While it is obvious that the widespread access to higher educational opportunities is more important than ever, elected officials have been consistently reducing support for our public colleges and universities.
The shocking and disturbing trend has been especially visible here in Connecticut where Governor Dannel "Dan" Malloy has pushed through the deepest cuts in Connecticut history for our public institutions of higher education. Students and their families are forced to pay more and get less as the state pulls the rug out from under this vital service.
On behalf of the corporate education reform industry, President Obama's Secretary of Education, Arne Duncan, is embarking on an expensive, misleading and completely unnecessary rating system that will cost colleges and taxpayers tens of millions of dollars while providing no benefit whatsoever.
On the other hand, the proposal will mean a whole lot of education reform consultants will continue to feed at the public trough.
This past weekend, fellow education advocate Wendy Lecker wrote about this proposal in her Stamford Advocate column entitled, "The consequences of silence."
When President Barack Obama and Education Secretary Arne Duncan continued and expanded NCLB's absurd ranking and punishing of public schools based on socio-economic and other inappropriate measures, teachers, parents and public school advocates spoke out. They opposed and continue to oppose shallow ratings that fail to capture the complexities of educating children and that distort the goals of public schools.
As this battle raged, one group that was silent were college officials. That silence had consequences and now these officials are feeling the bite of destructive education policies.
College presidents are up in arms over the Obama administration's plan to rate colleges and universities, to determine eligibility for federal funds, based on factors such as how many students graduate, how much debt students carry and how much money graduates earn.
One community college leader, alluding to the well-known shortcomings of federal data, feared these ratings would be "garbage in- garbage out."
Others worry about the one-size-fits-all measure, when colleges have different missions. Moreover, certain criteria reveal more about the ideology of those rating the schools than the quality of the schools themselves. For example, those ranking a school based on its graduates' earnings value high salaries over professions such as teaching, social work, or other important, but not lucrative, jobs.
Williams College president Adam Falk decried the rating plan as "oversimplified to the point that it actually misleads."
In a 2011 New Yorker article about U.S. News and World Report's college ranking system, Malcom Gladwell explored the difficulty of measuring "how well a college manages to inform, inspire, and challenge its students." He remarked that the proxies used for educational quality "turn out to be flimsy at best."
As former Obama administration official, Janet Napolitano, now president of the University of California, said last year, "It's not like - you know, you're not buying a car or a boat."
Napolitano overestimated the Obama administration's regard for a college education. A U.S. Department of Education official recently claimed rating a college is "like rating a blender."
Inaccurate data, a one-size-fits-all measure, a reductionist view of education - where have I heard all this before? Ah yes, federal and state officials, with the help of billionaires such as Bill Gates and the Walton family, have been inflicting these "reforms" on public schools for more than a decade. And for all that time, those who support a well-rounded K-12 education have been sounding the same alarms now raised by university presidents.
My question is - where have you been, university presidents? As we fight the narrowed curriculum resulting from NCLB and its corollary, the Common Core, which limits a child's world to an endless series of scripted prompts and canned lessons, why haven't you spoken out? When the democratic values of our society are being trampled by "reforms" that punish schools serving our neediest children, increase segregation and eliminate democratically elected school boards, where is your outrage? While political leaders define "college ready" as a number on a standardized test, why are you not explaining that college demands so much more than that?
You were likely lucky enough to attend schools that provided a rich and diverse curriculum. So certainly you have read the words of German pastor Martin Neimoller:
"First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out - because I was not a Socialist.
Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out - because I was not a Trade Unionist.
Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out - because I was not a Jew.
Then they came for me - and there was no one left to speak for me."
The concerted attacks on public education reach beyond local public schools. Our founders maintained that education was the "very essence and foundation of a civilized culture"; crucial to the preservation of our government and our society and "to the encouragement of virtue." These broad goals have been replaced by the empty notion that our children are the simply means to American economic competitiveness and the false claims that if our schools focus on what can be tested and measured, our economy will succeed. In many respects our children have become the commodity - the raw material from which testing and charter companies profit.
It is high time for university presidents, good government groups and others to join public school advocates in demanding that the democratic purpose of our public schools be restored, lest no one remain when the profit-seekers come for them.