Five roads to nowhere

The venerable New York Times gave some print real estate to Harold Levy, Chancellor of New York City schools for a few years, who offers his advice for “Five Ways to Fix America’s Schools.” Here is the lede:

AMERICAN education was once the best in the world. But today, our private and public universities are losing their competitive edge to foreign institutions, they are losing the advertising wars to for-profit colleges and they are losing control over their own admissions because of an ill-conceived ranking system. With the recession causing big state budget cuts, the situation in higher education has turned critical. Here are a few radical ideas to improve matters:

What is remarkable about all this is the sorrow heaped upon the universities while their students remain invisible.  Our universities are losing “their competitive edge” and losing the “advertising wars” and losing “control over their own admissions.”  Do we restructure these august bodies? Change the way in which we serve students?  Rethink the very purpose and delivery of higher education as the world continues its ceaseless change?  Natch.

The first four of these ideas are all remarkably pointless, and the last one is not an idea at all but a truism.  These are the best the former Chancellor of the greatest city in the world can conjure up?  I may have just better understood the challenges facing Joel Klein.

Anyway, here they are (with my commentary).

1. Raise the age of compulsory education to 19.
This falls under the “more bad will make better” category.  If our K-12 system is not working well, just dial it up to 13.  The expense of this (monstrous) is merely passed off as something the feds would pick up. The explanation that graduates (at various levels) have better health and opportunities does not mean that mandating more time will produce equal benefits. Otherwise why not just require everyone to get an Ivy League education and be done with it?   This may be one of the worst education ideas I have ever heard by a professional.

2. “Use high-pressure sales tactics to curb truancy.”
No, really, this is included.  No sense of improving schools to give students a reason to be there; no mention of enhanced school culture or involving parents in a constructive way, instead, use strong-arm tactics admittedly connected with credit card companies.  And truancy will, uh, decrease once we make another year compulsory?

3. “Advertise creatively and aggressively to encourage college enrollment.”
As the recent AEI study noted, we don’t actually need more kids going to college, we need kids who are better prepared and colleges who can help them learn and graduate.  Too many colleges at the lower end of the quality spectrum are doing a really poor job – do we need to add to their enrollment?  Increasing the number of kids going to college without improving their preparation is meaningless.

4. “Unseal college accreditation reports so that the Department of Education can take over the business of ranking colleges and universities.”
Because the controversy over college rankings will be vastly improved when the DOE takes over.  I have no idea what problem this is supposed to solve, but I am pretty confident it is at the periphery of the troubles of American education, although it probably gets a lot of air time at the Dean’s meetings.

5. “The biggest improvement we can make in higher education is to produce more qualified applicants.”
Hallelieijuh! So, Chancellor, let’s have some thoughts on how to produce more qualified applicants — you must have some thoughts on how to actually get more qualified applicants, perhaps in your first four…, oh.  Never mind.

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