In Memoriam: Mitch Silverman
Mitchell Silverman, founder of the USF Department of
Criminology and past president of the USF Chapter of
the United Faculty of Florida, died on Friday, Dec. 19,
after a long illness.
Professor Silverman came to USF in the late 1960s
with a degree in clinical psychology from Ohio State
University. During his years here he served as
Department Graduate Director and as Chair. His research
areas were juvenile delinquency, the neurobiology of
violence, and ethics.
He was long active in the United Faculty of Florida,
and served as USF Chapter President from 1999 to 2001,
during the first stages of the reorganization of the
State University System. His leadership prepared the
Chapter for the effects of the university system
Current chapter president Roy Weatherford said
“Mitch worked very hard to try to smooth the transition
to university-based bargaining. He was always dedicated
to improving faculty life and tireless in his defense of
our rights.” CAS Dean Kathleen Heide wrote that “He had
a very strong sense of justice and was committed to doing
his part to ensure that people from various stations in
life and diverse backgrounds were dealt with fairly.”
He is survived by his wife of 36 years, Henrietta
"Cyndi" Silverman, two sons Adam and Noah, and
daughter-in-law Beth. Funeral services were held
December 22nd at Rodeph Sholom. Memorial contributions
may be made to the American Cancer Society or the
American Association of Kidney Patients.
Percs of Membership: American Educator
Among the percs of UFF membership are automatic
subscriptions to the journals of the American Federation
of Teachers and the National Education Association. And
at this time of year, an article in the Winter 2003/2004
issue reminds us of a perennial problem:
Why students think they understand ... when they
In this article, Daniel Willingham, an associate
professor of cognitive psychology and neuroscience at the
University of Virginia, writes that students (and, let's
be honest, ourselves) confuse familiarity with recollection.
Almost all of us are familiar with Leonardo da Vinci, in
the sense that we've seen reproductions of the Mona Lisa
and we've heard of his notebooks, but few of us could
actually produce details of his life and work if asked.
Willingham describes several experiments that suggest
people think they know something about a subject when all
they are is familiar with it. For example, in one study,
people were given a question after completing short task.
For the question, the subjects were first asked if they
knew what the answer was, and then they were asked to
tell the answer. It turned out that people who were
asked a question involving words from the preceding task
were more likely to claim to know the answer, irrespective
of whether they actually did.
Willingham describes several ways that students
become merely familiar with the material: repeatedly
rereading the text and notes, paying as much attention to
teacher as they do to TV, etc. Moreover, when studying,
if a student's familiarity with the material induces
her/him to decide (s)he already knows it, (s)he will
turn to something else. But then, since the student
felt (s)he knew the material, when (s)he bombs the
upcoming exam, (s)he feels that the exam must have been
Willingham suggests several methods for dealing
with this problem, including: explaining the difference
between familiarity and knowing to the students, having
students (in pairs) explain recent material to eachother
to figure out if they "know" the material (and hence if
they need to ask questions -- which they usually don't
because, after all, they are familiar with the material),
and giving students practice tests.
And that is just one article from one issue of
the American Educator. Past issues are
This is not a new observation. The Board of
Trustees adopted a 2002-2007 long-range plan calling
for raising faculty salaries by one-third by 2007.
But little progress has been made. This may have
something to do with the fact that legislative
appropriations are unusually low for USF (in fact,
the January 16 Chronicle of Higher Education reported
that USF was the only Florida public institution of
higher education whose 2003-2004 appropriation was
LOWER than the 2002-2003 appropriation).
In the December 12, 2003 issue of the Chronicle
of Higher Education, Peter Cahn, a new professor at
the University of Oklahoma, got concerned when faculty
there went without any raises in two years. Impelled
by a recent news report that average UO faculty member
earned $ 91,000 per year in salary and benefits, he
looked up salaries and discovered that the salaries
actually tended to be much lower. Salaries were
higher for engineering and science professors (and
presumably for research stars), but the highest in
many departments went to current and previous chairs.
In general, "Despite the university's emphasis on
research and publication, it seemed that the largest
financial rewards lay in administration." He also
noticed "compression": even though he was almost
brand new, he earned as much as some senior faculty.
Similar phenomena can be observed at other
universities, even at USF.
Meanwhile, the faculty union, which represents
some but not all faculty, is negotiating a new
One of the perks of union membership is automatic
subscriptions to periodicals covering the issues in
education today. One of these is the AFT On Campus, which
just ran a two-part series on standardized tests.
Standardized tests are apparently as old as
bureaucracy. The great stylized essay tests of medieval
China served as the golden door that opened to -- or shut
on -- opportunity. The more ferocious tests of ancient
Sparta separated the men from ... those who did not
survive basic training. More recently, civil service
exams replaced the old spoils system (in which the
politicians appointed everybody), while the IQ test and
its descendents provided an apparently objective method
of measuring an applicant's promise in higher education.
The wonderful thing about modern standardized tests
is that they produce numbers, which makes them scientific.
Or at least look scientific. But they were inevitable.
The old apprentice system had required no standardized
tests: a young journeyman relied on the reputation of
his master to get employment (sound familiar?). But mass
education meant that there was no master overseeing years
of preparation: there were a sequence of teachers, and
in the end, to find out how well the student mastered the
material and the skills, there were exams.
Exams, like lectures, are an inevitable consequence
of large classes. And large classes are what makes
mass education possible.
But a funny thing has happened. Where schools have
used exams to classify students, businessmen propose to
use exams to classify schools. There may be a certain
poetic justice in this. And besides, from a Consumers'
Union point of view, it may be a good thing to collect
data on the performance of schools in order to evaluate
their teaching technique, their management skills, the
competence of their faculty. Following Twentieth Century
business doctrine --- quantify, quantify, quantify! ---
one generates numbers for schools, numbers for teachers,
numbers for students ...
But what are we going to do with all these numbers?
We can look at a very small model of this situation:
common course finals. Several departments have many
identical sections of entry (or remedial) classes, and
as a form of quality control, they have students take
exams created and graded by the department. All these
courses have syllabi controlled by and texts selected
by committees that want all students to have a predictable
preparation for the next level. While some of our best
faculty are teaching these courses, they are teaching to
huge classes of students of widely varied backrounds:
inevitably, many of these courses have high withdrawal/
failure rates. Put baldly: these courses are set up to
meet minimal expectations --- with a rigid organization
to make up for lack of per student resources --- while
higher level courses are run by individual professors
who have freedom and resources to have higher aspirations.
That should be a warning to us: that our most
familiar model of standardized testing at universities
is a form of making the best of a ... mixed ... situation.
What is being proposed is that the entire curriculum be
treated this way. This sentence may not be hyperbole:
this interest in testing coincides with a general decline
in education funding (a decline pushed by many test
enthusiasts). Politically, it provides a method for
foisting responsibility for any educational deficiency
onto the schools.
The proposal comes with a financial kicker: schools
and universities would have their funding tied to mean
test scores. This is an odd suggestion. One would
imagine that a school or university would propose a
budget, with rationales for the budget items, and then
(after some negotiating, based on track record,
availability of funds, etc.), the institution would get
funding. This new system would punish institutions (like
USF) with large and varied student bodies; and because
mean scores of small institutions vary from year to year,
it would make funding for smaller institutions (like New
Also ominous is the example of SUNY, where the Board
of Trustees is exploring using exams to impose their
ideology on the curriculum. The initial proposal, to
have a "general education curriculum" that excluded
African American Studies, Ethnic Studies, etc., was
withdrawn under fire, but there is continued work to
have a system to identify "failing" departments. The
use of tests to impose ideology should not be
underestimated: consider one of the Jim Crow literacy
tests, where registrants were asked to "interpret"
sections of the Constitution, and were disqualified from
voting if their interpretation was unacceptable.
Putting all this together, the faculty unions are
concerned about the effect of standardized testing on
the university community in general, and on faculty in
particular. By requiring that students take these tests,
faculty are pressured to teach to these tests. And
these are not like the common course finals that faculty
can influence: these tests come from the state, or some
And the union is especially concerned about using
the mean or median test scores to evaluate faculty.
James Hilton fans may recall that Mr Chips was
called in by the new businesslike Headmaster and chewed
out because his students had low scores. Mr Chips did
not teach to the exam; he taught "perspective." Goodbye
Mr Chips was indeed written during one of the many
squabbles over What If Anything Do Grades Mean, and
his example is a warning of what can happen if you fall
behind the latest in academic fashion.
This IS about academic freedom. Not just whether
the test is ideologically slanted, but what the test is
*about*, and indeed what can be tested by a mass-produced
numerical exam (probably not "perspective"). No one
is immune to this problem. Consider the controversy
over "conceptual" versus "quantitative" calculus exams.
Any state-authorized calculus exam will reflect a
pedagogical position that a calculus teacher could not
ignore. The union is very concerned that these tests
will be used to micromanage faculty in the classroom.
The union's position is that faculty are evaluated
based on materials that are described in the contract.
If the administration wishes to evaluate professors based
on test scores, let the administration propose this in
collective bargaining. But it may come to this: if the
state ties funding to test scores, the administration
will be under enormous pressure to make this proposal.
Indeed, one might suspect that this is one of the
motivations for making university funding dependent on
There is a model we are all familiar with: course
evaluations. Our state-mandated evaluations contain
eight questions, all on the teacher: none on the text,
none on the material, none on the course as a whole,
etc. (The webmaster recalls being in a workshop on
evaluating evaluation results, and the workshop leader
began with a brief commentary on the weak design of the
form.) Departmental evaluation committees are all too
prone to just look at the answer to Question # 8 (they
didn't take the workshop!), and a few have been caught
literally computing the mean score for Question # 8, and
using that as the Teaching Evaluation number in the
annual evaluation. There is no reason to believe that
mean test scores would be treated any better.
While standardized testing sounds interesting and
useful in principle, it would be wise to watch it
carefully, even warily.
For more on the testing biz, the two AFT On Campus
articles are on line: see
Part I and
Academic Freedom Wars, Part XLVIII
One familiar feature of the modern academic landscape
is the movement against “political correctness” and
for the academic freedom of students to speak and
express themselves on campus but outside of the
classroom with terms and ideas that others may find
offensive or alarming. This movement includes a range
of activists from civil libertarians to right wing
During the past few years, some of these activists
have started to get interested in what happens inside
classrooms. Some students and parents allege that
professors show bias in their lectures, in their reading
assignments, and their grading. In the February 13
issue of the
Chronicle of Higher Education (accessible only to
subscribers, alas), there are three articles on this:
The issue seems to be whether syllabi and grading systems
should be targets of legislation.
This issue has gotten the attention of major players.
There are three aspects of this situation we should
- A news article on “Patrolling Professors’ Politics:
Conservative activists and students press campaigns
against perceived bias on campuses,” about students
unhappy with professors who show left-wing bias,
and activists who are encouraging Congress and
state legislatures to take action, with an
“Academic Bill of Rights” (on-line at
as a model.
- An opinion piece by Center for the Study of Popular
Culture President David Horowitz, author of the
Academic Bill of Rights, to “emphasize the value of
‘intellectual diversity,’ already implicit in the
concept of academic freedom,” and protect students
from being “indoctrinated or ... assaulted by
political propagandists in the classroom.”
- An opinion piece by University of Illinois --
Chicago Liberal Arts and Sciences Dean Stanley
Fish, in which he contends that “Intellectual
Diversity” is not an academic value, and if
imposed by the government, will lead to disaster.
First of all, it is true that some professors lean
on students. The gentle webmaster vividly remembers,
when an undergraduate, a collision with a monetarist
economics professor on the subject of nuclear power. But
these collisions rarely have the effect that the leaning
professor desires (certainly not in my case); indeed,
the webmaster also remembers a self-pitying article by
an academic leaner who whined that her students had the
audacity to disagree with her in class. The system seems
self-correcting in that academic leaning produces
This suggests that the sensible thing for
politicians to do is to let the pendulum swing where it
may. But if they did that, what would they talk about
during the next election cycle? This brings us to the
Like all faculty unions, the United Faculty of
Florida places a very high priority on academic
freedom, especially in the classroom. UFF's position
is that this is a contractual issue, to be bargained
if the administration is ever in the mood to open
Pandora’s box. The difficulty is that the proposal is
being sent to Congress and the legislatures, and a
disagreement between a contract and the legal code
can have unpredictable effects. This is especially
true when we have courts dominated by judges who
regard academic freedom largely as a worthy sentiment.
This is one issue in which the outcome of elections
matters --- something to remember in November.
Finally, this may be a natural outgrowth of a
view of higher education as a product. Current
business doctrine is to present cafeterias of products,
from which customers can pick and choose. There is
even a legal impulse here: MicroSoft got in trouble
because it was “bundling” many products. But that is
what departments do: here are some major requirements,
consisting of courses whose syllabi are not negotiable.
Many students may wonder why, for example, future
geneticists are required to learn ecology, or why
abstract artists should learn anatomy. And why on
earth should engineers take ethics courses?
Departments are not unsympathetic --- witness the
growing number of electives around a shrinking core.
But up to now, such decisions were made internally.
As legislatures push for getting more and more students
through faster and faster with less and less fuss and
bother, we may find ourselves facing politicians who
want to make these decisions themselves.
Election: Call for Nominations
The United Faculty of Florida is conducting elections for
USF Chapter officers during this coming month. Members of
UFF may run for office, and vote in the election. In fact,
members of UFF are strongly encouraged to run for office,
and to vote in the election.
The elective offices are:
Again, all members of UFF are encouraged to run.
- The President
- The Vice President
- The Secretary
- The Treasurer
- The Thirteen Senators
(for the statewide UFF Senate)
- The Seven Florida Education Association Delegates
(UFF is a local of the FEA, and these
Delegates go to the statewide FEA meeting)
The first step is collecting nominations. A form in
is posted at the UFF webset,
or nominators may use the form below. Send to the union's
on-campus account: all
nominations received electronically will be acknowledged:
IF YOUR NOMINATION IS NOT ACKNOWLEDGED WITHIN 24 HOURS,
CONTACT THE WEBMASTER,
All nominations are due by Monday, March 8 (nominations may
be presented in person at the chapter meeting on March 5).
UFF-USF 2004 Election Announcement & CALL FOR NOMINATIONS
TO: UFF-USF Members
From: UFF-USF Chapter
Subject: 2004 Chapter Election
UFF-USF Chapter is seeking nominations for the following
positions. Each UFF-USF member is entitled to make
nominations, vote and serve. Please send your nominations
by email to the
on or before March 8, 2004. All nominations submitted to
the UFF account will be acknowledged: if your nomination
is not acknowledged within 24 hours, contact the webmaster,
Greg McColm. Self
nominations are allowed. The candidates are required to
submit a brief candidacy statement not to exceed one half
page (200 words). Ballots for contested offices, will be
sent out to union member's homes by first class mail, and
be due on Mar. 26.
Please nominate for the following positions:
President: President is the chief operating officer of
UFF-USF Chapter. The President also serves as a UFF Senator
and as a Delegate to the Florida Education Representative
Assembly. In accordance with UFF-USF constitution president
shall preside at all meetings of the Chapter and of the
Chapter Council. She or he shall be an ex-officio member of
all committee, shall sign all necessary documents and papers,
and represent the organization. The President shall make an
annual report at the last chapter meeting held during the
academic year. The President shall serve a term of one year.
Nomination (Self or Other)_______________________________________
Vice-President: Vice-President shall represent the chapter,
when the President can not be present and shall perform those
duties that are prescribed by the President or the Chapter
Council. In the event of any vacancy in the office of the
President, the Vice-President shall serve as President for
the period remaining in the existing term. The Vice-President
shall serve a term of one year.
Nomination (Self or Other)_________________________________________
Secretary: Secretary shall maintain records for the chapter
proceedings and perform other functions as specified by the
Chapter Council. The Secretary shall serve a term of one year.
Nomination (Self or Other)__________________________________________
Treasurer: Treasurer shall be the chief financial officer of
the chapter, shall exercise supervision over the receipt and
disbursement of all monies, properties, securities, and other
evidence of financial worth of this organization. The Treasurer
shall prepare an annual budget and make regular financial
reports to the Chapter Council. The Treasurer shall serve a
term of one year.
Nomination (Self or Other)______________________________________
13 Senators: Senators shall represent the Chapter at the
Statewide UFF Senate meetings. The UFF Senate is the
legislative and policy making body of the organization.
Senators shall serve a term of one year.
Nominations (Self or Others)______________________________________
7 Florida Education Association (FEA) Delegates: The Florida
Education Association Representative Assembly is the legislative
body of the organization. Delegates serve a term of one year.
Nominations (Self or Others)_____________________________________
Please include a 200-word description of the nominee.
Cambridge University, whose legislative authority is
actually invested in its faculty (much to the disgust of
academic autocrats), is now engaged in a very public
debate over whether faculty actually should ... share ...
some power with its administration, whose new president
has expressed her admiration for Cambridge traditions.
Cambridge traditions are something to keep in mind
for the following story.
The University of Florida is the only Floridian
member of the Association of American Universities, and
has often expressed a desire to be recognized as the
“Berkeley of the South.” Former President Charles Young
believed that this meant, among other things, no faculty
union, a view he expressed in numerous missives directed
at faculty. Like other SUS presidents, Young insisted
that the expiration of the 2001-2003 Collective Bargaining
Agreement meant the old contract was entirely dead.
Most of the other boards of trustees eventually
recognized the United Faculty of Florida as the union
representing faculty, but not UWF, FSU ... or UF. The
union forced elections, and UWF and FSU held
“accreditation elections” to determine whether faculty
wanted to be represented by UFF. They did by 91 % and
96 %, respectively. And the union has collected enough
cards to force an election at UF.
But there hasn't been an election. And there is no
date set for the election. The official reason for the
delay is a technical question: who could the union
This question was addressed when the union was
organized, and after a great deal of wrangling, the union
and the Board of Regents made a campus-by-campus
definition of the “bargaining unit” -- the faculty
represented by the union. For example, at USF, School of
Medicine faculty are out (but Public Health and Nursing
faculty are in), while CAS, Business, Engineering, and
Fine Arts faculty are in (but while CAS chairs are in,
other chairs are out). Librarians, counselors, some IT
staff, and some other university professionals were in,
while adjuncts were out. If you are guessing that this
is more the result of political compromise than logic,
you are at least partly right. The point is that over
the decades, the faculty and the union got used to this
Since the precise definition of the bargaining unit
is technically complicated and politically messy, some
administrations proposed reopening the issue as a delay
tactic. But Gainesville is where the definition of the
bargaining unit became the obsessive issue. The
administration said that it felt that faculty who had
not been within the bargaining unit before should be
within it now. The law school, the medical school, and
other operations would be included, while a few divisions
that had been within the bargaining unit would be
The majority of the faculty voting in such an
accreditation election would never have been represented
by the union.
The administration argued that it was only fair
that all faculty be permitted to vote. But there seems
to be another motive: in January, the Independent
Alligator reported that it had obtained an e-mail from
the previous November from Institute of Food and
Agriculture Sciences director Mike Martin explaining
why the administration wanted IFAS faculty included in
the bargaining unit: “President Young wants IFAS faculty
to vote because he does not want us or anyone else in the
The union has been pushing for the same definition
of the bargaining unit as the old contract: the faculty
represented in the past should be the ones to decide if
they want continued representation. If new divisions
also want to be represented, then they can push for
elections of their own.
Nevertheless, the administration's argument won
the support of Public Employees Relations Commission
hearing officer Jerry Chatham, who took the argument
to extremes that discomfited the administration. It
also won over the Gainesville Sun, whose Feb. 21
editorial seemed to suggest that UFF's victory margins
in UWF and FSU being what they were, UFF might well win
anyway, even though Chatham's proposal is to inflate the
bargaining unit from 1,800 to 4,500.
UFF has additional concerns. Unions typically
represent employees who have themselves worked to get
representation, not employees who have wound up with
a union as a result of legerdemain. A union does not
have any interest in representing anyone who is not
willing to join or participate: a union is not a
charitable organization. What UFF would like to know:
of these 2,700 faculty suddenly being dumped into the
bargaining unit, how many would participate? how many
would join? how many even are comfortable with the
In January, former University of Utah President
Bernie Machen became the new President of UF. He was
more conciliatory than Young, leaving the anti-union
rhetoric to Vice Provost Joe Glover. Glover continued
an argument Young had begun long ago: unions are not
compatible with faculty governance.
Although there is a natural division of labor
between a typical senate and a typical union (the
senate deals with academic issues while the union deals
with conditions of employment), this argument has swayed
the U.S. Supreme Court, which in 1980 ruled (NLRB v.
Yeshiva University) that since faculty have a natural
managerial role at a private institution like Yeshiva,
they have no right to organize. The retort was as
immediate as a pie in the Supreme Court's face: in
1982, the AAUP censured Yeshiva for inappropriately
dismissing three tenured faculty. Despite the natural
managerial role of Yeshiva faculty, the censure still
stands now. In the real world (as opposed to the
imaginary one the Supreme Court lives in), stability
and security is assured by a matrix of interacting
organizations, which in academia typically includes
both a faculty union and a faculty senate.
And so the public debate continues, much of it
over whether it would be appropriate for UF to have
a faculty union. Much of the debate concerns the
tackiness of unions versus the untrustworthiness of
administrations. The administration has encouraged
the senate to design a new system of faculty governance
(with the result that the senate is facing a new
problem of: who is represented by the senate?), but
how long this encouragement would last after the
certification election is unclear. The legal moves
over the bargaining unit continue. It is not clear
whether there will be a certification election anytime
A Volunteer Organization
The USF Chapter of the United Faculty of Florida relies
on faculty to volunteer their time and energy to do the
chapter's business. This can add up to a lot of work,
and the chapter can use all the help it can get.
America has long relied on volunteer organizations
to do the work that might be done officially in other
countries. And Americans have long found it rewarding
to distribute charity, spread the faith, lobby the
government, plant trees, and organize mutual support
organizations. Opinions vary about some of these
missions, but collectively volunteer organizations do
a lot of the work that America needs done.
The Chapter requires a lot of work. The primary
duties of the union are to bargain and enforce the
contract. This means that we need a bargaining team
to plan the bargaining (and MOST of the work of
bargaining is planning) and then meet repeatedly over
several months with representatives of the administration
(who are bargaining as part of their assignments) to
work out a contract. This also means that we need a
team of "grievance representatives" to help faculty whose
contractual rights are violated: a contract is merely a
piece of paper, and if the union does not vigilantly
defend it, it will crumble into dust.
There is a lot of other work, from paperwork (and
there is a lot of this) to politicking (alas, this being
the real world, there is a lot of this, too). The most
important work is the one that requires the most
volunteers: the union always needs people to be around
if a faculty member wants information, or is in trouble,
or is just curious. (Union members interested in
being such an "available person" should contact Sherman
Dorn, at ). The union also
needs volunteers to serve in the next level for faculty
in trouble: "grievance representatives." If a faculty
member believes that her/his contractual rights have
been violated, they have thirty days to file a
"grievance" (if no grievance is filed, then nothing can
be done: the contract, being a piece of paper, does not
enforce itself). A grievance representative is familiar
with the grievance process, and assists the grieving
faculty member in composing the complaint, and going
through the process.
This brings up a critical point. Faculty members
do not have vast amounts of free time. Most unions
could not function if they didn't have some way to
free up the time for some of its volunteers. So most
unions have written in the contract some arrangement
for having some "release time" for some volunteers:
under our old contract, the union had 34 course releases
(for the entire state), and typically the USF chapter
would get about four: two for the president (which is,
according to past and present presidents, nearly a
full-time job), one for the Grievance chair (who often
handled many grievances personally), one for someone
else doing a lot of work. Some releases went to state
officers: for example, when the state union bargained
with the Board of Regents in Tallahassee, the state
union's bargaining team got some course releases.
The USF administration, almost alone among the
state university administrations, has refused to honor
the chapter course releases as stipulated by the
contract. The reason for the refusal is unclear.
UFF insists that the terms and conditions of the old
contract are still in force (which includes those 34
course releases) while the administration asserts that
the contract is not in force and therefore it will not
(or can not) honor the course releases. The result is
that the bargaining team and union officials have been
putting in many long hours on top of their job duties.
For faculty, the fairness issue may or may not
resonate. But the consequences of fatigue can be
imagined. This could, in the long run, undermine union
effectiveness. It is hard enough to get volunteers for
labor-intensive positions; it is even harder without
Of course, most volunteer positions involve a lot
less work. Being an available person involves perhaps
an hour or so a week, most talking with fellow faculty.
One advantage is: you can meet people from a variety
of departments, and talk about mutual issues (even
collaboration). You can start by visiting one of the
chapter meetings ...
How Ready Are They?
Anyone who has taught a freshman course has seen the
phenomenon. The algebra student who can't add fractions,
the composition student who can't write a sentence, the
history student who doesn't know what century the Civil
War occurred in. However sympathetic we may be with
the plight of our colleagues in secondary education,
we sometimes wonder ... what is going on in high schools?
In this issue, the Educator ran two articles on college
preparation. The entire issue is
on-line; here are two brief descriptions.
It's Time To Tell the Kids: If You Don't Do Well in High
School, You Won't Do Well in College (or on the Job), by
James E. Rosenbaum, Professor of Sociology, Education,
and Social Policy at Northwestern University. Professor
Rosenbaum says that high school students believe
(correctly) that bad grades won't keep them out of
college, but do not realize that students with bad
high school grades tend to wash out of college.
In one 1982 study, 63.9 % of the students with
A-averages in high school ultimately earned at least an
associate's degree, while only 13.9 % of the students with
at most a C-average did so.
Nevertheless, many students do not make the
connection between high school performance and college
success. For example, one study conducted in the late
1990s showed almost 40 % of college-bound students
believing that school effort had little effect on their
One reason for this ignorance is that high school
counselors are not as blunt as they used to be. Counselors
feel they lack the authority, or the support from the
Complicating the situation is the problem that
many high schools brag about the percentage of their
students who go on to college --- without worrying about
the percentage of students who actually succeed there.
In a sidebar, the editors note that the single
best predictor of college graduation is ... what courses
the student enrolled in during high school.
What Does It Mean To Be Prepared for College? (or for
Jobs in the High-Growth, High-Performance Workplace), a
collection of excerpts of a report by the American
Diploma Project; the 128-page report is
The report states that high college dropout rates
suggest that many students are not prepared for college.
With that in mind, the authors of the report seek to
determine what college readiness (or readiness for serious
jobs not requiring academic college education) would
consist of. The result is a set of English and Mathematics
The authors take communication seriously, and stress
not only the need for reading comprehension and writing
clarity, but also the ability to evaluate and compose
arguments, the ability to conduct and understand research,
the need for good grammar (!), and the reasonable
understanding of the human condition that follows from
reading great literature: “Employers report that employees
who have considered the moral dilemmas encountered by
literary characters are better able to tolerate ambiguity
and nurture problem-solving skills in the workplace.”
As for mathematics, the authors are not only
concerned about quantitative reasoning skills, but also
critical reasoning skills. The AFT Educator only
mentions algebra, but the report itself also goes into
the need for high school students to learn statistics.