Friday, February 2, 2018

Education, College, and Economics

h/t Peter

I was going through the queue of articles posted on other blogs that piqued my interest but didn't have time to look at or get into (which is far too many for any given day), and got back to this one at  Bayou Renaissance Man, regarding professors kicking and bitching about being objectively evaluated:

Gee!  You mean, professors can now have their actual job-related performance measured accurately in comparison to the requirements of their positions, and the performance of their peers in universities and colleges across America?  Why would they object to that, I wonder . . . NOT!!!

I think we all know why the academics are upset at being accurately assessed.  They can't get away with "fudge factors" any more.  They might even have to stop fashionable, politically correct protests and other extracurricular activities, and get down to the business of teaching - which is, after all, the reason they were employed in the first place.  Clearly, as far as they're concerned, accountability is very low on their list of priorities - but for people like you and I, forced to pay exorbitant fees to study under them, it's rather more important.

My thoughts:

1) If instructors graded on a rigid scale, grade distribution would be valuable. On a sliding scale, it's meaningless. If everyone masters the data to >90%, why should there be a bell-shaped distribution of As, Bs, an so on? If no one does, there shouldn't be any As. Which is why grade curves were invented to begin with: participation trophies for the mentally incapable.
2) Peer evals would be utterly worthless, unless those peer professors regularly audited each others' classes. Never happens in recorded history.
3) What you want is student evals, weighted based on final grade.
Twenty bad evals from F students = 0 weight.
One good eval from an A student = 5 pts.
Then look at the tallies year over year, and you'd quickly note who was covering the material well, and who was merely ticking off the snowflakes and getting a rep as a tough nut.

I was always an excellent student, and the hard-but-fair instructors with a mastery of their subject and some skill at teaching it were universally my favorites in both high school and university.
The majority of the instructors at both levels were mediocrities, as one would expect.
And some should have been shoveling tar on a road crew.

And I'd have the students rate them only upon graduation; they'd have the benefit of hindsight to disclose who prepared them best for subsequent classes (vs. the "easy A" types), and the drop-outs and ne'er-do-wells' comments would be self-selected out.

Professors hate objective measurement for the same reason students do: no one likes to be evaluated. It's uncomfortably painful, and the truth would affect their livelihood.

Of course, if students were actually footing the bill for an average $100/hr lecture (in a nominal $40k/yr degree program)*, their scrutiny would be a lot more valuable.

*{$40K/yr gets you $20K/semester, figure a 4 class load=$5K/class, each class meets notionally 3x/wk for 16 weeks, so one class session is about 100 bucks a period. Obviously, state schools are less than private ones, but only because your education is being subsidized by everyone in the state who doesn't go, whether they like that or not. So, on average, you're paying your prof almost as much as the guy who fixes your plumbing or transmission, and for something you could have taught yourself better on the internet for free. The degree is worthwhile in many cases (certainly not all), but the coursework is a joke, and the entire exercise a horrible value by any intelligent and objective standard.}

Expanding on that, and the professor-wrote-the-textbook-racket at most institutions, a college degree is a Ponzi scheme we're all paying for, like Social Security.

The fact is there are only five or ten subject matter experts at anything at any given time, who should be writing the textbooks for everyone else. Ditto for lecturers. And in most subjects, everyone knows who they are. Teachers and educators are always bitching they don't get lionized like sports stars and entertainers.

Okay, bitches, let's put you on the same grading scale as they are: let's put you on the equivalent of Teacher's Got Talent, and see if you rock the house, or suck @$$ and get deservedly X'ed off the stage in ignominious defeat. How much would Clayton Kershaw get if he served up nothing but home runs instead of strikeouts in front of 50,000 fans, hmmm? Not so easy now, is it, you bunch of whiny mediocrities?

For only one case in point, Thomas Sowell's Basic Economics (for only $26, new) should be the go-to primer on the subject for every student in every university from coast to coast, probably for 50 years or longer. The same is doubtless true in just about every other subject.

When you get to places like medical schools, there are always only 2-3 texts that every one of them uses for a given subject, because there's no point trying to gild the lily and butter their own bread by trying to reproduce (poorly) some other masterwork on a given topic.

But universities let professors shill their own virtually self-published mediocrities in every other subject, and lard on the books of their favorite fellow talentless hacks and pet authors, with predictable results.

You could self-teach yourself most subjects far better - for free, other than book cost and time invested - than damned near any degree program in the country, and for at least 30-50% of those out there, you could do an old-school medieval defense of your knowledge that ought to be sufficient to get credit for knowing the subject.

I could probably ably sit for degrees in history, poli sci, religion, biology, film, military science, and pull off minors in art, sculpture, music, and foreign language. So could anyone who put in a reasonable amount of time and effort, and all without sitting in a classroom for one day, or doing anything but cracking a friggin' book or three.

But there's no tuition in recognizing that obvious reality, and no royalties for reading the classic texts or great authors instead of talentless hacks, so colleges aren't in that business.
And professors don't work for students, they work for themselves first, then the university's interests, and little to none for the students, the parents of the students, or the state, all of the last three of whom are actually footing the bill.

See if that makes any sense to you.

If, tomorrow, the state granted college degrees on its own hook the same way I got my nursing license (sit in a room and take a pass/fail 80% mastery exam via adaptive testing**), and they charged a flat $100 forever to take any exam, to weed out the timewasters, and maintain the database and testing facilities, with a bombproof accredited degree granted to all who passed - exactly as they should do - brick and mortar colleges, not to mention for-profit diploma mills, would collapse overnight, and the 50 or so left and worthy of the name would be the top institutions on the planet, bar none. And you'd have to test into them, not get Affirmative Action Equivalency points.

Want to undo the academia strangle-hold on the culture, put the Usual Suspect communist profs back on the street looking for paying gigs to eat, and grant degrees based on merit, rather than SJW criteria?

Push for THAT system.

**{Briefly, adaptive testing: the first three non-graded questions measure your ability. They ask C-level (average knowledge) questions. Get them all right, the computer starts grading, and asks a B-level (mastery) question. Get it right, it asks a A-level (really detailed hard stuff) question. Answer enough A-level questions right, it shuts off, you ace the exam, you're done.
Get the first three wrong, it asks a D-level (dumbass easy) question. Get that one wrong, it asks F-level (total dumbbell) questions. Get enough F-level questions wrong, it shuts off, you flunk, you're out of there.
Struggle along barely at C-level, going up to B and down to C and D, then back to C and B, and it will ask you the maximum number of questions, and/or for the maximum amount of time, and depending on whether you were above or below C-level (literally and figuratively),  you do the Bataan Death March exam that lasts hours, and depending on where you were up- or down-wise, you either pass or fail, by the skin of your teeth.
So when the computer shuts off fast, you either passed or binned it. You don't know.
You find out regardless a few days later, but there's no immediate feedback while you're testing.
And multiple studies have discerned that versus taking a two-day, 14-hour 8000 question written exam, adaptive testing is just as accurate to assess mastery or something, which was how nurses used to get their licenses.
Now you can be passed or flunked, (and have to wait several weeks to re-test) in as little as about 90 questions.}

We could do every class and every degree that way. We could cherry-pick the best and brightest (and least horrible and boring) lecturers on every subject known to man. Imagine if every law student, hell, every college student, had Alan Dershowitz and Antonin Scalia on the Constitution. And so on, for every subject known to man. Royalties would ensure participation, and capitalism weeds out the hacks and quacks.

The only excuse for hands-on would be labs, which by and large are run by graduate TAs anyways, and could be done on weekends at the vacant former universities and colleges.
Ditto for high school, with sports and PE on Tues/Thursday, and Saturday for teams. MWF would be set aside for classes. Or field trips. Or playing video games, and being stuck as a Starbucks barrista for life. (Aesop's lecture for Freshman high school/college Day One: "Class, repeat after me: 'Would you like fries with that?' Good. Now when you flunk out, I don't have to worry about you starving for the rest of your life." I sh*t you not, that'd be my opening lecture, forever.)

And all it would take would be the will and the internet bandwidth. For those remote, you could buy K through Ph.D. years on CD-roms and DVD/BDs, and get your education at your own pace, in UHD, 3D interactive, with bonus features included for AP/Honors.

You can already get the entire National Geographic (and Mad Magazine) on disc. Why can't you get the Louvre, the National Gallery(ies), etc., the Smithsonian, the National Air & Space Museum, etc., with one-click features giving you sidebar commentary and documentaries by experts on the topic? Who wouldn't want to see Glamorous Glennis while listening to Chuck Yeager describing breaking the sound barrier for the first time? How about Yo Yo Ma describing Bach's Cello Suite No. 1 on the commentary track, while he's playing it? Music appreciation, with commentary from everyone in the Rock & Roll Hall Of fame, and the conductors of every world-renown symphony orchestra. Modern political history from former presidents and prime ministers. And on and on, endlessly. Every subject known to man, and produced like a Best Picture Oscar Winner, with an all-world all-star cast of people who know what in hell they're talking about.The sales revenues on the discs would keep those places open for damned near free, in perpetuity, and you already paid to build them.

Then get Mike Rowe involved as your spokesperson, and do the same things for every trade there is, from air conditioning to zookeepers. Sell it on Amazon, and let the trade organizations teach the hands-on, and test for mastery. Done. Over. No barriers to doing anything but your own interests and ability, and student and admin expenses would be a fraction of the current costs.

Make education the equivalent of learning in The Matrix, minus the giant metal port in the back of your head. Racking up education could/would be lifelong, and just like collecting Boy Scout merit badges.

Instead of the fornicated archaic Ponzi scheme that mainly just subsidizes mediocre assbags doing either socialist indoctrination, or simply wasting everyone's time and billions of dollars, all on the public teat?

First multi-gazzillionaire that does that, blows up the Leftard iron triangle forever, and I'm joining his march and subscribing to his newsletter. It would undo the Education Collective the way the internet blew up the recording industry.

Do that, and I could even settle for not getting my personal jetpack and flying car.

The fact that some guy tinkering in his bicycle shop might now qualify for three Ph.Ds might mean that he'd design and build the jet pack and flying car anyways.


loren said...

My son is in 4th year Geology in Australia. It's the most prestigious geo. school in Oz and in the top 2 or 3 in the world.
Most of his course lectures are online, either live or recorded. He mostly attends for labs and field work. The profs are mostly foreign and poorly spoken. They rarely if even have office hours. One even left for Europe half way through the course leaving a TA to monitor the class. Another class has a 70% fail rate. Not real sure how that works. A hard class but poorly thought out teaching method perhaps.
I read that government student loans are the drivers of tuition hikes. Perhaps we could start there.

Aesop said...

The loans are another Ponzi scheme, as student tuition here has gone up at 400% of the rate of inflation, for more and more worthless degrees.
When the bubble bursts, it'll crush the banks - again.

A rule of thumb for the ages is that everything government touches it turns to dung.

When banks were on the hook for student loans, if you majored in Portuguese literature or underwater basketweaving, you paid your own way. If you were pre-med or engineering, you got your loan.

And because people paid their own way more often than not, tuition was reasonable.
Now that's it's all government loans and indentured servitude for life, tuition has skyrocketed, and the degrees are garbage. But administration has tripled both in size and salary.