Posts tagged ‘education’


This article was originally posted at The Nation on May 4, 2010.

Sixty-six college presidents refused to fill out the US News and World Report’s well-known college ranking survey, which was released May 3. In a letter, they called on fellow college presidents to follow their example. Each year college presidents, provosts and deans of admissions receive the peer assessment survey, which asks them to evaluate the academic standards of 260 higher education institutions across the country on a scale from “distinguished” to “marginal.” But many presidents argue that the survey is a waste of time and produces misleading results.
Many presidents say a five-point rating system is sufficiently nuanced to judge large institutions that may academically strong in some areas and weaker in others. In a letter initially signed by twelve college presidents, which is being sent to all universities involved in the survey, the rankings are described as “obscur[ing] important differences in educational mission in aligning institutions on a single scale.” The president of Goucher College in Baltimore, Maryland Sanford Ungar explains how impractical the survey is, “I would better be able to fill out a survey on refrigerators than on colleges I’ve never visited, never interacted with.”

In addition, the letter acknowledges the amount of PR, gamesmanship and even outright lying that colleges and universities engage in to boost their rankings. As the Washington Post reports every year colleges and universities send their counterparts brochures, CDs and other goodies that talk up their academic achievements. Several colleges, such as Clemson University and the University of Wisconsin, have admitted to underrating other colleges in order to achieve a higher ranking.

Inside Higher Ed published an article that shows just how subjectively each institution approaches the rating system.

The form submitted by the provost at the University of Wisconsin at Madison deemed 260 of its 262 peer institutions to be of “adequate” quality. A survey from the University of Vermont’s president listed “don’t know” for about half of the universities. The forms provided by Ohio State University’s president and provost were virtually identical. And the University of Florida’s president, like his highly publicized colleague at Clemson University, rated his own institution well above many of his competitors.

The peer assessment portion counts as 25 percent of the overall rankings. Defenders of the survey value the peer assessment because they are averaged together and are just a quarter of the entire ranking system. Additionally, some presidents believe in the accuracy of the scores if those taking the surveys only rate the institutions they are intimately familiar with and mark the “don’t know” option for the rest. University of Vermont’s Director of Institutional Studies Fred Curran said that he marked “don’t know” for 156 universities, rather than putting time into researching the institutions he knew nothing about. “I don’t think US News expects you to evaluate every institution,” he said.

In a blog post Bob Morse, the director of data research for US News and World Report, explains the reasoning behind the peer assessment survey, “U.S. News knows that peer assessments are subjective, but they are also important—a diploma from a distinguished college can help a graduate get a good job and gain admission to a top-notch graduate program.” Morse also emphasized that the rest of the ranking system, 75 percent, is “based on a formula that uses objective measures of academic quality such as graduation and retention rates, admission statistics, and financial and faculty resource data.”

But the 66 presidents, who signed the letter boycotting the rankings, want a different assessment. Backed by the Education Conservancy, a 2004 non-profit working to develop a “robust, nuanced, and educationally sound web-based system” to accurately assess universities, the issue is finally getting some attention. The biggest challenge will be overcoming the traditionalism of a ranking system spanning more than two decades. Curran admits that opting out of the survey is inconceivable; “it’s something we’ve got to do — it’s been around long enough.”


May 5, 2010 at 11:43 pm Leave a comment


This article was originally posted at The Nation on April 14, 2010.

On April 16 thousands of university and high school students will attend classes without a word. No socializing in hallways or on the quad, no joking in the cafeteria, no participating in classrooms. When asked why they remain silent, their only response will be a card containing an explanation of the Day of Silence.

The Day brings attention to the silence endured by lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender students when facing bullying and harassment in school. The card explains that students’ “deliberate silence echoes that silence, which is caused by name-calling, bullying and harassment. I believe that ending the silence is the first step toward fighting these injustices.”

The event has become the largest student-led action addressing school safety for all students, regardless of gender or sexual orientation. The day began in 1996 at the University of Virginia. Undergraduate Maria Pulzetti wanted an event that would be visible on campus and involve straight allies.

“I wanted to do something for BGLAD week that would impact many people at the school and that would be very visible,” Pulzetti said in an interview for Oasis magazine. “I knew that if we held panel discussions and events like that, the only people who would come would be the people who already were fairly aware.”

The first Day of Silence was a success among students at the UVA and garnered some press attention. The next year the event grew to include 200 UVA students and over 100 colleges and universities across the US. Pulzetti and fellow student Jesse Gilliam worked hard to develop the project for schools coast to coast. Two years later high schools became involved, and in 2000 the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network (GLSEN) became the official sponsor of the event. In 2008 over 8,000 high schools, colleges and universities took part in the action.

Participating students are both gay and straight. Their silence seeks to raise an awareness of the harassment and bullying that many LGBT students face daily from their peers. It is not only LGBT students who are being abused, a fact that GLSEN also wants to bring awareness to this year. In 2009, 11-year-old Carl Joseph Walker-Hoover hanged himself because of peers who harassed him, calling him gay even though he was straight. On the 2009 Day of Silence Carl would have turned 12.

“As was the case with Carl, you do not have to identify as gay to be attacked with anti-LGBT language,” GLSEN Executive Director Eliza Byard said in a press release. “From their earliest years on the school playground, students learn to use anti-LGBT language as the ultimate weapon to degrade their peers.”

The Day of Silence also provides resources to schools on how they can take simple steps to stop harassment within their own walls, such as adopting an anti-bullying policy, curriculum that addresses LGBT issues and tolerance and training teachers and staff to better deal with bullying when they see it.

Of course, a day like this doesn’t come without its critics. Several family advocacy groups say the Day of Silence is politicizing the classroom and indoctrinating students. One of the most outspoken groups is the American Family Association, who is calling on parents to pull their children from school on the Day of Silence, apparently in support of bullying and harassment. A coalition of groups support the Day of Silence “walk-out.” Exodus International, a religious organization that supports “conversion therapy,” has organized the first, counter Day of Truth on the day after the Day of Silence. Their slogan is “Get The Conversation Started” about biblical sexuality.

To find out more, visit GLSEN’s Day of Silence Web site.

Apr 14, 2010 at 12:05 am Leave a comment

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