Think, Know, Prove: Merit Pay–Some Considerations

Think, Know, Prove is an occasional Friday 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.

Our current contract went into effect on July 16, 2013 and includes a little provision in Article VI, Section C, as you might recall, called “Student Success Pay.” This was, shall we say, a controversial aspect of the contract. Our Union leadership at the time made the case that we should like it because, “Hey, free money!” (I’m paraphrasing). And now, one month short of halfway through our contract, I’m not sure that anyone is any closer to understanding this provision than when it was proposed. Two important considerations jump out–one is principle and one is practical. We’ll take the easier of the two first.


Think, Know, Prove: More Stats, More Questions

Think, Know, Prove is an occasional Friday 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.

Yes, yes, I know I promised a look at the college by college numbers last week, and I meant it. But in the interim, I was contacted by somebody with a request to include the system-wide completion numbers from 2015 as soon as possible, numbers I didn’t have, but which the person provided for me (with assurances of their accuracy and the suggestion that they could be confirmed through Open Book). If you watched Chancellor Hyman’s speech to the Civic Club of Chicago, you saw a preview of these, but not the breakout by degrees (a breakout, which our Chancellor told us is just a tangle of “alphabet soup,” a rather flippant dismissal of one of our concerns, especially since it comes  RIGHT AFTER her telling the story about how her own AGS degree turned out not to have prepared her well for transfer! Amazing, again!! But I digress).

Suffice it to say that the numbers were interesting enough that I decided to delay my college-by-college account of changes in degree granting for a week (or two–I have a couple posts on “Merit Pay” that I’ve wanted to do for awhile now) to give another look at the system-wide completion numbers with our most recent year included. Here they are (click on the chart to make it bigger):

Degrees--System (2015)The numbers are astonishing. AA degrees increased almost 40% last year alone, while AS degrees more than doubled! AGS degrees are still much larger than they used to be, but down 17.4% from last year. So what happened? Something must be working…I don’t see how it could be the Pathways since they’re minimally rolled out at this point. Can’t be “Campus Solutions” Course Planner, since that just rolled out last spring. So…what the hell? I know I’m supposed to just clap and say, “Good job, everybody!” but it seems rather strange, doesn’t it? I mean, it feels kind of “Enron-y” doesn’t it? What am I missing?

I would be curious to see how many of these graduations were of students who were enrolled in 2014-2015 (and how many were students whose completion was a function of having completion credits reverse transferred from the school they transferred to. I wish I could take a survey of the recipients and find out how many were surprised to find out that they’d earned a CCC degree. Maybe none. Maybe lots?

And, per Anthony’s point (in the comments on my last week’s post) the increase probably has something to do with the huge enrollment spike we had during and over the couple years following the Great Recession of 2008. I also wonder how many of these students benefited from the relaxation of the home campus requirement to just 15 hours (when was that changed, 2014? I’m too lazy to look). But even with all of that, 575 AS degrees? I didn’t see that coming. It’ll be interesting to see what the school to school breakout is on those.

Anyway, there it is–a surprising set of numbers. What do you think? What do you know? What can you prove?

Think, Know, Prove: Statistics I Want to Be Proud Of

Think, Know, Prove is an occasional Friday 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 a while back, over a holiday break, I put together some numbers to try to put the lie to some suspicions that I held about Reinvention and the growth in degrees. I put it all together and then put it all up in one post and, frankly, think that it was so many numbers and so many charts that only a handful of people actually read through any of it (thanks for being one, Jen Asimow, and John Hader, and Mike Davis!).

When I did it, I found that my guess about the types of degrees that were driving the increase was a little bit right and a little bit wrong. I had guessed that the number of Associates in Arts (A.A.) and Associates in Science (A.S.) degrees might have gone up slightly, but that the vast majority would be the result of increases in Associates in General Studies (A.G.S. degrees). What’s the difference? Well, if you know, you can skip down. But if you don’t, there’s a big difference. A.A., and A.S. degrees are our traditional transfer degrees. Students completing those degrees will have completed the “General Education Core Curriculum,” including English 101, 102, Speech, 3 Humanities, 3 Social Sciences, a Math, and Two Sciences (one with a lab). It’s true that the world of Higher Ed has changed a lot in recent years so that not all of those courses are requirements of Bachelors degrees at all (even most) schools these days, but it also remains true that students who complete those classes, especially those who were underserved or mis-served by their high schools benefit from the learning. Meanwhile, A.G.S. degrees are different in that they require a few less hours (60 instead of 62), but also in that they have much less in the way of requirements. Students only have to take English 101 (not 102 or speech), students have to take one humanities, not three, one science instead of two (and no lab is required), etc. In my early years at HWC, students were always steered toward the A.A or A.S., rather than toward the A.G.S. degree. It was a degree for low ambitions or low achievers, generally. There were, of course, exceptions, but typically students who got that degree were done with their schooling.

When I looked at the degree numbers, though, I was surprised at (and happy to find) the size of the increases in our A.A. and A.S. numbers, but they were there–significant and real. Unfortunately, I also found a rapid and troubling increase in the number of A.G.S. degrees granted, and I worried that we were passing students through a set of classes and handing them a degree that said they were ready to transfer when the degree itself did little (or not enough) to actually prepare students for the reality of their upper level classes. I worried that our students would be hurt by their lack of preparation due to the reduced rigors of the degree requirements (compared to the A.A./A.S.) and that our school reputation would be hurt by having a large pool of under-educated graduates walking around with degrees from Harold Washington, hurting our mission and all of our students who walked out with a “real” General Education degree. At the time I didn’t even know about the fact that students receiving a degree from us could no longer use financial aid with us, meaning that a student who receives an A.G.S. degree and then upon transferring finds out they need English 102 or a Fine Arts class or whatever is then paying out-of-pocket for everything they take with us because they have graduated. But now I do, and so I also worry about the students who have to pay a lot of money with us or a WHOLE lot of money at their transfer institution for a class that they could have taken with us on financial aid if they’d been put on a different degree track.

Today, it’s a few years later, and I find myself seeing the increase in degree numbers being touted in the first or second paragraph of nearly every article about the city colleges and in every response to faculty. Most often, it seems, they are invoked as justification for whatever plans are being made, and I get that. It’s a powerful hammer. Their aim, at least one of them, was to increase the number of completions, and they’ve done that (and significantly). Furthermore, I’ve been reluctant to put it under the microscope because I do not want to even appear (much less actually be) in the position of denigrating the achievements of our students, many of whom are proud of their degrees and accomplishments, no matter what sort, and rightly so. But those worries still nag. I brought it up in August in an email exchange with someone who told me later that he thought it was a kind of “red herring,” and that the A.G.S. degree is actually a good option for a lot of students who were having to take classes they didn’t need and suffering credit loss upon transfer. Also, it was suggested that the increase in A.G.S. degrees was in part due to students being defaulted into A.G.S. programs a few years back, and that it had since changed so that students were now defaulted into A.A. programs. It was even suggested that many of the students receiving A.G.S. degrees had actually completed the G.E.C.C. package of classes. What percentage? The person didn’t know, but promised to get back with that data point. (Ahem.)

Anyway, what do those numbers look like now? Well, I’m not going to make the same mistake of pushing everything at you all at once. Oh, no. Working like Plato, I’m going to let you see the big picture first and then take you through the individual cases one by one. So, here is the data for the district. What do you think? What do you know? What can you prove?

District Degree Data (Through 2014)

Think, Know, Prove: Chicago is #1

Think, Know, Prove is an occasional 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 from All the President’s Men: What do we think, what do we know, what can we prove? and everything from wild speculation to resource referencing fact is welcome here.

Here’s one for your thinker. It’s going to be a bit scattered and jumbled. I don’t mean it to be a carefully developed argument, but rather something more like a journal entry than an essay. Still, I hope you’ll bear with me while I think out loud. I don’t have any answers to any of the problems that I raise here, even if I make it sound like I do at points in what follows, and I am genuinely at a loss regarding all of it. So, let us count the ways that Chicago is #1, shall we? And maybe play a game of connect the dots…

We are the world’s deadliest city! Such a puzzler isn’t it? It’s not violent where I live. Not violent where I go. And yet, there’s a body count every Friday, Saturday, and Sunday morning in the Tribune, but no information on the whys and whatfors and questions that need asking. Plenty of important stuff in the newspaper pages, though. (Oh, if only fiction were real…but I digress.)

Why do we have dozens of young people dying every weekend in our city? Why indeed. If only someone had a theory that made a lot of sense. If only someone  did some research on the connection between poverty and violence in our city and the near complete segregation of both (which would help to explain the political indifference to both). Maybe if someone had some really compelling data and insight about the deadliness of poverty in general, then the ongoing tragedy of thousands of years of life lost–not just because of gun violence continuing to go unaddressed but because of a lack of moral imagination–would be recognized as a civic crisis…then maybe, just maybe we’d get a better response from a city leader than “Take it to the alleys.”

(If you click decide to click on only ONE link in this whole post, it is my sincere hope that you choose one of the three bold ones in the paragraph above)

Ah, but that’s not all! We can also boast about having the “widest gap in suspension rates between black and white students“! Maybe some sharp mind somewhere might figure out that this finding might have something to do with the “record setting” 60%, 5 year graduation rate .

And maybe, just maybe, that will get some people talking about the fact that this rate is unconscionably low and would be for a 4 year rate. I mean, especially given what we know about the employment and social prospects (and costs) for people without a high school diploma.

Then perhaps someone of importance would become aware that about 1 in 5 male youth in the city are dropouts by one study, and one in 10 females. Suspensions have been connected to dropout rates in all kinds of research (as here–one among many, chosen for its clarity and brevity). And that’s without even considering race and poverty. And that’s after 15+ years of reform! What’s worse is that the life prospects for these kids–and they are kids, don’t forget that–only get worse from there. Think about that.

Take 300 kids, split evenly between male and female. Then take 30 of the boys and 15 of the girls and march them off a cliff. Make everyone in the country watch it. Would it be accepted with a shrug? Multiply that by a million. Would that be accepted with a shrug? It already is. Year after year after year.

Add in race and poverty, and it’s clear that within the city, the dropout rates are wildly divergent from one neighborhood to another (over 30% in some neighborhoods listed in a chart from 2007–certainly higher in other parts of the city over 60+% in North Lawndale, for example, according to what I hear from some educators I know). Look at the dropout rate column in the chart. In particular, look at the amount of variation in the city compared to the variation in the other counties.

Assuming that dropout rates are a proxy for institutional meeting of the educational needs of the population served, we would seem to be at the top of the list of worst at doing that! Think the  chart of schools with the highest drop out rates  would match up with the chart on poverty and violence put together by Steve Bogira for The Reader? And do you think the schools with the lowest drop out rates would be found in the areas with the least poverty and violence? I do.

It’s not news that Chicago is a painfully segregated city–racially, ethnically, socio-economically. Strict segregation has been the de facto ‘solution’ to the city’s challenges for going on a hundred years now and like most institutionally imposed or supported solutions the segregation philosophy and its associated policies have done more to perpetuate and exacerbate problems they were intended to eradicate than to solve any of them.

My guess is that the civic violence and the associated malign neglect perpetrated and perpetuated on huge swaths of Chicago’s population inevitably leads to the (completely rational) inference that aspirational thinking is a form of delusional thinking. “Reforming schools” by introducing new interim assessments and takeover procedures amid such realities is equivalent to destroying a book in the Library of Babel. Yet the reforms keep coming, with ever new targets and leaders  and gadgets to sell, while the roots of the problem remain unchanged and unaddressed. How does one not get cynical about the whole social enterprise? (If you want to get really pissed off about the social trajectory of the last 30 years, read Michelle Alexander’s The New Jim Crow. I bet Toni Preckwinckle’s read it. But I digress. Again.)

Getting back to reform, and Chicago’s 15 years of enduring it in our public schools, I offer you as my next exhibit for thought this beautiful graphic from Alvin Bisarya’s May Board report on Early College Initiatives  (it was also part of his DWFDW presentation):

Check out that first and second bubble. For me, that is the hardest one to believe. Every time I see it, I can hardly believe that it isn’t a national scandal. I also can’t believe that if we were somehow able to take away all those initiatives and all that administrative shuffle and all those deals and promises and political ladder climbing and all of their effects, that it would be any worse. It seems that after 15 years of it, all those very important people over there have been an elaborate clown show.

I mean look at how many CPS students graduated as college-ready in three subjects after graduating from what amounts to 13 years of state mandated college preparation! Even if we were to count all of the other students who enrolled in colleges other than CCC as being college ready (which certainly they weren’t), it would still be an absurdly low number. It would be comical if it weren’t so criminal. It is a fundamental, civic, moral failure of gigantic proportion, and it is ongoing.

Three major unions in our city–the police, the fire department, and the teachers are all without contracts at the moment, representing a little over 60,000 Chicagoans. The police and teachers especially, have been subjected to years and years of leadership imposed initiatives which often invoke, as their justification, some kind of professional failure or moral flaw or both on the part of the people who carried out the previous plans (i.e., cops and teachers).

Teachers, who make up more than half of the 60,000, have been under attack for years now for their failure to fix what decades of policy and widespread apathy/tacit acceptance hath wrought. And higher ed is not immune. Reinvention. 7%. Dropping enrollment. These were our reformers’ pitchforks and torches. Then, after a while, when, one might speculate, their eyes are finally adjusting to the realities of our world,discoveries are made (e.g., turns out that almost all of the enrollment drop is due to drops in Adult Education (i.e. G.E.D. programs) and credit enrollment has been growing steadily for years, up 35% or so over the last five. Just like we said way back when–that their big finding about enrollment at the city colleges dropping, while factually true, was ultimately misleading since credit, which is how most non-insiders interpret “city colleges enrollment,” was booming. Ahem.)

It. Makes. Me. Crazy.


Yesterday, I was poking around on YouTube looking for some video clips to use in my logic class so my students could practice recognizing and paraphrasing arguments. A former student dropped in and mentioned Newsroom as a potential source of some good stuff (hence the link in the first paragraph; he thought I should use this one). While looking through some of those, I came across a couple of George Carlin clips (this was a great interview, I thought). Clips like this (warning–NSFW language–use headphones):

I watched it, laughed (again), and then watched this one on “the illusion of freedom” and this one on education (that first scene is filmed in Chicago!) and then started thinking about Marcuse and the ways his ideas parallel Carlin’s and how that would make an interesting class (something about toleration) and then decided that I need to take a break and get off the computer. So I left and walked to Staples (to get paper–no kidding) and on my way out of the school, I picked up a Reader because I thought I might stop at America’s Dog (I’m working my way through the menu) and opened it up while waiting for the light to change, which is when I saw the piece on poverty and death (linked above), which got me to thinking about all of the other really big stuff on what is happening all around us and all of the insignificant minor crap (100 copies… really?) that takes up so much of our public and individual energy and attention and time and, even while sitting (as it were) on a perch of relative privilege, standing on the corner of Lake and Wabash, I found it pretty hard to fight off complete demoralization. How much harder must it be for our students in the worst of Chicago’s neighborhoods?

If I were a young man growing up in the city of Chicago, I would find it hard to imagine that anyone disagrees with George Carlin. It does not take a huge leap of imagination, then, to figure out why some of our city’s kids don’t exactly live for tomorrow.

This cannot go on. I am embarrassed to be complaining about the number of copies I’m allowed while kids are dying. And, at the same time it all seems of a piece to me. I don’t understand it and can’t make sense of it. Not any of it. Especially not all the blood in our streets. If my math is right, more Americans have died in the streets of Chicago  over the last four years than in eleven years of fighting a war in Afghanistan. Over the same ten year period, 5000 Chicagoans have died violently. Granted, many, many, many more people have died over there than those 2000 Americans, but still–I do not know how to make sense of any of it. Our murder rate is 4x that of New York and triple that of L.A. And nobody is scared in my neighborhood. But they are hopping mad about the police station getting closed down and moved. Apparently there have been a rash of catalytic converter and Honda Fit tire thefts up here. People are hopping mad. One wonders what they would be like if it were their children’s futures being stolen. There are days that I love this city; and there are many when I can barely stand another minute.

And, as Carlin put it, and as reported by education writer Paul Tough: the people (in power) don’t seem to care. So, what can we do? What should we do? What needs to be done?

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

Think, Know, Prove Graduation Post: Debriefing the (Ceremony/Debacle?)

This morning, I looked back in the archives to the discussions about last year’s graduation to see if I could figure out why there’s such incredible apathy about this year’s, and, well, let’s just say that it’s pretty clear now.

Too bad.

Anyway, for the 35? 50? faculty who went–what did you see? And for those who went and those who didn’t:

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

Think, Know, Prove: Midterm Morale Edition

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.

It’s been a quiet week on the Lounge, as I’ve committed myself to catching up on grading the papers, exams and quizzes I’ve already collected this semester (along with the effective writing assessments I’m supposed to have done by Friday)  before the end of the weekend. So far, what was an 14 and a half inch pile has shrunk a bit, it’s down to single digits, but not as much as I’d hoped to have it down by now. Still, the slowest of the grading is pretty much done, so I maintain my optimism.

In the middle of the week, while taking a break, I ran across THIS, which reports that teacher morale across the country is way down:

As a result, job satisfaction among public school teachers is plumbing new lows, according to the MetLife Survey of the American Teacher. The survey, conducted by Harris Interactive on behalf of MetLife, found that teacher satisfaction has dropped to its lowest level in more than 20 years, and that the proportion of teachers who report being very satisfied with their work has fallen by 15 percentage points in just two years.

Only 44 percent of teachers surveyed reported being very satisfied with their jobs, compared with 59 percent in 2009…

Some of the findings of the Cutbacks and other economic factors contributed to the decline in job satisfaction. Teachers who expressed low job satisfaction were more likely to work in schools where there had been staff layoffs… Teachers who had seen an increase in the number of students claiming health services or other social services, as well as an increase in the number of students coming to school hungry, were also more likely to report low job satisfaction.

The survey is for K-12 teachers and so doesn’t exactly map to us but I thought it was interesting in light of some of the morale discussions we’ve had here over the last year or so, as well as Don’s recent post on the benefits of a little paranoia.

In other words, I’m wondering about how morale is out there. Worse than four years ago, but better than a year ago? Steadily declining? Steadily improving? Great? Awful? Speak for yourself, speculate about others, provide data or anecdotes–it’s all good here.

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



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?

Think, Know, Prove: College Football

I know I said the next TKP would be on remediation, but I still haven’t had a chance to give some scrutiny to the current version of the proposals, at least not enough to say what I think about them, so that will have to wait until I can. In the meantime, Penn State happened.

I was a fan of college football until I went to college. Even while I was there, for awhile, I’d say I was a fan. I went to a big football school when football was big there. I’m hesitant to say what it was that changed my mind or when it happened, lest I indulge in some wishful backwards thinking, but other than caring for the guys I knew playing, I didn’t really care. Maybe it was the philosophy influence (or some personal contrariness) that made we want to do or think (or be) whatever no one around me seemed to be doing or thinking or being; maybe it was the fairly obvious and troubling exploitation of most of the players for the benefit of a very few, and of those very few for the benefit of the institution and alums; maybe it was the viciousness of the whole endeavor, by which I don’t mean the game, but the game around the game–the practices, the motivational manipulations, the injuries, the fawning (and hostility) of the students–all of it; maybe it was maturity; maybe it was the money that I could get selling my tickets.

In any case, the only reason I went to most of the games my Senior year was because I had a job with NBC, working the visitor sideline with the remote camera man. That season, the only game I KNOW I would have gone to is the game against Penn State, and it turned out to be the best college football game I ever saw. My sister went to Penn State for grad school, and we’d long been friends of Joe Pa, the Nittany Lions, and Happy Valley.

And so, though I love to watch football, even as I’ve drifted from watching the college game, I’ve always had a warm spot in my heart for Penn State. Until this week.

The college season opened in some controversy, left over from last year and fueled by a compelling take down of the entire endeavor and the NCAA in particular–the hypocrisy and the rest--in an amazing article by Taylor Branch in The Atlantic that argues for paying student-athletes as being a step in the right direction.

And then the awful news about what has happened, and been happening, apparently, at Penn State. There’s plenty to read in many places about it, but the best/worst of it is available in this overview of the entire tragedy by Sara Ganim of the Patriot-News.

So, what do you think, what do you know, what can you prove?

Think, Know, Prove: Final KPI Entry

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.

Ok, so I’ve been a total failure at fulfilling my original plan and getting something written about Performance Based Funding (at least in part because I’ve been dragging my feet on reading the actual law), but I remain optimistic that it will happen next week. In the meantime, I’ve written about Key Performance Indicators twice (here and here) and found some interesting reading elsewhere on the topic that I thought I’d share.

First, there was this piece from Inside Higher Ed in which the author makes six suggestions in the hopes of informing the “new set of national metrics for assessing student performance at two-year institutions” under development by the Feds.

The six recommendations are:

Completion Rates for Community Colleges Should Include Transfers to Baccalaureate Institutions.

Completion Rate Calculations Should Exclude Students Not Seeking Degrees.

Recognize that Community College Students Who Start Full-time Typically Do Not Remain Full-time.

Extend the Time for Assessing Completion to at least Six Years.

When Comparing Completion Rates, Compare Institutions with Similar Students.

Support Hopeful Signs at the Federal Level.

Their justifications are just as important and interesting as the suggestions themselves. It is a piece well worth reading.

The other one is an article about what colleges can learn from Moneyball. I thought it was interesting, anyway, and less scattered than my attempts on the same topic (see links above).

So, with all of that in your heads and maybe some additional knowledge about what is the current state of KPI development (ongoing at the FC4 level, in coordination with local administrations (looking at you Metoyer) and district office): What do you think? What do you know? What can you prove?

Think, Know, Prove: KPIs (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.

I know that last week’s post was a little scattered; I hope you don’t expect differently from this week’s given that I’m, again, writing it in a bit of a rush, and all jacked up on cold medicine. (Digression: Maybe this will be the year that I start the longitudinal data keeping about when I get sick–I swear that I’ve been sick in the fifth week for at least the last six semesters in a row, and I don’t know if it’s the increase in students interacting with students and then interacting with me (lots of them seem to be getting sick in weeks three and four (or so they say), or if it’s my kids being back in school and rubbing up against their little Petri dish friends, or if it’s the fact that I pretty much stop exercising, eating well, sleeping reasonably, and the rest. It’s annoying, though. I hate having a cold.)

So, a little more on KPIs (Key Performance Indicators) before we move on to PBF next week. In last week’s post I talked a little about what they are and about a little about what we might learn from the story of how putting some emphasis on them led to both resistance and opportunity in professional baseball. I did not mean, however, to overemphasize the connections between education and baseball, and I don’t want to let the conversation get derailed by the emphasis on sport, in general or baseball in particular or even on Moneyball for that matter–the book and story described therein has plenty of critics, too. We don’t have to come up with KPIs because of Moneyball, nor because of our corporate overlords.

We have to develop them because our new Mayor promised while running for election to develop institutional report cards for all of the city and sister agencies that would show how they were doing in key areas of responsibility (see #9, #34, and #36). He’s promised to post these report cards for all of the agencies on the city web site (a.k.a., the data portal), but allowed the institutions themselves, at least initially, to develop the measures. In other words, we, along with everyone else—CTA, Park District, Fire Department, etc.—have to come up with a way of telling the public (vis a vis the Mayor) what our Won-Loss record is (to bring it back to sports terms).

This has to be done with care, obviously for the same reason that it has to be done with care by hospitals: adding up how many have died and how many have lived likely provides a misleading picture of the hospital’s quality. The challenge for the hospital is that to the general public, that may well be the stat they want to see, owing to their own desires and poor or careless thinking about the topic. So, assuming they don’t have the resources or time to embark on a massive health literacy campaign, they would have to define what a Win looks like through the metrics they choose. In other words, their stats have to tell a story. If they don’t, then the public/Mayor won’t accept them and will likely demand the commonly accepted and utterly misleading measures.

When the public thinks about the fire department, they might want to know how many fires the department puts out and how many people are saved and guess that seeing those numbers will tell them how the fire department is doing. But those numbers are out of the fire department’s control, and if the department considers fire prevention a key part of their job, they might say that their goal is to keep those numbers low while the public is thinking that high numbers equal excellence. The department would say just counting the numbers of fires we put out doesn’t tell you what we do, and so might focus their self measurement on their responsiveness, or fire hydrant readiness, or building inspections or something.

So, as the Realist pointed out in comments under last week’s TKP post, defining what a “win” is (or to take out the sports analogy, an effective interaction of our institution with the members of the public who avail themselves of it), has to be the first step, and I am writing here to urge all of those involved to think big and creatively rather than merely follow the path of least resistance or be tempted to “juke the stats” as they say in The Wire in order to merely keep feeding at the trough.

I have a lot more to say about all of that, but not the time to develop it. A few key ideas though, all influenced by but not entirely explained by Moneyball are these:

  1. Not all stats are KPIs and the most dangerous ones are often the familiar stats, widely accepted as KPIs, but empirically unrelated to aim of the organization.  Statistics had along been a part of baseball, and a long time ago (back in the late 19th century) a handful of statistics became the standard KPIs. But not every statistic or data point is a KPI, even ones that have long been thought to be. For example, the RBI (Runs Batted In) stat was a long valued and highly prized indicator of hitting prowess. Turns out though, that it is a very poor predictor of anything. Why? Because the statistic relies on so many variables out of the batters’ control–that other people were on base, in scoring position, etc., there turned out to be no correlation between a batter’s RBI stats and offensive production. For decades, it seems, baseball people had been operating under the assumption that runs were produced by hits, when it turns out that runs are produced by avoiding outs, and so a much better KPI for being a baseball hitter is the measure of how often the hitter avoids making an out. A team that makes no outs scores an infinite number of runs. Batting average is another important and slightly misleading stat. A batter who hits .333 and never draws a walk gets on base one time for every two outs the batter makes. Another batter who hits .250 and gets say two walks in every  five at bats, ends up avoiding an out in 3 out of every nine at bats. In other words, though their stats are very different, their value to the offense is about the same. Pointing this out doesn’t mean that knocking in a run (earning an RBI) isn’t valuable–it’s still a good thing–it is! It just isn’t very helpful in distinguishing between highly valuable hitters and average hitters. The kicker is that most people think it IS exactly that–a means of evaluating the hitters’ excellence. In other words, we should be on the lookout for statistics and measures that have been traditionally accepted as obvious and important that aren’t (because they are based on false assumptions).
  2. Inputs are key. Another lesson of the story is that some things are very hard to measure. In baseball, that hard thing is defense. It’s hard to determine how a team’s defense contributes to a team’s victory (and so how much value to put on a player’s defensive skills as well as how to measure those skills). The traditional statistic for measuring defense was the “error,” which Bill James pointed out is completely misleading. Players get an error for not making a play that the “official scorer” thought they should. In other words, it’s a moral judgment as much as a performative one, and it’s likely that bad defenders could still  have very few errors and good ones would end up with more. Take two second basemen–one who covers a lot of ground and one who covers very little. The former is likely to come near or even get to many balls that when the other one can’t get near. Some of those might get turned into outs, but some of them might require difficult throws or be more challenging glove work and so look like errors, whereas if the other fielder were playing they would have been simply scored as hits. And if that doesn’t make much sense, then don’t worry about it. The point here is not errors or second basemen. The point is that good stats require good, meaningful inputs, and non-meaningful inputs tell lies.
  3. Models matter. Applying data analysis in a meaningful way requires having some testable hypotheses about what matters and then testing those hypotheses. As those hypotheses are developed and tested, they can be combined in more and more complex ways in order to attempt to build a model or a formulaic understanding of what is happening and why. No model is perfect, nor is it supposed to be.  One way to do that is to come up with statistical models (formulae) and then apply those retroactively to see if they accurately predict the outcomes that occurred in connection with years worth of historical data. If they don’t, then one of three things must be the case–either we haven’t included all of the meaningful variables, or we’ve included a variable that is not meaningful (and so skews the prediction) or we have the values wrong. I’m dreaming of a formula built from national statistics that could accurately predict some outcome or other (course completion, degree completion, successful transfer, whatever, more on that in a minute) that provides a prediction for what percentage of our students (taking into account various meaningful factors (preparation, 1st generation student-hood, percentage part time, incoming skills, and whatever others are suggested as meaningful in the literature) that matched (roughly) the actual numbers of students who achieved those outcomes. If we had a model like that, we could then build a formula, punch in our data and see if we had more, less, or the same as the prediction. If we have more students achieve, consistently, maybe we’re outperforming the average schools. If we have fewer, maybe we’re underperforming. If we’re the same, then we’re at least as good as everyone else. Or even just a model that makes some sort of baseline. A model like that could be transformative to community college research and funding, and it would take a lot more work than looking up how many students were awarded a certificate last semester while telling us a whole lot more. And while there is risk in such a scheme, if we really are about students, and excellence, and social justice, then we have a professional, and I would say moral obligation to avoid the temptation to cherry pick a few stats that make us look good and find some meaningful data to report.


Now with all of that said, I am the first to admit that I am in way over my head when it comes to stats and quantitative research. I can just barely calculate a batting average, which I admit to as a point of shame, not pride, and perhaps what I’m dreaming is simply not possible. Fine. Still, I say, as I said last week, this is a spectacular opportunity to have some crucial conversations and explore and explain our professional expertise to the general public, their legislators, and the world. Aim big is all I’m saying; swing for the fences as it were.

For lots more on Moneyball, you can go HERE.


Think, Know, Prove: State of the College and KPIs

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.

My first plan for this post was to kick off a series of posts on a few of the acronyms that you’re likely to be hearing a lot about soon–KPI and PBF in particular. As I started I started to write that post, I found myself writing more about the State of the College address than about KPIs (Key Performance Indicators) and, so, took that as a sign that I should switch topics.

Personally, I quite enjoyed the State of the College address yesterday. Though I loved Metoyer’s playful, hilarious, visual version, I’ve always enjoyed the formality of the presentations, too, and the convening of the entire college into a single room. I have always hated the rooms, though. I can’t hear a dagnabbing thing in room 103–just a word here and there and a muddy blarn about 60% of the time–and 1115 is too crowded when the whole college is there to be comfortable (If I had a magic wand, I’d get us a proper theater). But I digress.

In my time at the college, they’ve typically been more informative than challenging, usually focusing on our successes (enrollment, achievements, and the like) and our circumstances (most often state funding). At our department meeting, which followed the address, there was a general consensus of approval for Don’s focus on how we treat students, and a few people talked about their experiences of being mistaken for a student and being treated one way and then, upon correcting the impression, being treated completely differently, as if a switch had been flipped.

I’ve written a little about this topic before, and it was gratifying to hear that students rated their registration experience better this year by a lot (though, given what I still perceived to be a still general dissatisfaction along with the fact that we were least highly rated among the seven colleges, we obviously have a ways to go–and speaking of those survey results, I wonder why we don’t get to see them; wouldn’t you like to? I would. Maybe if the people involved in the process had more direct access to the ratings of their work, they’d be able to dig a little deeper to find that “will” required to move the needle.).

It seems that I’ve drifted back into my original topic–Key Perfomance Indicators (KPIs), and so I might as well give you a little on that, too, while I’m here.

What is a KPI? Let’s take a baseball team–call them Chicago BestTeam. What’s the most obvious measure of their quality? Their won-loss record. That’s their primary KPI. The team’s record shows how good they are. But for any fan (or gambler) or member of the industry investors or other company deciding whether to hang their name outside the stadium, that isn’t enough. Each constituency will have different interests (respectively: likelihood to win the championship (fan), likelihood to win the game (gambler), current acquirable resources and capacities/best practices (industry), revenue and net income (investor), and brand/customer base (marketing company)). The Sox (a.k.a., Chicago BestTeam) have an interest in providing each of those constituents an accurate measure or indicator of their status in those areas, and their won-loss record won’t be enough. So they’ll have to take and share other sorts of measurements, which reflect these different aspects of their efforts. Those are KPIs, too.

Those measures have to be easily understood–Bill James, one of the founders of a cultural revolution in an industry dominated by traditionalist, almost magical thinking, talked about numbers and data having the power of language when well constructed and presented, i.e., they can tell the story–but they have to tell the truth, too, if they’re going to be useful.

As we’ve all been saying for a while now, our graduation rates certainly tell “A story,” but it’s not ours, because of their reductionism and the ways that measure plays into so many misconceptions of what a community college is and does. Hospitals went through something similar when their industry was hit with the Metric Movement. Imagine working at Cook County Hospital and being evaluated (and compared to, say, Northwestern) on the basis of what percentage of people who come in actually leave alive. You’d be shouting like your hair was on fire that the comparison is an unfair one given the differences in clientele, resources, mission, and all the rest, and you’d be eager to figure out some sort of way to demonstrate how well you do with what you’ve got.

Somewhere along the way the measurers of hospitals (investors and public health officials, it seems–maybe even consultants!) figured out that a focus on process and protocols, rather than outcomes, might yield a better picture of a hospital’s quality–are incoming patients screened for psychiatric, what percentage of heart attack patients are administered a dose of aspirin, etc. There was an article just this week on the results–hospitals now follow “standard protocols” 97% of the time, up from 82% just 8 years ago. You can see the report from the accrediting commission here.

Baseball teams figured it out, too. At least some of them. When school got out in May, the first book I pulled from my shelf was Moneyball, and not because the movie starring Brad Pitt was coming out in September. I wanted to read the book because it tells the story of the way data analysis revolutionized baseball in the early 2000s owing to the unlikely success of one team and their non-traditional methodology. Faced with a small budget in a high cost industry, which created an annually increasing inability to compete with large market teams, the Oakland A’s searched for ways to find and exploit “market inefficiencies.” Their method? To use (initially) and then develop Key Performance Metrics by which they could (they thought) more accurately evaluate baseball players and so spend their money wisely. Over a five year period, or so, the A’s outperformed all or most of the big market teams at a fraction of the cost, and they did it by having better measures of baseball performance and a better understanding of which “performances” were key.

The amazing part is that Bill James and the crew of statisticians he inspired who came up with the methodology and many of the measures the A’s exploited had first published in the late 70’s, 20+ years before, and James was widely considered a krank and an outsider. Baseball was, even in the face of a ton of compelling evidence that many of its “heresies” were truth and many of its “Truths” were myths, a place where the insiders spoke in one voice–that of tradition. “You have to be a baseball man,” they said, “to know a baseball player and be able to run a team.”

Don’t educators say the same sort of thing all the time? Don’t we claim a sort of magical eye that can spot good teaching when we see it, regardless of what the numbers say? The point Bill James and company made was that the difference between a .250 hitter and a .300 hitter is about one hit every two weeks. That isn’t visible to the eye; rather, the eye is likely being influenced by other things–the biases of the industry/tradition, subjective preferences, etc. So the industry resisted, at least most of it, which allowed the A’s to keep on achieving what the industry, even as they did it, said could not be done.

I have a lot more to say about Moneyball, and KPIs, but I’ve run out of time. So, I’ll have to wrap this one up here, and throw it to you with a series of questions this week: what did you think about the state of the college address? What do you think about KPIs? What should our KPIs be? Have you read Moneyball? And what about Brad Pitt?

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

Think, Know, Prove–Childhood Development

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.

What the hell is going on with Childhood Development? I read the Reinvention Proposals, but missed what, apparently, is a big one, from what I hear, with respect to one of my favorite programs.

I saw yesterday, that there’s an additional post on the Reinvention site–a presentation on the “supporting findings” showing the Reinvention Task Forces research and supporting data (that wasn’t up a few days ago), but I haven’t had a chance to read through it yet. Maybe you have?

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

UPDATE (8/18): Bumped up for and because of ongoing discussion




Think, Know, Prove: Chicago Summer Bucket List

Last winter break, I posted something like this one and the thread garnered some truly outstanding possibilities, more than one of which I ended up doing. It worked out so well, I thought I would do the same thing here for summertime favorites.

A few of mine: the Printer’s Row Book Fair, a day at Arlington (either “Breakfast at Arlington” or actual races); the architectural boat tour, canoeing the river, The Folk and Roots Festival, eating rib tips from Lem’s off the hood of a car, and plenty of trips to Foster Beach and Morton Arboretum are all mainstays on the list. Taking the South Shore to the Dunes has been on there for a couple of years now, but we haven’t managed to make it happen yet. Maybe this is the year.

What else have you got?

Think, Know, Prove: Plus-Delta

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.

Plus-Delta is a review scheme that I picked up from someone who undoubtedly stole it from some trendy business book, but the idea is that one periodically takes an inventory of actions and identifies the ones that were good (they go in the Plus column) and the ones that either need to be different or need to be added (those are the Deltas, as in “change”).

So, headed into the last week, what is in your Plus column? And what is in your Delta? These may be personal, institutional, or otherwise.

(I’d put my own list up, but there are some personal circumstances that suggest that for a few days at least, less is more; let’s just say that I’m not allowed to operate any heavy machinery, and I include “keyboards expressing personal opinions” in that category given the possibility of dropping an anvil on my own toes with a poorly expressed idea or two. Anyway, I’ll put some up later in the week, if anyone else does.)

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