Monday, May 20, 2013

So, last time around I spoke of the new plan to fix remediation, which the majority of students entering higher education need (and I remind that 90% of these remedial students get nothing from their time here but a lifetime of debt). The new program was headed by someone who misled us as to her qualifications, while administrators, who had to know the deception, stood by and said nothing.

We were told many times now wonderful, absolutely amazing, the new program was, and how well loved it was by the students. But, looking around online, students had something different to say:
 

Faculty: “Did you see her students’ comments on Ratemyprofessors.com?”

Me: “Crap, I was going to tell you about it. I didn’t think anyone else goes there.”

Faculty: “I thought I’d do some investigation.”

--Faculty are not stupid, we know better than to take anything from administrators at face value. We also know when administration wants us to “say something about” their new ideas, they only do so because it’s easier to cram things down our throat if we open our mouths first.

 

     My online search also found what students had to say about her, and indirectly the program, at Ratemyprofessors.com. Despite the professor’s presentation claiming great teaching skills, she has miserable ratings there. Now, I grant, only the most irate (and probably failing) students would go to an online site and post their complaints, but after being forced to watch videos of testimonials from students about how life-changing—I’m not exaggerating their claims!—the new program is, I think it’s fair to present testimonials biased in the other direction.

     She’s rated in several categories at Ratemyprofessor.com, but “easiness” is by far her best category. Granted, “easiness” isn’t on a collegiate student evaluation of teaching form, but this website caters towards student desires. An administration that was actually curious about challenging students-- critical to education!--would have such a question on the evaluations, and it’s very telling that there is no such question on the evaluations. Qualitatively, here are some abbreviated quotes, some are obviously from students in the program with this teacher5

“Hardly a teacher at all. All she does is talk, talk, talk. The second day of class she taught us how to turn on our calculator. The tests don't make sense.”

“HORRIBLE!!! she is so rude and doesnt seem like she cares about anyone including her TAs. She acts as if she is better than everyone and her lectures are completely WORTHLESS. STAY AWAY!”

“A lot of people don't go to the lectures because they are extremely boring and attendence doesn't count but sometest questions ome straight from lecture. The labs are never fully coordinated. Tests are all about theory more than solving problems. Use the answer choices to solve test questions.”

“Her tests are always about concepts with no actual calculations of answers.”

“Her tests are all on principles and alghorithms. There were hardly any problems you had to actually solve”

“stay away from this teacher taking this class with her will be the biggest waste you will ever come across”

“Wholly education/grant-funded class. Does a horrible job explaining in class. Try to get a different professor unless you enjoy being taught like you're in middle school.”

     Not a single student gave a positive review, not one, but I’ll happily concede considerable bias at that site. Looking too closely at negative student evaluations usually isn’t a good idea, but when the same specific complaints keep coming up over the course of years, that usually means there’s some truth to it. Complaints like this had to have turned up in student evaluations administered at her school…and yet, administration never wonders at students consistently saying the course is strange in some way, instead only looking at passing rates. In reviewing her complaints and ratings, a more reasonable conclusion about her higher passing rates would be that she just gives easy multiple choice tests where you can get the answer just by reading the questions, the program has nothing to do with it. All administration saw was higher retention, issues like “waste of time” in the course are insignificant next to the only goal of merit to an administrator.

     After the pitch, the head pitchman tells us that when this program is tried at other institutions, retention rates vary from 25% to 77%; in other words, outside of controlled situations, the co-requisite plan doesn’t seem to be working at all. He asks that if we get a high retention, we should contact him and tell us what we did so they can put that in their recommendations for the program. Some faculty drove hundreds of miles to be told how to implement this plan (sic) to improve retention, and the people pitching it already know it doesn’t work and are looking for help.

     Time and again, bad statistics, methods anyone with basic knowledge of the subject would know to be invalid, are used to justify a new change. Is it any wonder at all that education of remedial students hasn’t improved under any of these plans?
     It's nuts.