Month: March 2014

Special Board Meeting tonight, 5:30pm

Tune in to the live feed here. They are currently in Executive Session. Agenda posted here. Looks like this executive session concerns a personnel issue, but agenda item #6 just says “SPECIAL BOARD MEETING.” Wait and see if anything is shared re: EDUC 1300 or instructional materials policy after they discuss and vote on whatever was discussed in exec sess.

UPDATE: The purpose of the meeting was to interview for the position of internal auditor.

Chancellor Bruce Leslie opines about ‘trust’

Back in November 2013, Chancellor Bruce Leslie wrote a blog post called “It’s a Matter of Trust.” In it he promulgates the myth which many business-minded leaders espouse — that our educational system is failing and that educators have lost the public’s trust. Never mind any evidence to the contrary, only point to the graduation statistics which do not tell the entire story of our students.

The last paragraph of his post clearly points in the direction he believes is best for the Alamo Colleges:

Community colleges especially must create solutions that focus on our customers’ and regain our stakeholders’ trust. This requires transition to high performance organizations rather than attempt to sustain the mini-university model after which we have been modeled. We’ve branded community colleges as rapidly responsive and stakeholder focused. Yet, the imperatives of “the way we’ve always done things” continue to restrict our responsiveness and push costs higher. Our levels of student dropouts and lack of effective student-focused systems too often result in students floundering. We then lose the student’s trust and that of their families, employers and the taxpayers who support us. Trust must be earned and educators at all levels must appreciate our collective responsibility to rise above our internal political issues and focus all our efforts on student success.
But what exactly is “student success?” How do we define it? Measure it? Repeat it? Ask any administrator, teacher, or student and the answer will be different. Education is not in the business of making widgets. We are engaged in the very messy process of teaching and learning. Chancellor Bruce Leslie’s academic decisions seem to be largely based not on hard research, but on blog posts, WSJ articles, and corporate-backed authors. Success is not only measured in graduation rates and hand-selected metrics which make us “look good” to outsiders. For instance, has Bruce Leslie ever talked to employees at our writing centers to understand the intense learning process our students go through when writing their first college-level paper? What about the students who make one letter grade higher on their research project because they attended a library instruction class? Where do these success stories fit into his success metrics?
And in spite of his students-as-customers rhetoric, Chancellor Bruce Leslie’s recent actions regarding online textbooks and the EDUC 1300 course are more closely reflective of the bar sign in Robert Rodriguez’s movie Desperado:

But let’s look more closely at one sentence from the quoted paragraph above. Chancellor Bruce Leslie suggests how we can regain stakeholder trust:

This requires transition to high performance organizations rather than attempt to sustain the mini-university model after which we have been modeled.

So rather than try to identify best practices and make what we have better, simply throw the baby out with the bathwater.

Bill Moyers recently interviewed fellow Texan Diane Ravitch, Research Professor of Education at New York University and education historian. Here’s the introduction to their discussion:

Public education is becoming big business as bankers, hedge fund managers and private equity investors are entering what they consider to be an “emerging market.” As Rupert Murdoch put it after purchasing an education technology company, “When it comes to K through 12 education, we see a $500 billion sector in the US alone.”

One could extend that corporate dream to higher education as well. Chancellor Bruce Leslie’s push to privatize the curriculum of one course (EDUC 1300 partnership with FranklinCovey) could very well lead to privatizing other course curricula. Why not? After all, we can’t keep doing what we’ve always done such as letting faculty take the lead in developing for and delivering curriculum to students.

But is our current system failing? Do we need reform? From Diane Ravitch’s “Public Education: Who Are the Reformers:”

The corporate reform movement has a well- honed message: We are the reformers. We have solutions. The public schools are failing. The public schools are in decline. The public schools don’t work. The public schools are obsolete and broken. We want to innovate. We know how to fix schools. We know how to close the achievement gap. We are leading the civil rights movement of our era. We want a great teacher in every classroom. Class size doesn’t matter. Teachers should be paid more if their students get higher scores. They should be fi red if their students don’t get higher scores. Teachers should have their seniority and tenure stripped from them because those things protect bad teachers. Bad teachers cause the achievement gap. Great teachers close the achievement gap. Teachers’ unions are greedy and don’t care about children. People who draw attention to poverty are just making excuses for bad teachers and failing public schools. Those who don’t agree with our strategies are defenders of the status quo. They have no solutions. We have solutions. We know what works. Testing works. Accountability works. Privately managed charter schools work. Closing schools with low test scores works. Paying bonuses to teachers to get higher scores works. Online instruction works. Replacing teachers with online instruction not only works but cuts costs while providing profits to edu-entrepreneurs who will spur further innovation.

It is a seductive message because it offers hope that someone knows how to fix difficult problems. They claim they not only know how to do it but are doing it. They express their message with clarity and certainty. Their message resonates with the major media and with the most powerful people in our society: billionaires, corporate executives, the leaders of major foundations, the president of the United States, the US secretary of education, Wall Street hedge fund managers, pundits and think tank opinion makers.

As educators, we are always looking for new ways to improve the teaching and learning process with our students. We move slowly and deliberately amongst ourselves because we want to be absolutely sure something works at a smaller scale before implementing it across the board. But this process is simply too slow for Chancellor Bruce Leslie and the stakeholders who choose to believe what is simple — that our education system is broken and failing.

To suggest fast and easy fixes (single textbooks, etextbooks, mandatory soft skills class) for complicated issues (preparation, poverty) may seem revolutionary to those who mean well and are eager to help, but these deciders are invariably so removed from the student experience that their decisions turn out to be ill-conceived and harmful to the educational process.

Faster, cheaper, better. Pick two. If anyone is promising all three, they are probably a corporation.

Texas Tribune and Express-News pen stories on accreditor’s concerns

Chancellor Bruce Leslie concedes that in his opinion, all the rules were followed. Too bad facts trump opinion.

Changes at Alamo Colleges Prompt Accreditor’s Questions

The accreditors asked that each college prepare a report by April 15 addressing questions such as how the new curriculum satisfied a core accreditation requirement that the school provide a general education component that ensures a “breadth of knowledge” and is based on “coherent rationale.”

They also asked for information on how the institution “places primary responsibility for curricular content and quality with its faculty” as well as “evidence of faculty approval of the change to the general education program at the institution, as well as institutional policies were followed.”

Claunch said she believes that the responses currently being prepared by the college presidents will convince the accreditors that the curriculum meets the core requirement. But she indicated that they may have a challenge making the case that faculty had adequate input on the schools’ new addition to the mandatory curriculum.

“The big issue,” she said, “and I agree with this as an issue, is the process by which this course was placed in the core and that the faculty were not a part of that process. The fact is, the process that goes through our curriculum committees did not happen. So is that okay or not?”

Accrediting body asking Alamo Colleges questions (subscription required)

Controversy over Alamo Colleges dropping its typical faculty approval process to make a core curriculum change has resurfaced with a request from the colleges’ accrediting body for information on it.

Student v. District textbook skirmish draws more ink

Good e-Reader editor in chief Michael Kozlowski: Students Revolt Over Mandatory eTextbooks

The crux of the issue is choice. Local businesses will not be able to sell textbooks anymore, because they will be irrelevant to students. Students won’t be able to comparably shop to get the best deals anymore, in any primary or secondary market.

Digital textbooks continue to disappoint. Over 75% of college students surveyed by the National Association of College Stores say they would rather read print over digital. Amazon and Google both offer textbook rental programs, but are just aimed at people living in the USA. You never hear about how the companies sales are doing or see press releases on breaking any records. Amazon is very well known for issuing press releases on almost a weekly basis, when have you heard anything about textbooks? It is very telling. Other companies are abandoning the market altogether, such as Inkling. Instead of selling books, they are licensing our their platform to people who want to try and make a go of market penetration themselves.

RIP: Retirement Incentive Program approved

From tonight’s Board report:

AUDIT, BUDGET & FINANCE

Approval of the Alamo Colleges 2014 Retirement Incentive Program

The Alamo Colleges Board of Trustees approved the Alamo Colleges 2014 Retirement Incentive Program as presented, that provides a total incentive bonus to employees on a first-come, first-served basis up to a total of $6,500,000 in Retirement Incentive Bonuses.

The Chancellor is authorized to promulgate necessary rules, forms, and other documentation and to expend up to $6,500,000 to implement The Alamo Colleges Retirement Incentive Bonus Program, to be offered in 2014 to all full-time employees who meet the following criteria:

1. Will, by December 31, 2014 reach a combined total of 80 years of age and years of service with the College District, as determined by the personnel records of the College District.

2. Is working for the Alamo Community College District on a regular full-time basis (not temporary full-time), or is on an approved Leave of Absence, and has not already resigned in writing on the date of the irrevocable election described below.

3. Is not employed as a College President, Vice Chancellor or Chancellor.

4. Does not hold a grant-funded position.

5. Retires by one of the following Program Retirement Dates: August 31, 2014 or January 9, 2015.

6. Signs and submits all other Program documentation, including a Release, within 45 days after the elected Program Retirement Date and does not apply for reemployment or revoke the signed Release by the Incentive Payment Date. Revocation of an election will result in termination of the applicant’s employment.

7. Does not apply for full-time employment (on a regular full-time or temporary or adjunct basis) with the Alamo Community College District during the two-year period following the elected Program Retirement Date.