USA Today: Colleges and universities obsess more about school rankings than do students

USA Today reports:

When U.S. News & World Report debuted its list of “America’s Best Colleges” nearly 30 years ago, the magazine hoped its college rankings would be a game-changer for students and families. But arguably, they’ve had a much bigger effect on colleges themselves…

Yes, students and families still buy the guide and its less famous competitors by the hundreds of thousands, and still care about a college’s reputation. But it isn’t students who obsess over every incremental shift on the rankings scoreboard, and who regularly embarrass themselves in the process. It’s colleges…

…While U.S. News cross-checks some data with other sources, it relies largely on colleges themselves to provide it. Modest forms of fudging through data selection are undeniably common, especially in law school rankings. The most high-profile case of outright cheating involved Iona University in New York, which acknowledged last fall submitting years of false data that boosted its ranking from around 50th in its category to 30th.

But most rankings critics say by far the most pernicious failure of colleges isn’t blatant cheating, but what they do more openly — allowing the rankings formula to drive their goals and policies.

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National Council on Teacher Quality: K-12 teacher tenure being weakened or eliminated in more U.S. states

The Associated Press (via ABC News) reports:

America’s public school teachers are seeing their generations-old tenure protections weakened as states seek flexibility to fire teachers who aren’t performing. A few states have essentially nullified tenure protections altogether, according to an analysis being released Wednesday by the National Council on Teacher Quality.

The changes are occurring as states replace virtually automatic “satisfactory” teacher evaluations with those linked to teacher performance and base teacher layoffs on performance instead of seniority. Politically powerful teachers’ unions are fighting back, arguing the changes lower morale, deny teachers due process, and unfairly target older teachers.

STEM education in the media spotlight

In the wake of his State of the Union address this past week, President Obama is touring the country and speaking, among other topics, about the relationship between STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) education and the American economy.

For instance, yesterday, Obama toured a new Intel manufacturing plant in Arizona that has struggled to find qualified workers in the U.S. and thus has had to outsource some parts of the manufacturing process overseas, as PC Magazine reports. The president addressed the issues of STEM education and the American workforce’s readiness to participate in the high technology economy in his State of the Union speech (see Scientific American’s roundup of expert reactions to Obama’s STEM-related remarks).

Perhaps due to the attention brought to this topic by the president’s speech, a number of STEM education-related news items have surfaced in recent days:

  • A new survey conducted by M.I.T. uncovers reasons why American secondary students decline to pursue STEM studies (and, hence, STEM-related careers). Reasons include the perception that STEM fields are “too challenging.”
  • The National Center for Science Education has announced it will “fight efforts to slip incorrect climate science information into school lessons. ‘We are seeing more efforts in legislatures and schools to push climate misinformation on teachers and students,’ says NCSE head Eugenie Scott.” [Source: USA Today]
  • In a new podcast, the New York Times reports “an increasing number of parents are turning to outside organizations to supplement science education in the schools.”

South Texas school district suspends all sports programs

The Corpus Christi (Texas) Caller Times reports:

Premont ISD has canceled its sports programs to save money and focus on academics as it tries to meet sweeping improvements proposed by the state.

[Superintendent Ernest] Singleton decided to temporarily end athletics after basketball season ends.

The ban runs until basketball season in late fall, meaning Premont students will go without tennis, track, baseball in the spring and volleyball and football in the fall. Other extracurricular activities, such as fine arts, are not affected.

When trustees last week signed an agreement with the state to stay open, Singleton warned parents and residents that he would make tough and unpopular choices to meet the Texas Education Agency’s 11 demands…

According to a school district press release:

Premont I.S.D. has been assigned an Accredited-Probation status due to the ratings assigned to the district in the financial accountability rating system and the state’s academic accountability rating system. Specifically, Premont I.S.D. was assigned a 2009 academic accountability rating of Academically Unacceptable, and a 2008, 2009, and 2010 financial accountability rating of Substandard Achievement.

Science teachers face students skeptical about climate change

The Huffington Post reports:

Around the country — from Washington State to Oklahoma— pressure and pushback from skeptical students, teachers and administrators pose challenges.

In 2008, Louisiana voted to allow public school teachers to teach both creationism and the views of climate change skeptics. Last May, a school board in Las Alamitos, Calif., voted unanimously to require environmental science teachers cover “multiple perspectives” on climate change. That decision was later rescinded…

The National Center for Science Education, long-touted for its efforts to help teachers address evolution in the classroom, has recognized the predicament and announced this week that it would add climate change to its repertoire, offering teachers a range of tools and legal support.

Arizona judge upholds Tucson district’s finding that ethnic studies program is illegal

The Associated Press (via the Washington Post) reports:

An administrative law judge ruled Tuesday that a Tucson school district’s ethnic studies program violates state law, agreeing with the findings of Arizona’s public schools chief.

[Judge Lewis] Kowal’s ruling, first reported by The Arizona Daily Star, said the district’s Mexican-American Studies program violated state law by having one or more classes designed primarily for one ethnic group, promoting racial resentment and advocating ethnic solidarity instead of treating students as individuals.

Higher teacher salaries lead to better student achievement, economists argue

Writing in the blog of the London School of Economics and Political Science, researchers Peter Dolton and Oscar Marcenaro-Gutierrez describe their analysis of data from the world’s largest economies and argue:

[There is] a clear statistical association between higher relative teachers’ pay and higher standardised pupil scores across countries. Our research with aggregate country data supports the hypothesis that higher pay leads to improved pupil performance. As an indication of the relative size of this effect, we find that a 10 per cent increase in teachers’ pay would give rise to a 5-10 per cent increase in pupil performance. Likewise, a 5 per cent increase in the relative position of teachers in the income distribution would increase pupil performance by around 5-10 per cent.