Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Statistics, Inflation, and Higher Education

Statistics, Inflation, Higher Education

By Professor Doom


     I’ve been asked why I keep saying administration only uses retention and growth to decide how to run institutions, and don’t care at all about improving higher education, so before talking about faculty’s hand in destroying higher education, allow me to explain this conclusion.

     My training makes me use statistics to explain this conclusion, in this case a part of statistics called hypothesis testing, which is a method to check when you’re suspicious about something strange happening. The way how hypothesis testing works is first you make an assumption, typically a hypothesis that “what you’ve been told is the truth” as opposed to an alternative hypothesis that “something suspicious is going on.” Then, you look at your data. Next, you calculate the probability that you’d get data like what you see (or anything stranger) if you’ve been told the truth. If that probability is low, you reject what you’ve been told in favor of the alternative. If the probability is not low, then you figure that nothing unusual is going on, and your suspicions are unwarranted. “Low” is a matter of personal choice, but accurately calculating that probability is the core idea of modern statistics.

     There are many ways to calculate the probability, but a crude yet simple way is just to look at it as coin tossing, assuming a 50% chance that each data point will go to either one hypothesis or the other.

     So let’s take an example of hypothesis testing using this very simple method:

     Consider officially reported inflation of 2% (or so, varies a bit every year, but this is basically the number government insists is true). Now, the government gets this number using a fairly arcane method, and they change the rules for how they calculate inflation every few years. The government claims these rules changes are to get a more accurate representation of inflation.

     Maybe the government is telling the truth (stop laughing!), but it really seems to me that prices on average are going up more than 2% every year, so I’m suspicious about these rule changes. My basic hypothesis is the rule changes are as the government says, simply to better represent inflation. Since that’s supposedly the case, half the time the rules changes would move inflation up, and half the time inflation would move down (since the goal of the changes is supposedly accuracy, and not to minimize reporting of “real” inflation).

     Suppose the last eight changes to how inflation is calculated show that all eight changes reduced the reported inflation number. It doesn’t matter what the changes are, but some of them include geometric weighting to goods that aren’t increasing in price, assuming consumers don’t eat or use gasoline, assuming consumers won’t buy goods with increasing prices, assuming consumers get pleasure from increasing prices on improved goods to the point that price theoretically decreases even if it goes up—we’re talking really obscure arguments that are difficult to follow, much less calculate, but that’s the advantage of using a simple statistical method. It doesn’t matter what the changes are, what matters is that every time, the official inflation rate goes down.

     Basically, the coin was tossed 8 times, and came up “heads” eight times in a row. The probability of this happening, assuming the government is telling the truth, is 1 out of 256, or about 0.004. This probability is low enough that I, personally, believe the government is indeed making these rule changes to under-report inflation, and I reject the claim that the changes are only about better accuracy.

     Granted, any yahoo can pick up a pocket calculator, buy some stuff, come back in a year and buy the same stuff, and see with his own eyes that something’s screwy about government inflation numbers, but the previous is loosely how it’s done in a quantifiable way with statistics.

     Ultimately, statistical decisions are a matter of personal choice. 0.004 is low for me, but if you have enough faith in the government, 0.004 might not be a low enough probability for you to say the government is lying. Such people do exist, by the way (they don’t trust statistics, which I can accept, and won’t pick up a calculator and see with their own eyes, which I find bizarre).

     As an aside, statistical tests on whether smoking causes lung problems can get probabilities around 0.00000000000001, but it’s ultimately a personal decision on whether that’s low, which is why tobacco company executives can say with a straight face that they don’t believe there’s a relationship between smoking and lung problems.

    Now, back to higher education. Let’s assume administrators are changing policies just to make higher education better, and that improving retention and growth of the student base has nothing to do with it. Let’s list the changes in the last twenty years I’ve identified so far:

Easier admission (improved retention and growth)

Reduced standards for staying in college (improved retention and growth)

Encouragement of low content courses (improved retention and growth)

Encouragement of the belief that getting a degree is the path to riches (improved retention and growth)

Infinite withdrawal policy (improved retention and growth)

Introduction of remedial coursework to 3rd grade material (improved retention and growth)

Reduction of difficult course requirements (improved retention and growth)

Extensive convenient online offerings (improved retention and growth)

Encouragement of cheating (improved retention and growth)

Encouragement of group projects (improved retention and growth)

Extension of time to complete degrees (improved retention and growth)

Addition of many dubious degrees (improved retention and growth)

Ability to re-take courses that have already been passed (improved retention and growth)

Ability to take the same course several times simultaneously in a semester (improved retention and growth)

Heavy-handed encouragement of faculty to increase retention (improved retention and growth)

Encouraging students to get loan money to the students own detriment (improved retention and growth)

Elimination of mandated advising and course registration for students (improved retention and growth)

Reduction of tenure (no relation to improved retention and growth).


    I may have missed a few, but once again, the coin seems to be coming up heads nearly every time. Heavy reduction of tenure admittedly has no direct effect on retention and growth; I do feel that giving faculty no protection or means to protect higher education has indirectly led to the other policy changes that do affect retention and growth, but perhaps I’m biased. Other factors (such as making student evaluations the primary part of job performance) I haven’t yet discussed in these essays, so I’ll leave them off as well.

    That’s 17 heads out of 18 tosses, so we’re looking at a probability of around 1 in 30,000. This probability is just too low for me to consider that the rules changes are being made in the interest in education. So, I reject that hypothesis, in favor of believing that the administrators of higher education are using retention and growth as their primary means of policymaking.

     Maybe higher education administrators really do have the best interests of education at heart…but the data says otherwise, at least in my opinion on what “low probability” is.

      We’re closing in on August now, the time when people seriously consider going back to college. If you’re looking to go into higher education, realize the odds that administration isn’t going to screw you are about 30,000 to 1 (which, outside of the Ivy League, is close to the proportion of people that come out ahead after entering higher education).

      Still going to go to college? Good luck. I hope you beat the odds.



Sunday, July 28, 2013

Some new games in higher education


The Games Of Higher Education

By Professor Doom


Part 1: Technology Games

Once again the faculty is gathered and subjected to a new idea from Educationists, “Technology Enhanced Learning”:

Educationist: “By using this software for multiple choice questions, you can give partial credit for multiple choice questions.”

Faculty: “Isn’t simply guessing a form of partial credit for multiple choice exams?”

Educationist: “I don’t know about that, but the advantage to giving partial credit is now learners won’t get frustrated if they pick an answer that’s only close to correct. This will increase passing rates in your course, and retention.”

(We try out the software and use the default settings for partial credit)

Faculty: “You know, the way how you’ve got partial credit set up here, if a student just guesses randomly on every question, he’ll expect to get a 72 on any exam…that’s passing, and the student doesn’t have to know anything at all to pass.”

Educationist: “I’ve heard that before.”

Faculty: “…”

--With Education majors being such big customers of academic paper writing sites, perhaps it’s no coincidence that Educationists are perpetually defining down achievement.

     Every few years, administration gets excited about offering some new technological gimmick, always because they’ve been told employment of the gimmick will increase warm bodies. Despite the fact that the vast majority of studies show no significant difference between using these gimmicks or not, the vendors of such gimmicks always say their stuff really works, backed up with their own studies—much like studies paid for by tobacco companies generally don’t find any health issues with smoking.

     Often, the studies use a very biased sample (for example, preselecting only students that are interested in learning with the new technology to see if they learn using the new technology—students interested in learning generally learn better regardless of circumstance), or use a test-retest method on the same students, making it fairly easy to show improvement just by repetition. Sometimes the methods are very questionable to anyone with basic math skills, like my example above. It doesn’t matter how obviously invalid the new toy is, as long as there’s a promise of even a miniscule increase in retention, the new idea will be offered, and sometimes implemented regardless of what faculty have to say.


(E-mail from administrator): “I would like to see this website you’re making for the online course.”

(Reply from me):”Of course. Just click on this link.”

(E-mail from administrator):”I don’t understand. Can you come to my office and show me? I’ll be here all afternoon.”

(Reply from me):”Take your mouse pointer and click on the underlined words.”

(E-mail from administrator):”Come to my office today and show me at your convenience.”

--Once I received the grant for an online course, I had to make a website for it, though the site is now mostly shut down. I had no choice but to come to the administrator’s (spacious) office, and click on the link to get to my website. I note here that the administrator encouraged us, many times, to use technology. Granted, in 1998 not everyone knew all conventions of the internet. I guess.


     For example, administration encourages us to use Moodle, online software, for our multiple choice exams, because it’s been shown to increase retention. The default for multiple choice tests taken through Moodle is great from the student’s point of view: after the student makes his guess, the software tells the student if the answer is wrong, and gives the student the chance to change his answer.

     So, if the question is “DLKJFJG?”, the student selects “A”. If wrong, the computer warns him to select again. He then selects “B”, and so on, until he is told he is right. While I grant this does represent some problem solving skill by the student, this isn’t remotely learning, but that’s not the point. Statistical studies show that this system will help with passing rate, but one has to wonder if students are motivated to achieve real learning in this type of test-taking environment. Such questions are irrelevant, as Moodle does help with retention, which is all the administration cares about.

     Now, faculty giving such tests will generally notice student scores dramatically improving, and that increases passing rates. Increased passing rates result in praise from administration. Faculty could go and change the settings so that the tests are now somewhat legitimate but this would lead to reduced passing rates, student complaints, and pressure from administration. It…really is no wonder that student “success” improves with this software.


Part 2: Withdrawal Games


“Ok, my course grades for assignments are F, F, F, and F. What’s my average?”

--every semester, at least one student asks me this question. I find it particularly saddening when the student is in my statistics class.


     In the old days, dropping a course was a big deal, and a student could only do it 3 times throughout his 4 year degree. It wasn’t done lightly, but if a student was going to fail, dropping could save his GPA, and keep him from being kicked out of college.

     If a student’s GPA falls low enough, he may no longer qualify for scholarships and loans. It’s crazy how little is necessary for a “scholarship”…that word means little now, though in the past it only applied to top students. Students losing scholarships cuts into college revenue, and such is intolerable for the administration, so polices have changed what a scholarship means. While encouraging cheating and questionable course practices do much to prevent a low GPA, administration introduced a further tactic to help students get by: infinite and very late withdrawals. Now, a student registering for a course can drop the course, with no academic penalty, well past mid-terms, sometimes with just a few weeks before the semester ends. Only the most brain-dead can fail a course now, and students taking introductory courses five years into their degree program (having taken and dropped the course a half dozen times already) are now quite common.

     Up until now, sometimes I’ve referred to passing rates (the rate of students passing the course), and sometimes to retention rates (the rate of students not dropping the course). While these words should mean different things, when the withdraw deadline is deep into the semester, they really do mean the same thing. Nevertheless, just as “remedial” turned into “developmental,” and “student” turned into “learner,” so too has “passing” turned into “retention.”

     Keep this in mind, every time administration says to increase retention, what’s really being said is to pass more students. Retention and passing are the same thing. At one state university, I was called “pathetic,” among other unpleasant words, for not reaching the departmental goal of 85% retention, even as the top students consistently said I was one of the few faculty that was actually teaching anything. Keep that in mind: if 20 poodles signed up for calculus, the instructor had to decide whether to pass 17 of them, or look for another job. I remind the reader: accreditation has no problem with this.


Part 3: Fishing Games


“My father bought me this night course because I wasn’t learning anything at my high school.”

--explanation a 15 year old gave for being in my evening College Algebra course. She got a C on the first test, showing that indeed her background was a little weak. However, she aced everything past that point, scoring 30 points higher than the next highest score in the class on the university’s departmental Final Exam. And I’m pathetic. For those reading between the lines, yes, almost all students failed the departmental final exam, although administration saw no reason that would conflict with the departmental 85% passing rate (the faculty wisely chose not to make the final count for part of the course grade…but we still bothered with such finals, just for show).


     Despite all the pressure to offer ever more negligible courses, assisting the students in their own fleecing, there are nonetheless many faculty that still try to keep some small shred of integrity, desperately clutching their legitimacy despite the endless student complaints and consequent harassment from administration.

     Some faculty simply don’t want that harassment. Students needing to pass a critical course will systematically take each faculty member in a department until they find someone compliant, one that’s not interested in teaching. This process is called “fishing,” as in “fishing for an instructor that is easy.” Adjuncts make perfect fish; they have a very tenuous, very expendable, position at the institution, and know that student complaints will be the end of even their most menial job. A student’s best bet for getting an easy course is to take an adjunct, as adjuncts have no security and no defense against administrative pressure for low complaints and high passing rate. This is one more reason why administrators prefer hiring adjuncts over full time faculty, especially the uppity sort that think they should challenge and educate students.

     Unfortunately, fishing for an amenable instructor, withdrawing semester after semester until getting lucky, can slow down a student’s progress towards graduation. Thus, the withdrawal game combines with the fishing game to create a system where most students do not get their degree within six years of entering college. This is something of a scandal, and administration was quick to respond with policy changes to facilitate more rapid fishing.

     At one accredited institution students were allowed to register for multiple sections of the same course, dropping the redundant ones before the semester ended. How delightful! Now a student could fish out two, or even three, faculty members for a particularly problematic course (i.e., math), in a single semester, until finally landing the lunker. This was a great help for students trying to graduate quickly.

      This new policy pitted members of the same department against each other to offer the simplest courses possible. As an added bonus, this made achieving a high retention rate all but impossible—20% of a class could easily be these double- or triple-registered students—leading to even more chastisement of “under-performing” faculty not making their retention quota.

      How can there be any integrity in a system where admin can literally pit faculty against each other to offer the least amount of content in their courses?


Part 4: More Fishing, accidentally in a good way

     A slight variant of the fishing game is the new policy for students to re-take a course they’ve already passed, for a better grade. So, a student who gets a B in College Algebra can go fishing with another instructor, hoping for an A on the next try. Strangely, I’ve had students fish me like this and improve their grade from another teacher…and had students go from me and fish a better grade from that same other teacher. Taking a course multiple times can absolutely help a student better understand the material, although for the student it’s more about getting a better grade the second time around. I certainly understand the student focus on GPA, and actually respect students for doing this (it’s what they were trained to do in public school, after all), but if administration wanted students to graduate more quickly, they could just stop allowing students to re-take courses for relatively frivolous reasons. This is a classic example of a stopped clock being right twice a day: administration allows this type of fishing because it obviously helps with revenue and retention…coincidentally, legitimately taking a course multiple times also helps a student get an education.


I need a paper on 15th century sewage systems in Finland by Monday. It needs to be at least 10 pages long, with citations in APA style. Can someone help me? I need someone honest.”

--job posted on a site for writers-for-hire. Obviously, the professor was trying to pick a topic for which a ready-made paper would be unavailable, and was unaware that nowadays whole papers are written on demand. The request for someone honest caught my eye; in the detailed project description (which included a cut-and-pasted assignment description from the professor) the student complained the previous writer took his money and disappeared, hence the short notice. Rather makes me wonder at  weaker students that ask to turn in even very brief papers a week late, and then ask for more time…they probably can’t find a writer.




     So to summarize where we are, vast quantities of people are suckered into taking out loans for higher education. This education is certified very questionably by accreditation, but the simple fact is a significant proportion of these victims really aren’t going to benefit in any way from education, legitimate or not. Rather than being honest, and telling these people, “Look, we gave you a chance, we gave you the money, we even tried every ridiculous idea Educationists gave us, but no matter how much you cheat you’re really not going to get much out of this besides a lifetime of debt, go do something productive now,” numerous policies were enacted to keep these victims in the system for many years, deeply indebting them and harming their ability to earn an honest career.

     These abominable policy changes came from administration.  Because administration only cares about getting those loan checks, it becomes administration’s highest goal to maximize the number of checks coming in, and this naturally translates into maximizing the number of students on campus.  Up until now I’ve mostly pointed the finger at administration for many of the corrupted policies that define college education in America, and I admit to bias here in my estimation of ultimate responsibility. This assessment is a little unfair. If faculty, perhaps, had more of a collective spine, then maybe the corruption would not be so bad. I’ll address that soon.

     Until then, consider the following. For much of the 20th century, the American higher education system was a standard for the world, and attracted students globally. Has changing all the rules of higher education in the last 20 years improved anything at all? Besides administrative salaries for ruling larger institutions, of course.

Think about it.

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

One More Time: Cheating is Overwhelming in College

By Professor Doom


     Last time I discussed the paper-writing industry, making all papers submitted in online classes (and most in traditional classes) suspect. Online courses also have tests. Those are suspect, too.

  Admnistrator:    “Studies show that Integrity Oaths reduce the incidence of cheating.”

--it’s true, but the reduction isn’t much, still allows for a great deal of cheating, and the studies rarely consider the possibility that a cheater would break an oath made to a machine.

     I can’t help but suspect the widespread cheating I’ve observed with my own eyes is a huge factor in the greater success of college students in online courses. The primary, hysterically poor, defense colleges have against cheating is forcing students to agree to some sort of “Integrity Oath”, where they promise not to cheat. Would a cheater also lie on an oath? Administration seems to think “absolutely not,” and so considers such oaths to be an inviolable measure to prevent cheating. More likely, of course, administration doesn’t really care about the integrity of the institution.

     Tests administered to kids in public online schools are proctored and regulated, but at the college level, a student merely has to say he has integrity, via an Oath, to be allowed to take online tests without oversight. Most online tests are multiple choice or short answer, often with a time limit, and often the software won’t allow other programs to run while the test is being taken (to prevent a student from looking up the answers on the internet, for example). For a college student at home, of course, even if no ringer can be hired, it’s trivial to set up two computers if need be, or buy a smartphone, and simply search online for the answer to any multiple choice question…seriously, how is it that administration has never thought of this simple method to get around the laughable anti-cheating ideas in most online test-taking software?


“Grant money and special leave will be granted to faculty that translate their courses into a 100% online format.”

--the notice that motivated me to create an online statistics course in the 90s.


     Some colleges force online students to come into campus to take critical tests and exams, and this does grant some legitimacy to online courses, but this is discouraged by administration—forcing the student to come on campus violates the entire purpose of online courses reaching a wider market, after all. “100% online”, a course that does not require students to come to any campus, is the goal of most online developed courses for this reason. “100% online courses” maximize the increase in the potential student base, and integrity is casually sacrificed by administration for such a goal.

     Administration claims that it’s simply not feasible to set up proctored testing for online students scattered around the country, which is why no online schools have it. Somehow, they’re  unaware that Educational Testing Service (ETS) offers proctored testing centers across the country…it’s such an obvious measure to stop cheating on tests, but completely overlooked, “for some reason.”


   “I’ve looked over the two papers, and the students say the similarities are because they studied together. Give both these students a passing grade.”

--Administrator, overruling a faculty member who, strangely, thought it was unlikely students would type up word for word identical paragraphs in a two page paper.



     Cheating in college or elsewhere isn’t viewed the same as it was in times past. Although I’ve caught many a cheater, as have my associates, even the most egregious of violators will not be removed from college. The student rarely drops the course, forcing the faculty member to view the cheater very kindly or face a brutal evaluation—a cheating student’s opinion can actually influence a faculty member’s chance of keeping his job! Imagine if criminals could influence who could work as a security guard; I imagine wheelchair-bound, blind, deaf, prone-to-narcolepsy guards would be quite popular! The equivalent to these types of guards as professors certainly are popular on campuses.


     “If you give the student a 0 for the assignment, she will fail, preventing graduation this semester. Please allow the student to re-submit the paper.”

--Administrative semi-overruling how one faculty handled a cheating student. Sure, the faculty was politely asked, and could refuse…and look for another job next semester. If you punish a student for cheating, that student WILL go to admin and complain. Admin doesn’t like student complaints.


      The penalty for getting caught cheating is, most often, nothing at all past not getting a benefit for cheating. Imagine if the penalty for getting caught robbing a bank was limited to that you had to return any money you stole; with nothing to lose, anyone would give it a try. Under these circumstances, I don’t blame students for cheating, and cheating can’t be even be called disrespectful in a system nearly void of integrity in every way.

     Any serious attempt to find cheating succeeds on a wide scale; even with hundreds of incidents of cheating in a University of Florida computer course, there were no expulsions1. The students were even warned about exactly how they would be caught cheating in that course, and it changed nothing, they went ahead and cheated anyway using a method they were informed in advance would get them caught. One student even challenged what penalties she did receive, excusing her cheating because “students cheated in years past.” Hey, if one guy successfully robs a bank, that means it’s ok for me to rob banks too, right? Ok, maybe some students do rather have it coming.

     With student integrity at this level, and administration unmotivated to remove warm bodies for any reason, it’s madness to introduce a method of course delivery, online, that is perhaps the most conducive to cheating possible. With at least 60% of college students admitting they’re cheating (some reports put it at 98% self-reporting cheating), with cheaters having higher GPAs (more than half a point higher) than non-cheaters, 85% of cheaters believing cheating is essential to college success, 95% of cheaters not getting caught, and, most damningly, with the public more concerned about cheating than college officials, it’s unlikely the cheating issue will change anytime soon2. I have to use the word “issue” instead of “problem” when describing cheating, because my bosses don’t consider it a problem, unless the student gets caught and complains about whatever punishment I mete out. It’s been made clear that everything is best if the cheaters don’t get caught in the first place.

     Even if cheating weren’t a serious issue, it’s fairly clear from the unprepared online students that come to my traditional courses that learning is much reduced in an online environment. Employers, the “real world” if you will, also generally hold online degrees in low regard. Even from an accredited institution, online degrees are worth nothing when it comes time to get a job. My own institution generally tosses such applications in the trash when we have a position open.

     It’s no surprise that online learning is minimal; almost all students in the modern world spend a decade or more in the public school system, learning in traditional settings little different than at Plato’s Academy, a few thousand years ago: a teacher stands with students gathered around, paying attention and asking questions. This really is how most humans have learned for millennia: being taught by another human. It would be surprising if suddenly switching to a new method of delivery were particularly useful. It’s about as reasonable as a suddenly switching from holding your fork in your right hand to holding it in your left and expecting to eat a meal just as smoothly, if not better.
     Cheating is wildly rampant in higher education, but students are only a little to blame. They know there is no penalty, and considering how worthless most degrees are, there’s little harm. Does it really matter if the student with a degree in Political Science of Women cheated to get that degree? Still, the fact remains that higher education is a system where the bosses, the administration, are highly motivated to remove all integrity, and to punish faculty that dare keep integrity in the system.
     The promotion of cheating may be administration’s greatest achievement in undermining higher education, but they have other ways to improve “retention,” the only goal of administrators. I’ll address some of them in the next essay, but until then I encourage the reader to think of what these ways could be, the better to appreciate the extraordinary imagination of administrative avarice.
Think about it.



1)      Alcantara, Chris, “University of Florida Students Caught Cheating on Computer Science Projects.” The Independent Florida Alligator. March, 13, 2012.

2)      Online Education Database. “8 Astonishing Stats on Academic Cheating.”

Saturday, July 20, 2013


Online Student College Papers are Bogus.

By Professor Doom

“Half a dozen students turned in the same paper, word for word, in my course. One student changed the font, but otherwise, the same paper. There’s even a line in the paper where I think a cat walked across the keyboard, so the text reads ‘the elDLKSNLKNLKNSGectron…”, and no student chose to even edit that out.”

-- Any wonder at all how students got used to the idea that if they all turned in the same paper everything would be ok? This type of thing doesn’t happen out of the blue. None of the students were removed from the course, incidentally, so they’ll get to evaluate the professor and influence his performance evaluation.


     Last time, I presented documentation showing that online courses are disastrous for high school students in a controlled setting. Should the results for high school students be applicable for college? Considering how much of college work is material offered in high school, and how students are very close to the same age, the results should be similar, and yet according to many studies, they are not. Online work is disastrous for high school students, but studies show online courses are vastly more successful for higher education, as long as success is defined as “retention.”

      Because retention, keeping people enrolled as much as possible, is a primary goal of administration, there’s a huge push to offer more and more online work, and there’s also a side push to make more and more coursework as written papers—easier to submit online, I admit.

     The reason for the better success of the online student is obvious: the college student has much greater capacity to cheat in online courses, which have no supervision. He can do so in many ways.


“Mary, what did he give you on that last test? I used the answers you gave me, and he failed me.”

---E-mail from a student in my online course, accidentally sent to me. Students in the class formed a “study group”, something strongly recommended by Educationists. Such groups facilitate the trading of answers to test questions. More than half of the class used the answers referenced, which were correct for the test I gave the semester before…I had changed the test, but the cheating students, all of them, had neglected to see if the questions on the current test even came close to matching the answers they gave me for the old test (it wasn’t even a multiple choice test!). Admin stopped offering my course after that, though other online courses, with much higher passing rates, continued. Note carefully: catching students cheating is cause for punishment by administration, and a faculty member can never advance his career by doing so.


     Cheating is rampant in online courses, overwhelming, extreme, massive even. A student with a few dollars to spare will find it’s extremely easy to have a ringer to log in to his account and perform much of the work, or hire a “tutor” to sit next to him as he sits at home and takes an online test…or just share answers with friends, like in my example above. An entire industry has arisen filled with writers that will happily write custom papers (even Ph.D. theses) on demand, with frighteningly brief turnaround time.

     An exasperated—but making far more a year than I do—employee of the paper-writing industry, who claims that Education majors make up the bulk of his clients, wonders how professors can have no questions about a student that can barely speak English but write papers like his1. He’s never worked under a college administrator, obviously, hence his wonderment. I’m also on a website of writers for hire, though not specifically a paper-writing site, and while I agree Education majors are the majority of the “do my homework for me” assignments on offer, other fields are not without representation (I’ve only seen one physics thesis in ten years however, and none in mathematics). I emphasize: these are not students asking for editing help, or research assistance. They want whole papers, on demand, and are willing to pay well for them. I don’t take these offers, I get enough legitimate work…but it’s easy enough for anyone to do so.

Project Name: Weekely SIOP Lesson plan

Project Description:

Hello can you help with this assignment? if so what is your fee?Your final

assignment for EDU 6123…will be to develop a complete set of five lesson plans

for a unit of study (approx. 1 week in length) including all elements learned in

this course for effective instruction for English Language Learners.  Select the

specific area and grade level for your unit of study…The completed project should be 6-8 pages in length…should incorporate at least three scholarly sources

(including the textbook),…

--Another Educationist hard at work on an advanced degree, paid for with tax dollars, and buying some coursework with tax dollars. When the Educationist graduates, he’ll likely get a job paid for with tax dollars, too. At least there’s balance in this.


      There are many web sites that will literally write an entire paper for a student willing to pay for it. A top tier term paper site gets over 8000 hits a day, over the course of a year almost single-handedly accounting for all online students2! That is just one site, and there are plenty of others. Because there are so many sites, the cost of writing a paper isn’t much, a few hundred bucks for even an extensive paper—after plunking down $2,000 or more for a course, a student would be stupid not to pay just a bit more for guaranteed success. With these kinds of numbers, it’s impossible not to consider the reality of widespread cheating in online courses.  Think about that: it’s very possible that almost all online students are submitting work that is not their own.


  “The Dean’s office and my chair ‘expressed their appreciation’ for me chasing such cases (in December), but six months later, when I received my annual evaluation, my yearly salary increase was the lowest ever, and significantly lower than inflation, as my ‘teaching evaluations took a hit this year.’”

--NYU Professor Panagiotis Ipeirotis explaining how catching cheaters lowered his evaluations, hurting himself in the process. Poor guy thought that once he acquired tenure, he’d able to catch cheaters without penalty. The penalty for catching cheaters just for one semester might cost him $50,000 or more over the course of his career. That he waited until after tenure to try such a boneheaded move shows he had gotten the memo from administration earlier: do not catch cheaters. Either faculty get this memo their first day on campus, or after catching a cheater…but all get this memo.


     From the taxpayer’s point of view, insult is added to injury as college papers are almost certainly often paid for via student loans, as is the tuition of the student, and indirectly the salary of the faculty reading the paper, and the salary of the administrator that discourages the faculty from stopping cheating. The reader is encouraged to consider which could be taken out of the relationship to improve integrity.

     There is software that can detect plagiarism, but as the professor above shows, there’s a serious problem with it: it works. It reveals that much of college coursework is bogus. Administration was quick to solve the problem: they set things up so students check their papers with the software first, THEN turn it in only if it passes the software. Imagine if I could make all the counterfeit money I want, with no penalty if it detects as counterfeit (in which case I’m given advice on how to evade detection on the next attempt)…and I’m free to use it if it doesn’t detect as counterfeit. Administration then crows about how they’re stopping cheating. I can’t make this stuff up. Again.

     This is my 18th essay for Rense. I’ve shown the mythology of college is bogus, none of what people believe about going to college is true. I’ve shown accreditation is bogus, and does nothing to validate an educational institution. I’ve shown remedial education is simply plundering of the weakest students, leaving a documented 90% of them with nothing but lost money and wasted years of their lives. I’ve shown the field of Education to be primarily a justified laughingstock amongst scholars. And now I’m showing that even if a student has a degree, there’s no reason whatsoever to believe he did any legitimate work for it, at least in a field where much writing is involved. I’m not even halfway done showing how corrupted much of higher education is today…at the end, I’ll show how much of it could be fixed, I promise (no guarantees the people at the top would allow it, of course).

      Back to today’s discussion, having a college degree is still widely advertised as a way to get a good job. Now pretend you’re an employer. Knowing how rampant cheating is supported in higher education, why would you hire someone just because they have a general college degree? Now pretend you’re a parent. Why would you let your child get into endless debt (or pay his way) for such a degree?

Think about it.




1)      Dante, Ed.  (pseudonym) “The Shadow Scholar.” Chronicle of Higher Education. November 12, 2010. All college faculty should read this article carefully, to get a true vision of how pervasive cheating is at the college level.

2)      Online Education Database. “8 Astonishing Stats on Academic Cheating.”



Tuesday, July 16, 2013

An Obvious Question About Online Education

An Obvious Question About Online Education

By Professor Doom


Administration:  “We need to have more online courses, since we can offer these across the country and are more convenient to our students.”

Me: “Isn’t our charter as a community college to service, well, our community?”

Administration: “Expansion of our student base will allow us to provide more services here.”

Me: “We’re in a town with a population of 1,200. We have close to 3,000 students taking our classes. If we’re not able to offer enough services to the local community now, maybe we should consider restructuring ourselves to be more efficient.”

Administration: “More students is always better.”

--it’s so hard to argue such unassailable logic. Growth and retention are everything.


     In 2006, nearly 20% of college students were taking at least one online course, and the growth rate of online students exceeded that of traditional brick and mortar students , a trend that has not changed. The increase of students in 2011 was the largest to date. It’s not a stretch to believe that online education will continue to expand despite any real consideration of sanity—are there online courses in public speaking or motorcycle repair? You bet, dozens of them, even. Apparently there is no skill that can be learned online just as well as it would be in the real world.

     Online courses represent a bloated and easily squeezed cash cow for the accredited institution. Additional overhead is minimal for an already established institution, oversight is minimal, student complaints are generally easier to deal with (the student can easily be too far away to appear in person) and faculty can administer (I’m reluctant to use the word “teach”) several online courses with the same effort as actually teaching a single course. I’d already seen with my own eyes how online courses work.

     It isn’t simply 2 year and 4 year degree courses that are offered online, virtually everything is available from high school to Ph. D. degrees, all accredited, much of it accredited as legitimately as can be. It’s natural to question the effectiveness of all this coursework.  Before looking at how successful online education is for college, let’s consider a closely regulated education system, the public high school, and compare the evidence for success there when it’s tried online.

     Colorado invested vast sums of money into online education for their high school students, and examined the results. Dropout rates of online students were higher, by a factor of four. Money diverted to online courses came from closing “traditional” teacher positions, doubling up on problems when the failing online students returned to their traditional schools. Students leaving the program were further behind in their education than when they started.  In short, a disaster1.

     A suggested reason for the disaster was the selection method for online students: many students chose online courses as a “last resort” for learning. These weakest students, students already with little self-drive for learning, would definitely have issues when put into an online system where the only way to learn is through self-motivation. These types of students didn’t do well in online coursework, but there’s more to the failure of the system than that. A look at the data showed only a few students were “at risk,” with the range of ability for online students being comparable to a similar number of traditional students.

     Perhaps Colorado was a fluke, so I looked at other states. Online charter schools in Ohio, and Virginia likewise have graduation rates far below traditional schools. An online charter high school in Pennsylvania was shut down after a single year, it failed so badly, and online charter schools do worse in general than traditional schools2. More disaster. Again, failures are attributed to marketing/recruiting at-risk students, and that these schools were targeting the vulnerable, but this argument is probably just as valid in these states as in Colorado. Even if true, some colleges likewise target the least academically inclined, and victimize students with little comprehension of what it means to take on a student loan for college, so we should nonetheless expect similar results in college as in high school. 

      In other words, we should expect disaster, disaster, disaster, in college online courses.


“Help. I don’t know how to send you an e-mail.”

--e-mail from a student in my first online course.


     Despite our expectation of disaster, a recent comparison of 99 studies by the Department of Education showed that at the college level, online education is probably as successful as a traditional classroom setting3, and many studies show online education to be superior. “Success,” of course, is defined in the usual way—graduation rate, course grades, and other methods that are sometimes a bit suspect as far as determining if any education is going on in the course. It’s positively fascinating that online education is a near total failure for 17 year olds in high school, but very effective for people in college that are 18 years of age or older.

     There’s a big difference that makes online high school courses not the same as online college courses, even if both provide considerable latitude for the students to work at their own pace and time. In high school, the students still have to report to some “school” with computer-filled rooms, to perform their course work. Parent require supervision of their children, and so generally that’s how online pre-college schools work.

     On the other hand, college students have no supervision in an online course.

     This is quintessentially amazing, a striking demarcation in accomplishment. High school students with oversight fail. College students with no oversight do not fail. “18” is more or less the age of adulthood in America, the age of responsibility, and it’s possible that humans simply become dramatically more interested in education at this age. With “age of adulthood” varying so much around the world, however, this seems a weak argument for what is so special at this age that we see the difference in student performance rise so dramatically.


     “They’re cheating their asses off.”

--Faculty member suggesting a hypothesis for why online college work seems more successful.

     Normally I end these essays with a question. The question I could ask at this point is “how is it 18 year olds working alone at home with a credit card seem to do better on tests and essays than closely watched 17 year olds in a school?” but the answer is obvious, as my colleague above suggests. The real question is: how come administrators have never asked themselves that question, or guessed at the answer? Hint: catching cheaters would lead to students failing and thereby reducing growth and retention.


     Think about it.




1)      Hubbard, Burt, and Mitchell, Nancy. “Public Schools Also Lose When Online Students Fail.” September 8, 2012. Education Week.


2)      Center for Research on Education Outcomes. “Charter School Performance in Pennsylvania.” April, 2011. State Report_20110404_FINAL.pdf. The chart on page 8 says it all.



3)      United States Department of Education. “Evaluation of Evidence-Based Practices in Online Learning A Meta-Analysis and Review of Online Learning Studies.” September 2010.


Saturday, July 13, 2013

A look at a graduate course in Education

Let’s Take A Graduate Education Course!



     As part of my research into determining what happened to higher education to make it so different from what it was a few decades ago, I determined to take a graduate level course in Education, the field that brandishes so much influence over higher education today. Naturally, I shopped around before paying money for a course that would serve my purposes:


-  No Online courses with technology problems or cohort meeting times

-  No reading of 300 online computer pages and then writing 50 page reports.

-  No driving and travel time to class locations and no child care needed. 

-  Great for independent learners or you can take courses with other teacher collogues (sic).

---from the instructions and promotional material for the course. Typos happen. Yikes, there are online courses where you write 50 page reports? That’s scary. I bet that only happens in the most advanced graduate level online courses. In a later essay, I’ll show I lose that bet.


     The ad above is not exceptional. In the “old days” institutions of higher learning advertised how their programs had top people, and how graduates got top jobs. Now, they advertise ease and availability…are “we’ll take your money for anything and it won’t require much effort on your part” really good selling points for job training? Cost is seldom mentioned, since, gee whiz, government loans pay for it.

     Anyway, time and again faculty and students are subjected to the thoughts of Educationists, because administration is convinced these people really know what they are doing, and have such vastly superior capabilities they can tell everyone else how to improve learning. I had already seen at the undergraduate level Education courses had little to offer. I resolved to take a graduate level education course and see with my own eyes what kind of skills and knowledge are necessary to master the most advanced material of Education. Since so many of Education-type degrees are offered online, I decided to take an online course for 3 graduate hours, with a public (not for profit), accredited institution. I justified the tuition expense as necessary for my research.

     According to the course syllabus, completing the assignments should take me 45 hours, for a 3 credit hour course. This is an interesting number, as 14 weeks of meeting 3 hours a week, the typical brick-and-mortar semester, is 42 hours. It’s almost as though Education doesn’t really expect much effort from their specialists other than class time.

     What are the assignments? Read a book and write a book report. Also, read a research paper and write a small report. Next, prepare a lesson plan for a single class meeting. Finally, write a 2 page summary of what I learned in the course.


So How Do You Feel About What You Just Read?


    Educationist: “It’s not about learning how to spell properly. It’s about making the student feel good for what he did.”

--Educationist explaining why we shouldn’t really care about basic errors in student work. I give my non-native English speakers a break since I don’t actually teach English, but I still write down corrections in their e-mails and notes. The concept that students will learn what they are doing is wrong even if nobody tells them is core to Education, but is completely alien to me.


     The instructions for the course are a little contradictory, but doing the best I could to follow them, all four of the assignments put together consume around 25 pages of writing (and a like amount of hours of my time; the essay you’re reading now is about 5 pages). I was particularly thorough in my discussions, but I could easily see someone doing it all in under 20 pages (following the rubric, a dozen pages might be passing). As per the instructions, I concatenate all my assignments into one document, and tell the instructor what grade I’m hoping for based on my following of his rubrics (!). Then I get a grade.


Student: “You gave me an F on what I wrote about Plato’s thoughts.”

Faculty: “Your writings clearly show you didn’t understand what you read.”

Student: “That doesn’t matter. I wrote what I got from it.”

Faculty: “What you got was wrong.”

Student: “That doesn’t matter.”

--exchange between Philosophy professor and student, leading to an official complaint.


     The course book was an interesting read, and I certainly learned a little here, but I can’t help but have reservations over this course. There’s no interaction with the instructor, no feedback to know if I’ve done anything wrong so that I can improve my completely nonexistent Educationist skills, nor does the course allow any feedback.

    My book report instructions are primarily to write my own reflections on the material I’ve read; at no point am I to show that I understood the material in the book, much less take a test to demonstrate understanding. Just write my feelings down, and along with some lines about how I could use any of it in a classroom.

     I chose a real research paper for my report. Again, all that was necessary was to write my feelings down; I find it unlikely the professor for the course could understand the arguments made in the paper, or even cares. With most of my teaching covering material that I learned in high school, I have to admit there’s not much hope of finding much of direct use in my courses, although I do what I can to apply some of it.

     In well over 20 years of teaching, I’ve never written out an Educationist-style lesson plan, but I needed to write one for this course. I just followed along the lines of a lesson plan I found online, being sure to include group work; I would love to know if my imitation was sufficient, or what details I missed. My first lesson plan, ever…and I have no idea if my plan is even coherent. I feel like it was, and I guess that’s good enough for graduate level Education.

      Finally, I wrote another two pages of my feelings about the book and course, basically summarizing the results from the previous three assignments.


Your assignments have been received and they are

very good. An A Grade has been submitted. You

can order a transcript now. See attachment for directions on

how to order transcripts.


--My most extensive communication with the instructor. Guess I know what I’m doing, then. I remind the reader: this is from an accredited institution. This is how the teachers of your children get qualified to do so.


     And that’s the course. I actually did the work, but if I had hired someone else to do it (there are many online sites that write papers on demand), there’s utterly no way the teacher of the course could possibly know, having never seen my face or signature. I gained some minimal skills out of it, I suppose, although I have no way of knowing for sure. Ten of these courses, twenty weeks of effort at most, and I could have a Master’s Degree in Education, “specializing” in mathematics, no doubt (this would qualify me to teach college level mathematics, and yes, this actually happens now, with graduate “Math Education” degree holders getting “math professor” positions but unable to teach our first year math courses). This education seems to be little more than a straight transfer of money from me to the school in exchange for a piece of paper asserting that I know something…an assertion based on one long e-mail that could easily not be from me.

     Curiously, my annual evaluation at my institution dropped sharply after taking the course…as though this level of prolonged exposure to Educationism has actually damaged my ability to do my job of education. Perhaps in a later essay I’ll discuss how my job performance is evaluated; it’s good for laughs.


      “You remember (name), the one you failed in College Algebra? She’s now teaching 7th grade math.”

--A friend let me know how one of my former students is doing, now teaching one of my friend’s children. She got her degree in Education, and thus is qualified now to teach any subject.”College Algebra” is basically 10th grade math, so I guess her students won’t be shortchanged much.


      Bottom line, this course was nothing like the courses I took in graduate school. In those courses, I had to demonstrate that I actually had gained skills and learned something…I had to do more than just show up for class. With my own eyes, I’ve seen that Education coursework is marginal, both at  undergraduate and graduate level. I’ve read much about how graduates of undergraduate Educationism have done little for the public schools, and I see what they’re doing in higher education.

      After seeing the void that is Educationist training with my own eyes, the next question that came to mind was basic: how did it come to pass that Educationists gained so much power over higher education? I resolve to look into administration soon.

     Until then, note that the homeschooling movement has grown by leaps and bounds over the last few years, and consider the question: Why shouldn’t parents just teach their own children rather than send them off to teachers who don’t necessarily know anything? How much of higher education could be handled the same way?

Think about it.