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As my regular readers know, I enjoy data-based reports. While there is always room for interpretation, I often prefer this type of research more than pure opinions. A great source of data on education (all levels) in this country is NCES (National Center for Education Statistics). NCES is “the primary federal entity for collecting and analyzing data related to education in the U.S. and other nations.” As part of the Department of Education and mandated by Congress, NCES collects and analyzes statistics primarily related to the condition of American education from early childhood to postsecondary and adult education.

Since 2000, NCES has conducted an international comparative assessment entitled PISA (the Program for International Student Assessment). The study is conducted every three years and represents cooperation between NCES and OECD (Organization for Economic and Cooperative Development). OECD is an intergovernmental organization of industrialized countries.

Specifically, PISA primarily provides information related to 15-year old students’ reading, mathematics and science literacy in 65 countries. The results of the Pisa 2012, just released, also include computer-based assessments in mathematics literacy, reading literacy, and general problem-solving, as well as an assessment of students’ financial literacy.

The results are very concerning. Regarding mathematics literacy, only 9% of American 15-year old students were identified as “top performing," and 23% were below the baseline of proficiency. The average American score was lower than 29 other education systems, higher than 26, and not measurably different than 9 others. The best performing states were Massachusetts and Connecticut, the lowest was Florida.

The results in science literacy were not much better. Only 7% percent of American 15-year old students were identified as “top performing,” and 18% were below the baseline of proficiency. The average American score was lower than 22 other education systems, higher than 29, and not measurably different than 13 others. Again, the best performing states were Massachusetts and Connecticut, the lowest was Florida.

The results in reading literacy followed a similar pattern of global mediocrity. Only 8% percent of American 15-year old students were identified as “top performing,” and 17% were below the baseline of proficiency. The average American score was lower than 19 other education systems, higher than 34, and not measurably different than 11 others. Again, the best performing states were Massachusetts and Connecticut, the lowest was Florida.

The scores on computer-based assessments were similarly non-competitive and the U.S. performance over the past decade has not significantly changed in relative performance and ranking.

This is not the first time that we have data reflecting our poor performance in these areas compared with China, Japan, Finland, Australia and Canada. But what caught my attention beyond this data was the connection some are making to these results and the economy of this country.

In a recent article, for example, Thomas Friedman, of “The World is Flat” fame, shared this related fact. In 1979, a third of the American workforce took home half of the national income. Today, half the national income is earned by the top 10%.

In fact, the foundation of the American middle class (high wage, middle-skilled jobs) are moving away in dramatic fashion to other countries (China and India) with better qualified employees or they are becoming automated (computers and robots).

The answer is not in higher wages, lower taxes or health care. The answer is in better education. Parents need to send their children to school ready to learn. Parents and their children need to support and respect teachers and administrators in all educational settings. Students must recognize their own need to learn. All stakeholders in our American educational system must work together for the benefit of our country’s economic future.

This will be my last blog for 2013. I will return in January 2014. I wish each and every one of you a blessed Christmas and a New Year filled with health and happiness!

(As always, your comments and questions are welcome.)

Posted by on in President's Blog

Last week I wrote about the issue of gun control and a recent report from the Children’s Defense Fund entitled, “We Can Do Better: Protect Children Not Guns 2013.”  The responses to this blog have been interesting. Most who took the time to write shared my views on gun control. A few questioned the value of gun control and someone even challenged my patriotism.

This week I want to share some of the recommendations made by this report. None of these ideas are new, but they will take action…. your action, my action … and ultimately the action of our elected leaders.

The first recommendation is to “urge your members of Congress to protect children from gun violence. Support common sense gun safety and gun prevention measures …” Specific actions included in this recommendation are:

-       Universal background checks;

-       Limits on assault weapons and high capacity ammunition magazines;

-       Consumer safety standards, childproof safety features, and authorized-user identification for all guns;

-       Better services for children and families facing violence in their homes and communities and for children with unmet mental health needs;

-       Public funding for gun violence prevention research and programs;

-       Resources and authority for the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) and law enforcement agencies to properly enforce gun laws.

The second recommendation is to “urge state and local governments to protect children from guns.”  If we can’t change federal laws, we can at least make our own state safer for children. Sadly, since Newtown, only four states have passed common sense gun reform. Specific actions in this case include:

-       Support laws to prevent child access to guns;

-       Support universal background checks;

-       Support limits on assault weapons and high-capacity ammunition;

-       Oppose efforts to limit the ability of schools, physicians and others to do their part to keep children safe from guns;

-       Oppose laws allowing concealed weapons;

-       Demand the repeal of “Stand Your Ground Laws.”

If you are unwilling to work to change federal and state laws and policies, you can take personal action and responsibility. The report urges parents to “remove guns from your home and be vigilant about where your children play.”  Even more, we can all “boycott products that glamorize violence.”  Finally, we can help to educate and influence our neighbors and friends by bringing attention to the truth about gun violence and to work against the culture of violence in our neighborhoods and our communities.

It’s not enough to share the belief that gun violence must be addressed. It will take action. I am just beginning to read Pope Francis’ teaching document, “Evangelii Gaudium” (the Joy of the Gospel). I am sure you will be reading about my impressions and reflections in future blogs.

But one sentence has remained in my mind as I am writing this blog on this topic. Pope Francis writes, “How can it be that it is not a news item when an elderly homeless person dies of exposure, but it is news when the stock market loses two points?”

Gun violence is not as important to the media as healthcare, the economy, the rate in which people are spending money on holiday gifts and celebrity news. Here’s what I want for Christmas … new and improved laws on gun control so that more children are safe. Because in this season of Advent …. I believe we can do better!

(As always, your comments and questions are welcome.)

Posted by on in President's Blog

I was at a public event a week ago that was stopped several times to acknowledge and thank those from the military in attendance. We stood and applauded and thanked them for their service and sacrifice. While I shared in this expression of appreciation, I thought of statistics from a recent report published by the Children’s Defense Fund entitled, “We Can Do Better: Protect Children Not Guns 2013.”

One of many statistics that surprised, shocked and saddened me was that, “the number of children and teens killed by guns in 2010 was nearly five times the number of U.S. soldiers killed in action that year in Iraq and Afghanistan.” In fact, since 1963, three times more children and teens have died from guns on American soil than U.S. soldiers killed in action in wars around the world. That translates to seven children and teens being killed every single day by guns in America. A child or teen is killed or injured from guns every 30 seconds.

Last year, I joined hundreds of my colleagues in support of additional gun control. Our statement entitled, “College Presidents for Gun Safety,” was sent to every legislator, every government official and every media outlet. It was joined by the efforts of many organizations, individuals and communities. But even with the memory of Sandy Hook Elementary School fresh in our minds, modest legislation to increase background checks was defeated in Congress.

Maybe Sandy Hook was not enough to change our minds since the fact is that the number of children and teens killed by guns in one year would fill 134 classrooms of 20 students each. In 2010, 18,270 children and teens died or were injured by guns. This means 17 classrooms of 20 children every week... an entire school building every week. The school building your children and my grandchildren attend ... one every week.

If you are interested in this issue, I would urge you to read this report. It can be found online at www.childrensdefense.org/dobetter. It provides statistics and analysis, as well as action steps to help address this issue. It also provides a selection of organizations you might join and/or support that are trying to address this issue.

Next week, I will share some of the suggestions for action. But the Forward to the report from Marian Wright Edelman frames it well:

“What can you do? Urge your members of Congress to protect children from gun violence by supporting common sense gun safety and gun violence protection measures for the nation including universal background checks, limits on assault weapons and high-capacity ammunition magazines, consumer safety standards for all guns, public funding for gun violence prevention research, and resources and authority for law enforcement agencies to properly enforce gun laws. Parents, remove your guns from your home and be vigilant about where your children play. Boycott products that glamorize violence.”

As we prepare to begin the Advent and Christmas seasons ... seasons that center so much on life and children ... this issue should not .... cannot be ignored.

(As always, your comments and questions are welcome.)

When thinking about what is referred to as “the college experience,” do you consider this concept only in relationship to what is gained from inside a classroom or playing on a sports team? Does the idea of school spirit ever cross your mind when you think about your college experience and, if so, what do you think of when you hear the phrase “school spirit?”

My definition of school spirit is when students, faculty and staff gather to show pride in their school and support for each other. Having school spirit means being able to show how much you love your school by creating, coordinating and participating in student events or, going a step further, by actually hosting events that show how much love you have for your school.

A great example of an event that occurred recently that showed the Anna Maria College Community in action was the Midnight Madness event, which took place on Wednesday, November 13, 2013 in the Fuller Activities Center around 11:45 pm. This event was conducted to celebrate the upcoming season of basketball for both women and men at Anna Maria College. It was a way for the College, as well as guests, to see what new skills, players, and determination each team has to offer for this upcoming season.

At Midnight Madness, students not only had the opportunity to be introduced to the upcoming season but they also had a chance to participate in activities centered around basketball even if they had no prior experience in playing the sport. This event had a huge turnout and was hosted by Lynette Colome, a junior at Anna Maia College and James Lambert III. They also had a helping hand from Lisa Saverese, the Director of Student Activities who helped to put the event together. In addition, I can’t forget to mention the hard work of the players from both teams, as well as their coaches.

Prior to the event, I sat down with a few students to gain their perspective on the Midnight Madness event and the upcoming season. The first student I spoke with was Nina Anastacio who is a sophomore, resident assistant and former basketball player at Anna Maria College. When asked if she was excited about the upcoming event and season she replied that she was ecstatic. She went on to explain to me that “Midnight Madness allowed the student athletes to be introduced as part of the school team and it was a way to display a preview of the hard work the coaches have put in preparing them for the upcoming season.” Nina also stated that she is anticipating improvement amongst the players on the team and “what we are about to see from these women is going to be brand new in that Anna Maria College has never seen these women the way we will see them this season.” She continued to show her optimism in the team’s success when she stated that, “there is a high possibility of them making it to the playoffs.”

I also sat down with a member from the men’s basketball team, Caleib Fournier, to get his take on the upcoming season for men’s basketball. When asked what Midnight Madness meant to him, as well as the impact it has on him and the other players, he stated that the event “brings the school together, as well as motivates the players for success during the upcoming season.” Like Nina, he described this season as “brand new.” He stated that the players will have a whole new style of playing and that this season will be different but successful at the same time.” Even though the men’s basketball team has drastically changed since losing their three power players: Javier Bristo, Anthony Click and Brad Peterson, all graduates of the class of 2013, Calieb still maintains his strong faith in his team’s success, as well as Coach Conrad’s ability to continue leading them on a successful path. He shared that Coach Conrad has done a great job in keeping the team on track, helping them to reach their goals in the sport, gaining the trust of his players and establishing a bond.

These interviews that were conducted, as well as having the privilege to attend the very well organized event known as Midnight Madness, definitely have me excited and anxious to attend as many games as possible to support both the women’s and men’s basketball teams. Ordinarily I am not much of a sports person but hearing how optimistic, dedicated and determined these student athletes are to succeed, as well as after seeing a preview of what’s to come, I am definitely ready to show my school spirit in any way including supporting my hardworking peers while they are on the court.

A topic of frequent discussion and debate in higher education is the impact of part-time instructors (also known as adjunct faculty) on the quality of education. As the percentage of part-time faculty increases at all types of colleges and universities, more and more studies raise concerns about correlations with academic success, student retention and graduation rates. Articles appear regularly advocating the need for better employment conditions for adjuncts (e.g., higher pay, benefits, better integration into the life of the institution).

My own experience is that adjunct instruction is typically high quality. Despite their part-time status, most adjunct faculty I have known and worked with take their teaching very seriously and do everything possible to help and support students. Especially in pre-professional programs, adjunct faculty bring real world experience, currency and applicability to the classroom in ways full-time faculty cannot. Part-time faculty may be less versed in research methodologies, but often are more connected to the work our graduates will do after graduation.

A recent study presented at the Association for the Study of Higher Education annual conference is entitled, “The Effect of Part-time Faculty on Students’ Degree and/or Certificate Completion at Two-Year Community Colleges.” While the data analyzed and the study findings relate more directly to two-year institutions, I found the study helpful and applicable to all types of colleges and universities.

One of the key findings of these researchers was that part-time faculty had “no negative impact on student degree or certificate attainment.” It didn’t necessarily have a positive impact either. Rather, lower completion rates were more closely related to the size of the institution, the location of the institution and the student’s high school GPA.

Unfortunately, the summary of the research I read provided few details related to these findings. The importance of the size of the institution and the student’s high school GPA correlate with other research on multiple perspectives of student learning.

Students typically learn better and achieve greater success in environments with smaller class size, more personal attention and direct interaction with the faculty (whether full-time or part-time). Regardless of the type of institution, more able students entering college (higher high school GPA’s, college prep courses in high school, etc.) tend to do better academically and are both retained and graduate at higher levels. The impact of geographic location is less explicable. Perhaps it relates to resources of the campus, access to the campus by adjunct faculty, access to the faculty by students, etc.

This study is not a license to increase the percentage of instruction provided by part-time faculty. Nor is it a defense against improving the employment conditions for part-time faculty. But what it affirms for me is the professionalism and commitment of all faculty. Regardless of status, terms of contract, etc., faculty members, full-time and part-time, care deeply about their students, work hard to help them succeed, and are diligent in their efforts to provide the highest quality instruction possible.

I often ask students to tell me about their courses. From time to time, I hear about a “bad” professor. Typically this means boring or a hard grader. But I always hear accounts of great professors who make student success their highest priority. Think about your own college experience. I am sure you remember the best faculty members who impacted your success. And I doubt you even know if s/he was full-time or part-time!

ON BEHALF OF THE ENTIRE AMC COMMUNITY,

WE HOPE YOU AND YOUR FAMILY

HAVE A WONDERFUL

AND RESTFUL THANKSGIVING!

(As always, your comments and questions are welcome.)