Wednesday, September 27, 2006

This is probably ...

... for subscribers only, but What Do You Know? in this morning's WSJ is certainly dismaying.
  • In a 60-question multiple-choice quiz ,"college seniors failed the civic literacy exam, with an average score of 53.2 percent, or F, on a traditional grading scale." And at many schools "seniors know less than freshmen about America's history, government, foreign affairs, and economy."
  • Among college seniors, less than half--47.9%--correctly concluded that "We hold these truths to be self evident, that all men are created equal" was from the Declaration of Independence. More than half did not know that the Bill of Rights prohibits the governmental establishment of an official religion, and "55.4 percent could not recognize Yorktown as the battle that brought the American Revolution to an end" (more than one quarter believing that it was the Civil War battle of Gettysburg that had ended the Revolution).
  • As for the 50 colleges that participated in the program, the best-scoring students were not from the institutions one might expect. Rhodes College, Colorado State University and Calvin College were the top three, with senior students averaging between 9.5 and 11.6 percentage points higher than freshmen.
    At the other end of the scale were 16 schools that showed "negative learning"--that is, seniors scored lower than freshmen. Cornell, UC Berkeley and Johns Hopkins were the worst three, their seniors scoring between 3.3 and 7.3 percentage points worse than their freshmen. And on the negative list were some other very prestigious universities: Williams, Georgetown, Yale, Duke and Brown.


  1. At the summary page, we find this under "Recommendations:"

    The report concludes with five recommendations aimed at improving undergraduate learning about America's history and institutions:

    --improve the assessment of learning outcomes at the college and university level;

    --increase the number of required history, political science, and economics courses;

    --hold higher education more accountable to its mission and fundamental responsibility to prepare its students to be informed, engaged participants in a democratic republic;

    --better inform students and their parents, public officials, and taxpayers of a given university's performance in teaching America's history and institutions;

    --and build academic centers on campuses to encourage and support the restoration of teaching American history, political science, and economics.

    ISI offers this report with the hope that it will stimulate corrective action and accountability among those immediately responsible for higher education—trustees, donors, alumni, parents, public officials, administrators, faculty, and students. It is still possible to improve the teaching at our colleges and universities of America's history and institutions, and thereby to forestall the coming crisis in citizenship.

    I'm at work, so need to read more, but I would like to see if the results could also be correlated to how supportive the college environment is for the students it has taken responsibility for, how geared up are they really to administer a good or "positive" learning environment for hundreds or thousands of new adults.

  2. Is this the same report that sparked Margaret Spellings' plan to overhaul American higher education, a/k/a, at least to this writer, as No College Student left Behind? It certainly echoes some of the things she says she wants.

    "Improve the assessment of learning outcomes" -- does that mean "find out if students know stuff"?

    As for Spellings' plan to create a massive database to help American education comsumers make their way in the college marketplace, don't Republicans oppose big government? I suspect that as this plan inches closer to reality, there will be much talk of empowering consumers or, better yet, "empowering the American family."

    Sorry if I ramble. I'm in Philadelphia and so consumed by the story of a football player who took a couple of extra pills that I'm finding it ahrd to muster the composure to post at all.

    Detectives Without Borders
    "Because Murder is More Fun Away from Home"