"I know no safe depository of the ultimate powers of the society but the people themselves; and if we think them not enlightened enough to exercise their control with a wholesome discretion, the remedy is not to take it from them, but to inform their discretion by education. This is the true corrective of abuses of constitutional power." - Thomas Jefferson 1820

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Monday, November 22, 2010

Missouri Educational Policies...when Theories Meet Realities...it makes for "Puzzling Agendas" and bafflement.

The journalism students at Mizzou were not invited to sit on the recent chat by Governor Nixon regarding higher educational issues. Other journalists were invited, but not those who have the most invested in these issues--students. We blogged about the students being shut out and we now know what was discussed in this chat.

The Columbia Daily Tribune has a report on this meeting and it is entitled "A puzzling agenda--Governor calls on colleges to do more with less". Here is an idea of the Governor's thoughts:

Educate more students, Nixon instructed, parroting a national goal to increase the number of degree-holding adults from about 37 percent to 60 percent by 2025. In other words, teach hundreds of thousands more students in less than 15 years.

And, Nixon said in the next breath, do so not with the promise of additional state funds but by culling degree programs and sharing services between campuses.

This will indeed be some kind of feat; increasing degree-holding adults by 23% with no additional funding. The goal comes from rhetoric from the current administration. This may not be such an idea that ultimately helps America according to American Thinker:

We can't magically transform our anemic economy into a powerhouse by scraping the bottom of the barrel to find more disengaged kids to process through our credential factories. The truth is that there is no direct connection between national prosperity and "educational attainment."

That is the crucial point Professor Alison Wolf makes in her eye-opening book Does Education Matter? She demonstrates that it's neither necessary nor sufficient for a growing, prosperous economy for a country to get the maximum number of its citizens through college.
Dragooning more people into college won't give us a better workforce or better jobs. It will only give us more credential inflation as employers demand college degrees for mundane jobs.

Why is Nixon pushing this agenda of producing more college graduates in Missouri? Perhaps, as the writer continues, there is an underlying agenda for proposing this line of thinking:

It does, however, have some political advantages for the president and his party. Our higher education establishment is one of the most loyal and vigorous supporters of the Democrats and their "progressive" agenda. Putting more kids through college means more money in the pockets of the overwhelmingly leftist administrators and professors. Furthermore, since the intellectual influence on college students is much more apt to drive them toward statism than toward individual liberty and free markets, the more young people go to college, the bigger the voting bloc for leftist candidates.

Just like the notion that federal deficit spending will revive the economy, the idea that getting more young Americans through college will make the country more competitive and prosperous is utterly mistaken.

This puzzling agenda is not confined to higher education, it also is present in "Vision for Missouri Public Education". Transformational change for K-12 grades consists of relinquishing state control of curriculum and unfunded mandates. The idea of common core standards allowing "individual educational experiences" is a puzzling comment. As we wrote earlier, "individualized mandate" is an oxymoron.

Are Governor Nixon's and DESE's plans making sense? When theory meets reality oftentimes the theory proves to be unworkable because of the reality of the facts:

Although it was the last among Nixon’s list of priorities, funding is at the heart of the discussion. Lawmakers are looking down the barrel of a 2012 budget that lacks the $860 million in federal stimulus dollars padding the current budget. The state could see as much as a $600 million shortfall, and after being protected from significant cuts for two years, colleges and universities could bear the brunt of those budget reductions. Nixon said higher education should expect at least a $50 million cut.

Eliminating degree programs or coming up with cross-campus collaborations won’t solve the 2012 budget puzzle. Those changes will take years to implement.

How will this budget shortfall be plugged? One legislator has the same ideas as the lobbying groups writing the educational policy for K-12 schools:

Quicker remedies would be to beef up collection of Internet sales taxes or to start charging higher sales taxes on cigarettes, said Rep. Mary Still, D-Columbia.

“There are many things we can do to improve our revenue picture just by modernizing and dealing with the world we live in today,” she said.

Governor Nixon is not keen on raising taxes but is committed to his vision:

At the end of the day, “we want excellence,” Nixon said. “We’re taking a much more comprehensive and — in my view — thoughtful view of what we can do to position our institutions to competitively educate more students for years to come.”

What does excellence in higher education entail? A rigorous education or more enrolled students? What does excellence in K-12 education entail? Common core standards or a truly individualized/localized educational experience? As one commenter nicely summed up the issue in the Columbia article:

So the gov is aiming to help fix our educational woes and budget crisis by pressuring the university to cut degrees, which apparently will not save any money and provide less diversity in programs for a populace that needs to be more educated? I'm baffled.

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