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Posted at 02:44 PM ET, 08/29/2011

Why U. of Texas academics blasted Gov. Rick Perry

Texas Gov. Rick Perry (R) is not only fighting the Obama administration over K-12 education, but is also in a battle with academic leaders in the University of Texas system over the future of higher education in the state.

The controversy revolves around a set of proposals for higher education reform that was issued by the conservative Texas Public Policy Foundation, a think tank linked to Perry. The “7 Solutions” advanced to improve higher education in the state promote business-driven changes that would view students as customers and evaluate faculty members by the tuition revenue they generate.

In a response entitled “Maintaining Excellence and Efficiency at the University of Texas at Austin, leading academics at the University of Texas at Austin bluntly wrote that the proposals “seek to approach complex issues with “simple tools” or “one-size-fits-all” solutions.”

“If implemented, they will likely lead to structural changes in higher education that will leave Texas lagging behind other states and drive top students and faculty away. Put simply, this is the wrong approach,” it said.

Critics across the state have called the seven proposals “the seven deadly sins,” according to the Dallas Morning News.

With some polls showing Perry now leading the gaggle of Republican candidates for the party’s presidential nomination, more public attention will be given to the impact of his support of business-driven school reform on all levels of public education.

Perry has been at odds with the Obama administration’s education policy more than any other governor, denouncing the Race to the Top competition for federal funds as an attempt at a “federal takeover of public schools.”

However unpalatable it was in its attempt to drive school reform in an unproven and questionable direction, it wasn’t that.

But Perry does support the business-driven reform notions that underpin some of the Obama agenda, which effectively views the nation’s public education system, which should properly be operated on a civic model, instead on a competitive business model.

That is true in K-12 education as well as in higher education, as made clear in the proposals advanced by the Texas Public Policy Foundation and embraced by Perry. For example, it recommends in a section that discusses how to improve teacher efficiency and effectiveness:

1. Gather the data and measure teaching efficiency and effectiveness.

a) Compile the following information for each teacher

i) Salary and benefit costs.

ii) Number of students taught in the last twelve months

iii) Average student satisfaction rating

iv) Average percentage of A’s and B’s awarded.

b) Divide the total employment cost for each teacher by the number of students taught, and force rank from highest cost per student taught to lowest cost per student taught.


c) Compare student satisfaction ratings and grade distributions.

d) For high-cost faculty, collect and read all research articles published in the last twelve months.

2. Publicly post the student satisfaction ratings and number of students taught for each teacher in several prominent locations at their respective colleges. This will help students identify the best teachers and encourage all teachers to improve their effectiveness and efficiency.

As the response from the university academics properly notes: “Using salaries and class sizes to measure quality betrays an oversimplified understanding of teaching and learning.”

It further says the Texas foundation “does not provide a source for its claim that ‘research shows that student satisfaction ratings remain one of the best measures of teaching effectiveness.’ The research we have reviewed explicitly contradicts this claim.”

Other suggestions in the “7 solutions” are equally nonsensical, and Perry’s support shows that his education agenda is no more grounded in research and sense than the Obama policies he blasts.

The report from the academics notes that Texas public higher education faces many challenges: “statewide, 17 percent of students graduate in four years and about half finish in six. Just 62 percent of Texas high school seniors took the SAT or ACT in 2009. Of those, only 27 percent scored at least 1100 on the SAT or 24 on the ACT, the gold standard of performance that top colleges expect.”

It continues:

“Although the state has made some progress in closing achievement gaps in higher education, it continues to miss several important targets on goals established in 2000. These include increasing Hispanic enrollment, awarding more degrees to African American students, and awarding more degrees in fields related to technology

The response, written by the dean of the university’s College of Liberal Arts, Randy L. Diehl, and the college’s executive leadership team, says further that the “7 solutions” are suggested to be applied at all public institutions in Texas, failing “to recognize the different missions of, and populations served by, these systems.”

“They offer the same ideas, for example, to the regional University of North Texas, with 37,000 students in three units, and the statewide University of Texas, with nearly a quarter-million students in nine universities and six health institutions.

“The proposals also fail to recognize the unique contributions and strengths of the individual schools. The University of Texas at Austin, for example, is the tenth most efficient public research university in the country in using limited amounts of tuition and taxpayer funds to graduate large numbers of students.”

Meanwhile, in another move that touches on education, Perry managed to insert into a school finance bill this summer a provision that keeps his travel records sealed for 18 months.

As my colleague Sari Horwitz explains in this Washington Post story, that conveniently keeps his travel expenses secret past the 2012 presidential election.

Texas legislators had twice refused proposals to keep the travel expenses private, but Perry didn’t give up.

Lawmakers often attach to legislation provisions that have nothing to do with the thrust of the original bill, but it may be a first that a governor used a school finance bill to keep his travel records secret.

According to the Houston Chronicle, attorneys for the Texas Department of Public Safety argued that Perry’s security could be compromised if the public knew the exact details of his detail, such as how many officers accompany him or where he actually goes.

How they did that with a straight face is beyond me.

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By  |  02:44 PM ET, 08/29/2011

 
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