Think, Know, Prove: Reinvention Remediation Proposals

Think, Know, Prove is a regular Saturday feature, where a topic with both mystery and importance is posted for community discussion. The title is a shortened version of the Investigative Mantra: What do we think, what do we know, what can we prove? and everything from wild speculation to resource referencing fact is welcome here.

I promised this topic as a TKP a long time ago to someone (sorry; I’m too lazy at the moment to search for the comment and promise), and in light of FC4 President Polly Hoover’s address to the board this week, it seems like a good time to follow through on it.

The subject is “The Reinvention Remediation Proposals.” Maybe you’re wondering what they are? Ok, here are a couple of places to go if you’d like to get informed before weighing in: go HERE (and check out pages 52-100).

What do you think? What do you know? What can you prove?


Think, Know, Prove: College to Careers (The Mayor’s Thing)

Ok, so I tried to Don’s thought experiment and I read the Mayor’s press release, and I read Mayor Emanuel’s speech after my dad’s boss (who was there, I think) sent it to him to send to me. And, even though I flinched in spots (e.g., “Riding the El six weeks ago, I met a young man who was commuting from Harold Washington Community College where he studies business and computers to his job at a Target warehouse. That young man is doing everything right. He’s studying, he’s holding down a job. He is doing everything we can ask of him to give himself a better shot at a future. So when he puts Harold Washington on his resume, that should mean something to his employer. It should have economic value to him. The basic agreement is you take responsibility, and we’ll provide you opportunity. That young man is taking responsibility but we are not living up to our side of the bargain. Can we honestly say to ourselves that we are doing everything we can for him, that he is getting the best from us? When he walks into a job interview, and it says Harold Washington or Malcolm X College on his resume, his hard work should pay-off. If we work together, starting tonight, it will.” Oh! Nice to know that those degrees will mean something in the future, you know, once the Mayor and his people are “doing everything we can for him.” Grrrrrr. But I digress.), when I got to the end, I thought, “O.k. It’s not the speech I would give, but, well, maybe some good will come out of it.”

And over the next couple of days…weeks…I kept thinking about it. I kept talking myself out of being annoyed, even outraged, at aspects of the thing, saying to myself, this whole plan could very easily be in addition to our college credit/liberal education mission. Certainly, it must be a buffering of resources, and not merely a trade out. It’s not politically viable, I reasoned to myself, to close the doors to affordable college in this day and age to a huge swath of under-served citizens. I tried to live by the Principle of Charity and hear the whole thing generously, considering the audience to whom the Mayor was speaking and so on and so forth, and still, I couldn’t quite put my doubts to rest.

Then I talked to a friend of mine who is close to someone who worked on the Mayor’s transition team and apparently has been making suggestions about the City Colleges. My friend started asked why there shouldn’t be a community college level charter schools. There was more, which I’ll spare you, and the evening is somewhat fuzzy due to the blood pressure spike, but suffice it to say that the whole thing has been gnawing at me for weeks now.

I recognize that EVERY community college is a multi-missioned institution and that at HWC, we tend to think of the City Colleges as college-credit institutions because that’s primarily what we are (whereas Daley, for example, has almost as many Adult Ed students as credit students), and  I know that CCC credit faculty tend to be a bit myopic about our mission (as in it is THE mission). I know these things and I love them, since they, as Metoyer once put it, are the indicators of how invested we are in the success of the college and the students who go here.Furthermore I recognize that there is probably a lot that can and needs to be done at every level and toward every aim of the college (pre-credit, adult ed, career skills, and college credit) to improve both our numbers and the community we serve. I know all of this, and yet. And yet.

It bothers me that in the Mayor’s speech about the City Colleges the word he used in reference to what we do was “train” not educate (see page 6 of his speech). Educate, famously, is derived from the Latin word for “leading out.” I’ll let you work out the rest.

It bothers me that he (and the CCC administration) toss around that 7% graduation number as if it tells the story of the institution’s effectiveness when it clearly doesn’t if subjected to the mildest critical scrutiny.

It bothers me more that the local press is willing to repeat that number and the associated claims without even bothering to so much as reword the sentences from the press releases a little.

Then, it really bothered me to read THIS crap (we’re number LAST in the state!):

Almost a million students enroll in Illinois community colleges each year, seeking a more affordable and accessible alternative to traditional four-year universities, to try to learn new skills, or to brush up on old ones.

But fewer than 1 in 5 first-time students who take full loads of classes graduate with associate degrees within three years — a statistic Lt. Gov. Sheila Simon says creates “revolving doors to the unemployment line.”…

Among the colleges that graduated the fewest students within that time period are the City Colleges of Chicago. Malcolm X College fares the best out of city schools with 11 percent of full-time students completing a degree within three years, while Harold Washington College ranks last in the state, with just 4 percent of students reaching that goal.

City Colleges spokeswoman Katheryn Hayes said those kind of numbers are why the system has embarked on a plan to reinvent itself. The administration searched for new presidents at many of the schools.

“We are working to shift the paradigm around our community college system from an institution focused solely on access to one that couples student access with success,” Hayes said in a statement.

Setting aside the fact that the story buries (at best) or ignores (at worst) the reasons behind the statistics and seems to endorse the Lt. Governor’s (partial at minimum) attribution fallacy, I am reminded that whenever John Wozniak mentioned that stat, our state low or near-low graduation rate, which has been true for us for quite awhile, he could and would always say that we ranked right at the very top of student transfers. I don’t know what his data source was, but I don’t think he’d have said it if it weren’t true. Of course information like that would disrupt the narrative and that wouldn’t do, I guess.

Finally, it bothers me to read THIS:

Addressing mayors from across the country, Chicago’s Rahm Emanuel on Friday touted his plan to transform the City Colleges of Chicago by tailoring the curriculum at individual campuses to meet employers’ needs for workers in fields such as health care, computer science, transportation, hospitality and manufacturing…

Talking about Chicago, Emanuel said the CEOs of companies large, medium and small were so enthusiastic about the program that he has trouble absorbing “all the enthusiasm.”

He said at the end of four years, six of City College seven campuses would see their curricula revised and tailored for specific growth fields.

And so, I am left to wonder, what the hell does all of this mean? What is this thing, this “College to Careers” program, all about?

What do you think? What do you know? What can you prove?

Did You See It?

A story on Inside Higher Ed about CCC was their third most viewed story this week. I found it through the Truman Lounge link, which reader/contributor Chris was kind enough to forward along to me by email.

Here’s the lede:

If low graduation and student transfer rates at City Colleges of Chicago don’t start improving, the system’s leaders could lose their jobs. That’s because the formal job responsibilities of the chancellor, presidents and even trustees include graduation rate goals.

The focus kind of shifts from there to Reinvention and yet more flaunting of teeth-grinding inducing statistics (though the author provides more context for them than any of our local “journalists”/press-release dictation specialists have over the last year), plus comments from Polly Hoover, and other stuff.

It’s worth reading. Check it out HERE.

h/t to Truman Lounge and Chris.

Sunday Reading

An update from Reinvention: as posted on the Reinvention blog, the Recommendations from the Spring have been updated (and expanded/specified).

Check out the full, current state of the recommendations HERE. And the associated “justifications” HERE.

And if you see something good, please note it in the comments; and if you see something not good, please note it in the comments.

And I have a suspicion that at some point in the near future it may be critical for us to know what the Reinvention proposals and research say so that we can A) understand what’s coming when it comes; or B) fight what comes because it’s based on bad reasoning/data; or C) fight what comes using their research and data.

When I know more, I’ll say more, but let’s just say that now would be  a good time to get educated about what’s going on. There’s no time like the present, as they say.

Child Development News (And It’s Good!)

You might remember that there’s been a bit of a thing going on with Child Development (as described in part here and here). Well, that all appears to be over now. I received this email last Friday from Jen Asimow:

Hi Dave, thought you might like to know that we had our district-wide meeting today where we were told by Alvin Bisarya that our program will not be “sun setted” and is safe.

He was also quite sincere when he told us that they learned a lot from working on the Child Development program, specifically that faculty need to be involved from the beginning, the recommendations should NOT be presented as “a fait accompli” and that faculty should be considered  “experts” in their respective fields.  I think this bodes well for the future work of the Reinvention teams responsible for program review.

For the first time since this entire thing started, the meeting felt collaborative.  It is amazing what can be accomplished when people and their programs are not being threatened.  I feel quite hopeful about the future of CD at CCC.

Huge credit goes to Jen and her CD colleagues across the district who didn’t just resign, and didn’t just freak out, but gathered their resources and made the case that they know their program and know their students and do great work. They gathered statistics, talked to experts, and developed responses to the questions and suppositions of the Reinvention team (who, it should be said, were undoubtedly working in good faith based on the research they had to come up with what they thought was the best thing for our students), and they did it all over the last six weeks while running their programs and teaching their courses.

Big credit, too, goes to the Reinvention leaders for, it would seem from here, being reasonable and persuadable, rather than merely digging in to get a Pyrrhic victory. As frustrating as the central administration has been at times, I think we have to give them credit for (seemingly) learning from their mistakes and (at least in this case) playing by their own rules. For example, our first DWFDW was awful; the second was better and clearly responsive to the complaints about the first. This first go around with Reinvention Proposals has been varied, but I trust Jen when she says that the outcome felt collaborative (even if it was a bit late in coming). We may all have to defend our programs at some future time. I really don’t have a problem with that. It’s good to know that if we make a good case for our program, we’ll get heard. Let’s all make sure that we know our areas as well (and are doing as good of a job running our programs) as the CD people.

And when you see them, you might want to say, “Well done.”

Tenure Process Proposal Feedback

As I mentioned yesterday, this semester’s Teaching and Learning Reinvention team is working on the tenure process, and as many of you may remember, this is an issue that is near and dear to my own heart and it’s come up a few times in the last couple years, too, like here and here and here and here.

Jennifer Meresman (English) is working on that team and wrote asking if I could post the following for her (which I’m delighted to do):

As part of Reinvention, my colleague Michael Maltenfort posted a “conversation starter” about tenure to the Reinvention blog. We are in the process of fleshing out the plans created by last semester’s task force, but we have left the questions very open ended to allow people to share any general (or specific) thoughts. We would love to hear more voices from the HWC community.
If anyone would like to share thoughts with me directly, please feel free to email me:
I look forward to hearing from the HWC community!
Jeni Meresman
And that’s not the only place you can and should give some feedback–the Provost’s blog is featuring a discussion on the tenure process, too (along with discussion about the Post-Tenure process) and there are five comments already, as of Thursday afternoon.
I have met a lot of people who have been associated in one way or another with our tenure process, and I have never heard anyone, not ANYONE describe it in even mostly (as in 51%) positive terms, and typically people had five to six negative things to say to any ONE positive and the most common positive comment was, “It’s over.”
This is a great opportunity–Alicia Anzaldo (Wright) and Franklin Reynolds (Truman) did a great job putting together an initial proposal with lots of really great stuff in it, and Jen and Michael are undoubtedly capable of improving further upon their fine starting point. So please, I’m begging now, take a minute to talk online about your own (or someone else’s) experiences going through the process or making some suggestions about what the process could look like. This is a real chance to change something about our work life that was awful for almost all of us and is awful for many of our current colleagues (faculty and administrators alike), and will be awful for future colleagues unless we seize the chance to change it.
Please do.

Think, Know, Prove: Child Development (Continued)

Think, Know, Prove is a regular Saturday feature, where a topic with both mystery and importance is posted for community discussion. The title is a shortened version of the Investigative Mantra: What do we think, what do we know, what can we prove? and everything from wild speculation to resource referencing fact is welcome here.

So it’s been a few weeks now (‘mazing how the time flies, eh?) but I haven’t forgotten about the incomplete discussion we had/started about Child Development, Reinvention, and pants made out of lampshades.

If you missed it, you should go HERE first and give the comments a quick read through if you can. If you’d rather not, the short and incomplete version is that one of the Reinvention proposals from the Program Portfolio Review team was the suggestion that, “Opportunities exist to expand our Child Development programs and increase the articulation to 4 year schools,” which, in concrete terms, looks different to different people. The dispute about what is being proposed revolves around the AAS degree in Child Development. Leighton O’Connell-Miller (the team leader for the task force) suggests that the proposal means encouraging students to complete the Basic Certificate so they can enter the workforce while pursuing further education and that the “further education” they would be pushed to pursue would be an AA degree (rather than a generally non-transferring AAS degree), which he and his team suggest will be better for students due to changing market preferences and requirements.

The Child Development faculty and a few others (I’ll put myself in that category), see the proposal in somewhat different terms. To them (us?), the AAS degree is an example of one of the things CCC currently does quite well, by the criteria of Reinvention. The program has solid numbers—both pursuers and completers—it’s one of a few programs to have achieved separate accreditation, their graduates learn a lot and get jobs when they’re done. The AAS degree has a general education component, but there are fewer requirements, and to get the degree students must complete a series of 8 Child Development classes that include, for example, supervised field work, most of which could not be a part of an AA degree (but would likely, instead, be completed by the student at their transfer destination rather than with us). In short, it seems that emphasizing the Basic Certificate and AA would mean, minimally, steering students away from the AAS degree and, if the decision was made to sunset the AAS degree, that it would mean a gutting rather than an expansion of the Child Development program.

There’s more, of course, lots more, actually, but I think that’s the heart of the dispute. The view of the team (as expressed by Leighton) seems to be that the AAS degree will not be destroyed but “transformed” through a curriculum development project that would allow for the content and skills from the AAS specific courses to be integrated into AA Gen Ed requirements in the form of modules or maybe disciplinary emphases. So, the success of the proposal is predicated on the development of an AA degree with Child Development curriculum built into it.

In other words, the proposal is really a curriculum proposal.

So, given that curriculum development is the purview of faculty, what do the faculty experts in this curricular area think of the possibility of such a curriculum? I’m going to go out on a limb here and say that they don’t think much of the idea. Speaking as a teacher of general education courses, I’d have to concur. I might be able to teach a class in Ethics or even Introduction to Philosophy that has a Child Development emphasis, but what that means would be a far cry from what the students learn or do in the Child Development classes, and I’d be inclined to say that people who think it can be done likely don’t understand what the goals of a class in Ethics (or Child Development) is. Just mashing the two together would require unacceptable compromise on what the course is and means and what its role in students’ General Education is supposed to be.

Furthermore, the AA is touted by Leighton as being the better route (as opposed to working to make the AAS more transferrable—the faculty preference) owing to its “instant IAI articulation.” But that IAI articulation is dependent on the students having taken the IAI approved general education courses, not some new hybrid version. And anyone who’s submitted a course to IAI knows that they are super squirrelly about any sort of non-general focus. For example, we tried to get IAI approval for a course in Jazz Appreciation for about three years without success. Why? They said that the focus on Jazz was not general enough (which if you know anything about Jazz is laughable). So what are the chances that a general education course with a major Child Development component would be IAI approved? Not likely, I’d say—which brings us back to the starting point.

In his comments, Leighton suggests that this model is viable, using the model of a legal writing course in Child Law or Intellectual Property Law, but without noting some significant differences between the GECC and a core law school course—among them the fact that law schools don’t have to have their courses approved by anyone else, and a host of others. (Brief digression: Furthermore, I wonder about the curricular purpose of those courses, i.e., whether students take them in order to explore an are of the law that they might be interested in, or whether it is a starting point (but not meant to be the only substantive exposure to the field) or whether the student takes that section and figures, “I know that field” and so moves on to others, and finally, what employers think of those sorts of courses. In other words, I have lots of questions). It seems to me that there are more relevant dissimilarities than relevant similarities in that analogy, and, besides, if I’m right about IAI, it’s a moot point.

Thus, no matter what the “intention” of the proposal might be–and setting aside the metaphysics/semantics of whether the AAS is being “developed” or destroyed—the end results seems a lot more likely, to me, to be a gutted program rather than an expanded one.

Leighton talks about the proposal being sort of like a proposal to sew pockets onto pants and turn them into cargo pants, but it seems to me like they’re saying something more like this. Imagine a company that makes regular pants, cargo pants, and backpacks, and the company’s best seller is the cargo pants line. Imagine one day that the Marketing manager walks in saying, “Pants are great and pants with pockets are great and backpacks are great at carrying things, even better than pockets. So let’s stop selling cargo pants and, instead, tell our customers that if what they like are the pants, they should buy the plain ones with no pockets, because that’s all they need. But for the ones who want to carry stuff, we’ll sew six backpacks onto pants to be the pockets. With backpacks as pockets people won’t need backpacks anymore, nor lunchboxes or grocery bags or anything, and they’ll be able to carry all of their stuff in their pants. So we’ll simplify our pants design into ‘basic’ and ‘transformed’ and stop selling cargo pants and backpacks.”

What do you think will happen to that company? I have my prediction.

The Reinvention team also points out that A) the students (in my analogy, the marketplace) actually want a four year degree, and not a two year one (on the evidence of surveys of incoming students), and B) that the AAS students suffer from transfer credit loss (or would if they transferred), and C) that the employers are increasingly requiring four year degrees.

I’d be more persuaded by A if the students surveyed were at the end of the program rather than the beginning. When I went into my Master’s program, I would have said, “I want a Ph.D,” largely because I didn’t really understand what that meant. At the end of my program I would have said that, while a Ph.D. would be nice, it was not what I really wanted. If you asked me what I wanted when I enrolled in undergrad, I would have said, I want to go to law school, but three years later that wasn’t true at all. I have students who say all kinds of things about what they want when they come in and who, upon learning more about the field or job or requirements, not to mention about themselves, change their minds.

I’d be more impressed with B if the case could be made that this transfer credit loss is actual rather than hypothetical. Are there students who try to transfer with the AAS? If so, where do they go? How many of them find themselves losing credits? How many credits? That students might lose credits if they were to transfer is a very different sort of “problem” than if students do lose credit when they transfer.

And I’d be more impressed with C if I saw more evidence of it in the external interviews. In the slides I see Barbara Bowman say that the BA is crucial for anyone who wants to be something other than a teacher aide or child care worker (i.e., teacher?). But that doesn’t say that the AAS will keep people from getting jobs as child care workers. Actually, it seems to be the opposite. Tom Layman says that CCC is a crucial pipeline for childhood workers and counsels against disruption of the program. I’ll admit that I don’t know anything about Bright Horizons or, really, the rest of the hiring market—my point is just that I don’t see the same overwhelming consensus that Leighton and company seem to.

And so, you might wonder, what has gone on in the intervening month since the proposal controversy and our interesting dialogue about it? Well, to me, this is the most troubling part about the whole thing. The Child Development faculty wrote and sent a letter to the Chancellor and her colleagues (including our new Provost and Leighton, I’m told). The letter was respectful and expressed their unanimous objection to the team’s recommendation, and counter-proposed maintaining the AAS degree and Advanced Certificate. They also requested a meeting to “discuss common areas of agreement, input and information from local and state agencies, and our clinical colleagues in the field.”

UPDATE: To date, to my knowledge, they have not received a response. (See comments below–they are scheduled to meet and present on Wednesday at 226.)

And so, after all that, I reopen the conversation (a day late—sorry about that), saying: What do you think? What do you know? What can you prove?