Rick Perry as higher-ed visionary

Rick Perry Is A Higher-Education Visionary. Seriously. So argues Kevin Carey in The New Republic.

The Texas governor is urging university leaders to implement “Seven Breakthrough Solutions for reforming higher education developed by the conservative Texas Public Policy Foundation.

Taken together, the seven solutions are remarkably student-friendly. Four of them focus on improving the quality of university teaching by developing new methods of evaluating teaching performance, tying tenure to success in the classroom, separating the teaching and research functions within university budgets, and using teaching budgets to reward professors who excel at helping students learn. The fifth solution would give prospective students choosing colleges more information about things like class size, graduation rates, and earnings in the job market after graduation. The sixth would make state higher education subsidies more student-focused, and the seventh would shift university accreditation toward measures of academic outcomes.

University teaching is often terrible, writes Carey.  Many students learn very little, the Academically Adrift study found.

Some professors don’t do much teaching or research.  “At UT-Austin, one group of 1,748 mostly-tenured professors, representing 44 percent of the faculty, generated 54 percent of institutional costs, taught only 27 percent of students, and brought in no external research funding whatsoever.”

Nearly all Texas Democrats have denounced Perry’s plans, Carey writes.

The left-learning Texas Monthly declared that “Rick Perry is waging an undeclared war on higher education.”

. . . The problems that Perry is trying to solve — bad teaching, unaccountable public institutions, soaring college costs — disproportionately hurt the first generation, low-income, and minority students that liberals should be most interested in helping. His call to disrupt traditional business models with low-cost, technology-driven alternatives reflects the ethos of the netroots movement that has come to dominate progressive politics. Yet one Firedoglake writer opined that Perry was “casually sacrificing the human pursuit of knowledge to the gods of a craven capitalism.”

Research universities “are established, wealthy, powerful, and determined to stay that way,” Carey writes. “Progressives tend to be enthusiastic about sticking it to every available Man other than the one who conferred their prized college degree.”

Texas schools outperform Chicago

Don’t mess with Texas’ schools. Education Secretary Arne Duncan claimed Texas schools have “really struggled” under Gov. Rick Perry, now a GOP candidate for president. “Far too few of their high school graduates are actually prepared to go on to college,” Duncan said in a TV interview, adding he feels “very, very badly for the children there.”

Texas’ fourth- and eighth-graders “substantially outperformed” students in Chicago, the district Duncan ran before going to Washington, notes Andrew Rotherham in Time. The Texas high school graduation rate of 73 percent is slightly below the national average, but way above Chicago’s 56 percent graduation rate.

Overall, Texas scores are “right around the national averages” in reading and math on  NAEP, despite educating many immigrant students with poorly educated, non-English-speaking parents.  ACT reports Texas high school graduates only narrowly trail national averages for college readiness.

Duncan’s response to Rotherham:

“Texas has challenges. The record speaks for itself. Lots of other states have challenges too. But there is a lot of hard work that needs to be done in Texas and a lot of children who need a chance to get a great education.”

The statement is meaningless: All states have challenges that require hard work. The question is whether Texas is shirking.

Duncan’s claim of “massive increases in class size in Texas” is untrue, responds the Dallas Morning News. Primary classes, capped at 22 students, have remained stable. Secondary classes in core subjects are getting smaller.

. . . secondary math classes averaged 20.3 students in 2000-01 and dropped to 18.5 by last year. Average size of secondary English/language arts classes fell from 20.2 students in 2000-01 to 17.8 by last year.

In an e-mail to Duncan, TEA Commissioner Robert Scott added:

– Texas is ranked 13th in Ed Week’s Quality Counts report. Quality Counts gave Texas an “A” in “Standards, Assessment and Accountability,” and an “A” in “Transitions and Alignment” of the Texas system with college and career readiness. . .

– The Texas class of 2011 posted a record-high math score on the ACT college entrance exam. The Texas average math score was 21.5 and was higher than the national average of 21.1. ACT scores from 2007 to 2011 showed increases in all four subjects.

Texas fourth- and eighth-graders aced the 2009 NAEP science exam, Scott wrote. In eighth grade, black Texans were first in the nation compared to other blacks, white Texans tied with whites in high-scoring Massachusetts and Hispanics ranked eighth.

Perry has resisted Race To the Top, so perhaps Duncan’s antipathy is all about education policy. But it looks as though the education secretary is playing presidential politics. That’s not the way to build bipartisan consensus.