious to most of these lessons but are, in fact, moving in exactly the wrong direction.

Stewart, who is the senior education adviser at the Asia Society, knows her subject well. She has traveled the globe and written with authority on the characteristics of successful school systems in both Western and Asian cultures. In this book, she introduces us to the usual high-performing suspects: schools in Singapore, Canada (Alberta and Ontario), Finland, China, and Australia. In each case, she talks about how and why the strong, effective system evolved in the particular culture, what makes it successful, and what insights it might hold for U.S. policymakers.

Stewart is no Panglossian. There are, she writes, “no quick fixes in education” or, for that matter, countries that stand as ideal models for the United States. She is frank to discuss the challenges that each of these countries are facing—high dropout rates in Ontario, a growing immigrant population in Finland, an oppressive college examination system in China—and why some of these challenges may limit their relevance as lessons for the United States.

Nevertheless, Stewart comes up with a compelling list of characteristics that run through each and every one of these countries, including ambitious standards, strong early childhood and preschool programs, curricular coherence, alignment of goals and practices, and high quality teachers who are treated as professionals and respond accordingly. Above all, she says, policymakers and leaders of the successful school systems around the world start with “a sense of moral purpose about the need to deal with inequities and promote a more just society.”

Step back from Stewart’s observations, and you realize that, far from moving to emulate the features of successful schools in other countries, the current thrust of school “reform” in the United States is moving in opposite directions. None of these countries draw their ideas from the corporate world or suffer from the delusion that successful hedge fund managers intuitively understand what’s good for education. None of them views choice and competition as elixirs, rely on top-down management, worship standardized tests, or define the public interest in education as the sum of private benefits. Above all, none of them believes that the way to improve teacher performance is through shame and humiliation. These successful systems prefer quaint concepts like “trust” and “professional.”

In one revealing passage, Stewart recalls visiting a school in Finland in 2009 as part of a delegation of American chief state school officers and encountering a group of Chinese educators who were there to observe how the Finns were implementing cooperative education—a practice that they first learned about from the United States. Yes, as Stewart emphasizes a number of times in this volume, there was a time when Americans where known around the world as educational innovators. Think individualized learning, special education, and even the research that undergirds Singapore math.

The global marketplace of ideas about school improvement can and should work both ways. While leaders of other successful school systems are frank to admit that they want to learn from us, the “benchmarking” bug does not seem to have infected the ideologically driven national- and state-level policymakers and leaders of private foundations who are currently driving the school reform agenda in the United States. Maybe if they read this insightful book, it might dawn on them that their ideas are out of sync with those of just about every other successful educational system, East and West.

Edward B. Fiske, a former education editor of the New York Times and author of the Fiske Guide to Colleges series, is currently working on a study of gender equality in developing countries for UNESCO.


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Class Matters. Why Won’t We Admit It?

Durham, pill N.C.

NO one seriously disputes the fact that students from disadvantaged households perform less well in school, on average, than their peers from more advantaged backgrounds. But rather than confront this fact of life head-on, our policy makers mistakenly continue to reason that, since they cannot change the backgrounds of students, they should focus on things they can control.

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Globalization — What It Means for Colleges and Students

Via the Huffington Post:

In the late nineteenth century, U.S. colleges and universities had to respond to a new German invention called graduate education, and the choices they made continue to define their identity. Harvard, for example, decided to embrace graduate education across the board, from PhDs to medicine and business, and went on to become an all-inclusive university. Princeton, on the other hand, stayed on the graduate-level sidelines and to this day has only modest graduate and professional programs. Two universities — Clark and Johns Hopkins — were born as graduate-only institutions.

Today’s equivalent of the nineteenth-century German challenge is globalization. How each of the country’s 2,200 four-year colleges and universities chooses to confront the fact that higher education can no longer be confined within national borders will shape their future identities.

As with the earlier challenge, universities are making very different choices, and the decisions they make are relevant to college-bound high school seniors looking for a school that will prepare them to take their place in a global environment.

When it comes to global ambitions, New York University is undoubtedly the most ambitious. NYU opened an undergraduate campus in Abu Dhabi and is building another one in Shanghai. Though tight-lipped about its strategic plans, NYU clearly wants to have a global academic presence — let’s call it the Starbucks of higher education.

Duke University already has a medical facility in Singapore and is constructing a new campus in Kunshan, located outside Shanghai, as part of its aspirations to be a “globally networked university.” With a new campus in Kigali, Rwanda, Carnegie Mellon expects to become the first U.S. research university to offer degree programs in Africa. Yale will open a new liberal arts college in the fall of 2013 in partnership with the National University of Singapore.

Setting up a new campus on foreign soil is, of course, only one way to deal with the challenge of globalization. Cornell University has teamed up with Technion-Israel Institute of Technology as part of its bid to build an “applied science campus” on Roosevelt Island in Manhattan. Hundreds of U.S. colleges and universities have negotiated partnerships with universities in other countries to run particular programs. A good description of the many options can be found in Ben Wildavsky’s readable book, The Great Brain Race: How Global Universities Are Reshaping the World (Princeton University Press).

For faculty members, globalization is old stuff. An academic researcher today is just as likely to work with a colleague halfway around the world as she is to team up with someone down the hall. Ideas are as oblivious to national borders as hip-hop, smartphone apps or pork belly futures.

So what does all this talk of globalization mean for students? As editor of the Fiske Guide to Colleges for the last 30 years, I’ve noted that colleges and students alike are showing more interest in globalization in two important ways.

The first has to do with the importance of diversity. Given the changing nature of the global workplace, students are seeking educational environments in which they will have opportunities to work elbow to elbow with persons from very different backgrounds, including those from other countries and cultures. Responding to these demands, almost all of the 300-plus schools in the Fiske Guide have been increasing the number of foreign nationals in their undergraduate bodies. (The other attraction of foreign students, of course, is that many of them bring hard currency.)

Some universities have been at this for a long time. The University of Southern California, with 8,615 international students, has traditionally topped the list in terms of numbers, followed by the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champagne (7,991) and, you guessed it, NYU (7,988). But some smaller schools are also notable. Mount Holyoke College has nearly 600 international students in a student body of 2,300.

The second reason has to do with study-abroad opportunities. It is hard for me to conceive of going through four years of college these days without trying to spend at least some time in a foreign setting. I’m not talking “tourism” with a thin academic veneer. I’m talking about putting yourself in a situation where you can peel away at least a layer or two of another culture and come to appreciate — and respect — the fact that persons from other countries think differently than we do and have very different values.

Once again, colleges are responding to growing student demand for building international experiences into their education. These opportunities range from short-term vacation or January term trips, where you take along your own professors, to semester- or year-long programs, where you take the deep plunge into the academic life of a foreign university and study alongside students from around the world.

Finances, of course, are always a consideration, but a growing number of colleges will let you study abroad at the same cost as you would pay at home — or even less — and many offer financial aid, as well. Until recently, it has been difficult for students in the sciences or engineering, with rigidly sequenced course requirements, to spend time abroad, but even this is changing. Georgia Tech, for instance, sends student overseas during the summer.

Then, of course, why not do your entire four years abroad? Fiske Guide to Colleges began adding write-ups on the leading Canadian schools a decade ago and then some from Great Britain, on the grounds that these English-speaking programs offer the equivalent of an education from an Ivy or flagship public university at a much lower cost. Who is to dispute the words of an American at the University of St. Andrews in Scotland who touted the virtues of studying in an international context and having “friends to crash with all over the world”?

Edward B. Fiske, former education editor of the New York Times, is author of the Fiske Guide to Colleges (Sourcebooks) and numerous other books on college admissions.

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What People Don’t Understand About Admissions

Via the Atlantic:

The author of America’s best-selling college guides tells all: how rankings fail students, why tuition won’t stop climbing at Ivy League schools, and what parents don’t understand about the admissions process.

What’s the one thing parents don’t understand about the application process? 

At the beginning, parents don’t always get the importance of the “fit” or “match” issue. I think parents may be overly concerned with the prestige factor, the I-want-this-bumper-sticker-on-the-SUV factor. There is an admissions officer joke that you wouldn’t be surprised to be driving along the road and see a prestigious college decal that said “Also Accepted At: Cornell, Pomona, Northwestern…”

The incredible growth in tuition over the last 30 years: Is it all about the race for prestige?

There is a prestige element. People make the false assumption that cost equals quality. Colleges are raising tuition because market research said they should. George Washington University in D.C. is a great example. They raised tuition because research showed that they had a lower tuition than American University, so students considered them worse. Now they have one of the highest tuitions in the country, and their applications are way up.

Among the elite private schools, tuition is driven by what the market will bear. It’s that simple. They charge a higher tuition because they can. There is literature showing that colleges behave like any nonprofit institution. They raise as much as they can, and spend as much to improve offerings. Faced with the choice between attracting pouring money into financial aid or spending it on something to improve quality of offerings, they’ll often opt for the latter choice.

Your college guide, which is the most popular in the country, is now about three decades old. Why did you first decide to make it?

I was the education editor of the New York Times in the late 1970s, and colleges were getting more aggressive in their marketing. Somebody needed to come in on the side of the consumer.

The guide was instantly controversial. Colleges were not used to having people be critical of them. We said, for example, that Syracuse was didn’t put enough emphasis on undergrad education and that another newly-co-ed college wasn’t a good place for women. Colleges weren’t used to being criticized. They got mad. They also listened. Syracuse invested a huge amount in undergraduate education.

Your guide has ratings, but not rankings. Why?

I’ve always rated the schools on a one-to-five scale for Academics, Social Life, and Quality of Life. Originally I rated with stars. But people were adding up the stars to come out with a cumulative rating, and I didn’t mean for that to happen. So I changed the symbols so people wouldn’t add them up.

Then along came US News and they ranked schools. I think that’s inappropriate. I don’t do rankings. I do journalism. I go to a school. I ask the students, “What’s it like at this school?” I write down what they say. I’m like a restaurant critic, but for colleges.

What’s the problem with rankings?

First, “What’s the best college?” is the wrong question. The right question is, “What’s the best college for me?”

Second, the US News rankings measure wealth.There’s a bias against quality public schools because they don’t have tremendous endowments. That’s wrong. So I think it’s a great source of statistical information. If they said, “Here are the facts, use your own weighting system,”  it might be useful. But for millions of kids to buy into this system is wrong.

But readers can easily turn ratings into rankings. If a Fiske guide says one college’s academics are five-out-of-five and another school is four-out-of-five, there’s an implicit ranking there. The first school has better academics.

My system is admittedly subjective. But it’s informed not by a mathematical formula but by what students tell me about the quality of an institution. US News measures reputations, which are uninformed. What students tell us about academic culture, how seriously it’s taken is much more helpful, I think.

One criticism of guides like yours is that they create an unfair feedback loop. You tell families what the best schools are, and they listen. They don’t apply to any school not in the book. So a school doing some amazing things that doesn’t make it into a Fiske Guide faces a structural disadvantage.

Well, I have to include the most selective schools. I also look for geographical representation, and representation of different types: Evangelical schools, Catholic schools, environmentally aware schools, technical schools. But if counselors say more students are reporting an excellent experience from a college not in the book, I check it out. I’m not running a popularity contest. I’m trying to serve readers. These college counselors are my best allies. Our goals are the same. We want the best fit for these kids.

You keep such a watchful eye on student experience at hundreds of colleges, so maybe you can respond to the widespread critique that academic standards are falling across the country including at the elite schools.

Here’s what I’ve noticed. Thirty years ago, a college didn’t mind being known as a party school. Today, that’s not true. Compared to my write-ups from 25 years ago, there is much more emphasis on freshman academic orientation programs and seminars to give entering students at least one high-level college experience. This is a positive development. There is much more emphasis on undergraduate research – more undergrads working with faculty members, and more journals of undergraduate research.

I’m more aware of colleges promoting serious academics in innovative ways than I was 25 or 30 years ago. The reality backing that up? Harder to say.


Ted Fiske gives tips on how to get the most bang for your college buck.

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Interview with Edward on ABC 7 Chicago

May 20, 2011 (CHICAGO) — It’s graduation season and it’s also time for rising high school students to be thinking about college selection.

Many high school students and their parents spend the summer visiting colleges they are thinking about applying for, and te Fiske Guide to Colleges can help in that selection. The guide provides an independent perspective on hundreds of colleges and universities in the U.S., Canada and Great Britain. Now the information contained in the book is available in an app for the iPad.

Fiske Interactive allows you to go beyond the book and streamline your college search with the following resources and tools:

  • Plan your college tour with built-in Google map function
  • Find school deadlines and application dates
  • Email admissions departments directly from the app
  • Browse each college website
  • Check out comparable campuses (“overlap schools”)

Fiske Interactive also allows parents and students to quickly and easily organize their top choices using lists and notes:

  • Flag schools for a second look
  • Categorize the schools you are interested in by using the “Safety Schools,” “Probable Schools,” and “Reach Schools” list feature
  • Add notes to each school

Fiske Interactive includes the hallmark Fiske Profiles that provide a candid, authoritative look at the academic climates and extracurricular scenes of 310-plus colleges and universities. The app allows you to browse through the guide with a swipe of your finger, view photos of each campus, or search by your chosen criteria, including state, campus location, enrollment size, academic program, Fiske rating, or just a keyword.

Fiske Interactive ($19.99) is available exclusively for the iPad.

About the Fiske Guide to Colleges
(RELEASE) Since 1982, the Fiske Guide to Colleges has been conducting in-depth evaluations and student satisfaction surveys on the top colleges and universities in North America. Representing students and parents as consumers, the Fiske Guide has developed one of the most comprehensive collegiate databases available, and the only one that includes real feedback from students and schools, filtered through the eyes of a journalist and pioneer in higher education. With the goal of helping students and parents navigate the increasingly complex college admissions scene, the independent, ad-free annual guide has become a standard part of college admissions literature and is now the country’s bestselling college guide.

About Edward B. Fiske
Edward B. Fiske served for 17 years as Education Editor of the New York Times, during which time he realized that college-bound students and their families needed better information on which to base their educational choices. He wrote the bestselling annual, the Fiske Guide to Colleges, to help them.



Helping Low-Income Students Succeed in College

Via the Century Foundation:

Rewarding Strivers: Edward B. Fiske from Century Foundation on Vimeo.


Ted Fiske Offers College Prep Advice to HS Students

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