Aim for Yale, hit a community college

I’ve been catching up on my long “saved-news-article” queue this weekend. A number in higher ed I skimmed and deleted because they either assumed Yale was all of higher education or clearly wrote from an experience almost entirely at places like Yale. It might be a service to remind reporters in summer that as you prepare “back to school” articles, you should remember that comprehensive (regional) public universities and local community colleges are far more prevalent and serve far more students than well-endowed not-for-profit colleges and universities, let alone Ivy Leagues. Yes, there are still reporters and faculty who forget this basic fact. If you’re not among them, pat yourself on the back and Remind your colleagues. Go ahead and brag; we need folks to evangelize the truth that elite institutions educate a small subset of Americans.

And even within a particular niche, there are sub-niches. In community colleges, just to pick an example, there is the giant Miami-Dade College, which offers some applied bachelors programs along with two-year degrees and vocational programs to almost 150,000 students. There is Florida Keys Community College, serving 2,000. Most community colleges use adjunct faculty for a huge chunk of teaching, but near my new home, there’s Rio Salado College, which teaches more than 50,000 with 23 faculty (really, program coordinators); there are more staff at the college’s public radio station than there are full-time employees called faculty.

So if you’re tempted to slam the idle ways of today’s youth, please don’t pick an elite private institution, or at least make clear you’re targeting a tiny segment.

Whither adjunct and graduate-student unions at public colleges and universities?

Last Monday, the Supreme Court ruled that home health-care attendants in Illinois do not have the right to form a union, or at least that any such union has no right to charge representation fees (or agency fees) from non-members. While the case gave the court the opportunity to overturn a 1977 decision that allowed agency fees for public-employee unions, the opinion left most public-employee union rights intact. Given the conservative lean of the court, this was probably the best that unions could expect, and it will take some time to sort through the consequences.

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Miscellaneous notes on the transition to Arizona

June 30 is technically my last day as a faculty member at the University of South Florida. I’ve been unpaid for June and living in Arizona for a little over two weeks, and my official USF emails have dwindled to a trickle, mostly erroneous bureaucratic missives (TRAVEL AUTHORIZATION FOR SOMEONE IN A DEPARTMENT THAT YOU NO LONGER HEAD AND NO LONGER EXISTS IS READY TO APPROVE).1 At this point, keeping in touch with almost-former colleagues will require much more effort on my part. It’s definitely worth the effort.

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  1. Translation: grants are staying on old budget numbers until project-year end-dates, and some database table still identifies me as the accountable officer for those budget numbers. Fortunately for all concerned, such items have been handled without my involvement, especially since I no longer have access to the required financial subsystem. []

Another era of complicated state K-12 system lawsuits?


That’ll teach me to write last month about why no one is challenging Florida’s large voucher programs: by the end of the month, those voucher programs became part of an amended complaint filed by the lawyers in a “sweeping lawsuit” claiming Florida’s K-12 system is currently being run unconstitutionally (sweeping is the word used by the Orlando Sentinel‘s Leslie Postal). Then a judge in Alabama ruled that state’s new voucher program unconstitutional. Earlier in the month, a state judge in North Carolina threw out that state’s new law on teacher job security.

And then the Parental Unit of all State Education Trial Court Decisions: today, a Los Angeles Superior Court judge issued a ruling in the trial over teacher job security, in which plaintiffs alleged that the job security provisions in California education law is an unconstitutional violation of that state’s children’s rights.

Are we in a new era of lawsuits targeting state education systems?

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Contradictory arguments about “teacher equity” and the missing market analysis

Bottom line for this long post: few people take labor markets seriously in education. I mean seriously, not ideologically.1 We need some work in market design for the hiring of new teachers and the issue of teacher skill distributions.

On May 13, Allyson Klein wrote a brief but illuminating Ed Week blog entry about the federal government’s silence on a promise to promote “teacher equity” policies, following up on a February article. Essentially, it looks like the Department of Education first promised its non-profit/advocacy allies that it would Do Something about unequal access to good teachers, and now is having problems figuring out how it can mandate that. (Important note: the statutory language on this is from No Child Left Behind. This is not particularly an Obama administration problem, except it’s just the latest administration wrestling with the issue.) As the Arne Duncan era at USDOE lurches towards its final act, we are likely to witness sotto voce pullbacks on a range of policies where there is not enough time to manage the bureaucratic or political waters. Klein called it “logistical bandwidth,” but it’s as much a matter of political “bandwidth” as logistical. This is life for an agency where political appointees commonly make a broad list of promises. At some point, there either has to be pullback on some items or the unaccomplished list becomes an al-dente test of political and administrative viability.2

I hope that in the case of teacher quality and distribution, this provides an opportunity for some new ideas to emerge before the Next Big Thing in either the Jeb! or Hillary! administration.

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  1. There is some very decent microeconomic work, but it is sparser than what you might think and misses some of the key market mechanisms discussed in this entry. []
  2. I.e., “you throw everything at a wall and see what sticks.” []