Our Opinion

Our Take On Issues In Education

1. A Few Pointers About the College Application Process

There are many ways to define success in the college application process.  For the majority of high school students (and their families), the two most common elements that characterize success are: (1) being accepted at your number one choice institution and (2) getting a “free-ride” at that number one choice college/university (…………. how else can you beat this?).  But, whatever your criterion for success in the college application is, one thing is clear – the student (the applicant) MUST put in a lot of “sweat hours.” For beginners, in order to be successful, you (the student) must invest some serious time in ……………….

  • Making sure that you are getting very good classroom grades – especially in courses that are more difficult, such as AP, IB, Honors, dual credit, etc.
  • Investing some time to achieve good standardized test scores (ACT or SAT or TOEFL, etc.)
  • Participating in quality school activities throughout your high school years
  • Writing a great college essay or two
  • Developing quality relationships with your teachers, school staff and your neighbors – this will make it easy for you to receive great letters of recommendation
  • YES, applying for scholarships and other financial assistance!

Generally, the responsibility for initially laying out a clear college application plan (for the student) that includes elements discussed above lies with the parents first, and then the school counselors.  This is because these discussions must be held at least once a year during the high school freshman and sophomore years, and then more frequently during the high school junior year.

Once again, this process requires the student to invest considerable time and energy in order to be competitive and successful.  So, be mindful and considerate of (a) the demands of your schedule, (b) your energy level, (c) limits to the good will of your recommenders or referees, and (d) problems associated with procrastination!

~ Dr. Cleo Samudzi

2. On Measuring Quality in Education

What is quality and how do we measure it?  Quality is one of those concepts that we are all very sure of, but cannot seem to articulate precisely what it is.  Perhaps the main reason is that we often contextualize the term in our discussions, or the understanding of quality becomes obvious in any discussion so that clarification is not necessary.  Let’s consider a few examples of context-based understanding of quality:

  • Quality in health care means receiving the right care, at the right time, and in the right way – and getting the best possible outcomes. Should cost factor into the quality understanding here?
  • Water quality is defined in terms of the presence or absence of undesirable/harmful chemicals and particulates in the ‘drinking’ water. The Water Quality Association has a quality set of standards for water treatment facilities.
  • The quality of a clothing item might be described in terms of appearance, fabric, texture, etc.

What about quality in academics or education?  How do educators talk about quality of education – especially at educational institutions?  There is no clear consensus.  Traditional academic views of quality differ and have been widely replaced by more ‘marketplace’ views which hold that quality is whatever we do that makes our ‘customers’ happy.  Over-reliance on this ‘marketplace’ view borders on being irresponsible.  What we do know is that quality at an educational institution is complex and multidimensional.  Below is a summary chart showing a few elements that must be considered in any discussion of quality at an educational institution (i.e., any school in the P-20 system).  On the left are the major/key elements, and on the right are quality measures – the list is not exhaustive. The quality analysis is performed at the unit or departmental level, and applies to K-12 and higher education institutions alike – with identification of the appropriate “Quality Indicators or Measures”.

Unit or Departmental Evaluation of Quality
Major Element or Criterion Quality Indicators or Measures
Faculty/Teacher Qualifications ·   Academic  credentials – educational background

·   Qualifications of adjuncts and/or part-time instructors

·   Faculty/teacher development opportunities

Faculty/Teacher Productivity ·   Teaching loads, students advised/supervised

·   Faculty scholarly activities

·   Research funding

·   Service contributions

·   Academic outreach

·   Collaboration with other units or programs or departments

Efficiency ·   Trends in unit costs

·   Faculty/student FTE

·   Faculty/staff FTE

·   SCH/faculty FTE

·   Revenues/SCH

·   Revenues/costs

·   Operating budget/ Faculty FTE

Curriculum Quality ·   Planning processes

·   Quality control mechanisms or continual improvement process

·   Clear learning goals

·   Balance between breadth and depth

·   % courses denoted as “active learning”

·   Program accreditation (if available)

Pedagogical Quality ·   Processes for evaluation of teaching

·   Engagement in collaborative teaching

·   Class size

·   Quality of syllabi (clarity, consistency, etc.)

·   Adoption of effective of technology

Student Quality ·   Recruitment strategies

·   Acceptance ratio and selectivity

·   Demographic diversity

Student Productivity ·   Enrollment patterns

·   Number of majors

·   Number of transfers-in

·   Demands on students

·   Retention/graduation rates

·   Degrees awarded

·   Time to degree

Learning Outcomes ·   Processes for evaluation of learning

·   Student satisfaction

·   Grade distributions

·   Student achievements

·   Performance in capstone courses

·   Student placement

·   Employer satisfaction

·   Alumni satisfaction

·   Performance on licensing/certification; GRE scores, exams, standardized tests

·   % graduates entering graduate school or other professional schools

Adequacy of Resources ·   Laboratory/computer facilities

·   Faculty offices

·   Classrooms

·   Support staff

·   Enrollment capacity

Contribution to Institutional Priorities ·   Centrality to institution

·   Relationship to other programs

·   Contribution to economic development, other social benefits

·   Service to non-majors, continuing education

·   Fit with strategic plan

·   Student demand

·   Employer demand

~ Dr. Cleo Samudzi

3. Valuing All Educational Pathways Including Technical Education

We recognize that the goal of the American K12 education system (whether it is at a private school, a charter school or a public school) is multidimensional, and includes the following key concepts:

  • To develop individuals with minimal intellectual, social, emotional and intercultural competence (we understand that “minimal” is interpreted differently in different communities throughout the country).
  • To develop tools for an effective workforce in order to contribute effectively to the economy.
  • To equip learners with skills necessary for success in the post-K12 advanced education.
  • To create an informed electorate in a participatory democracy.

It is clearly not enough for K12 schools to create curricula to accomplish the key concepts described above.  Since the K12 system does not exist in isolation, institutional partnerships between K12 schools, local/regional businesses and high education must be formed.  If these partnerships are structured appropriately, their purposes may be summarized as follows:

  • Partnership between K12 schools and local/regional businesses: this partnership will regularly evaluate the workforce needs (education and skills) of local/regional businesses and recommend changes in (or creation of) educational programs in the secondary schools.
  • Partnership between K12 schools and local/regional colleges/universities: this partnership will regularly evaluate the success of learners during the first two years of college and recommend adjustments in the K12 curricula and/or rigor.  In these partnerships, the role of community colleges is critical because these colleges function as pivotal bridges between the vocational/technical education offered in secondary schools and valuable soft and hard skills needed by businesses.

An effective K12 education system not only recognizes that students will take various paths, but goes onto identify those educational pathways and provides concrete support by way of creating high quality programs to support the skills and interests of their students.  It is in this vein that we emphasize that we cannot undervalue technical education and its role in effective workforce development.

~ Dr. Cleo Samudzi

4. Clues for Success in the Online Learning Sphere

For the past 18 months or so, we have experienced a significant disruption of normal activities in the American formal education system (from elementary/grade school through colleges/universities).  The obvious source of this disruption is the COVID-19 pandemic.  While we relied on public health officials to provide overall guidance and leadership in reducing or slowing the virus and its effects, many other aspects of our lives were also affected.  The purpose of this note is to emphasize important adjustments that many students made (and continue to make) in order to be successful in the new learning environment, especially high school students.

One very “visible” change that took place in the learning process, in secondary schools and universities alike, is in instructional modalities.  In particular, and out of necessity, learning institutions converted face-to-face in-classroom instruction to online instruction.  Many of these changes have lasted beyond the peak of the COVID-19 pandemic.  The important point here is that students MUST respond well to “new ways” of learning.  Students must understand that, in order to be successful online learners, they must push themselves to adopt new behaviors, develop new skill sets and new habits.  Here is what we believe it takes to be a successful on online learner:

  • The student must be self-motivated and self-disciplined. If you are working alone, without someone physically present to tell you to be on task, the temptation is to spend significant valuable time on distractions such as video games, social media (Facebook, twitter, etc.), talking on the phone with friends, and many others.  Self-discipline is about having enough self-control not to allow distractions to take you away from your focus.
  • The student must be comfortable communicating in writing with your instructor and classmates – in asking questions, making online classroom comments and participating in online class discussions.
  • The student must be unafraid to seek assistance and ask questions when needed.
  • The student must be able to stay on a schedule and meet deadlines. This is about effective time-management skills: using the syllabus, weekly checklists, and an online calendar and assignments tool. The student must follow the course schedule and meet weekly assignment expectations. Students typically spend 15-20 per week per course.
  • The student must be comfortable with the technology. This means that the student must learn to use online learning technology effectively and contact student support for technological help as soon as they encounter a problem.
  • The student must develop overall skill strengths in reading and writing. Many online courses rely on written material, recorded video, and podcasted audio. In addition to weekly readings, course content may include weekly online “lecture notes,” supplemental readings, articles, case studies, and discussions. Students participate in the course through regular, written assignments, discussion posts, and project work.

This is what it will take to be successful in this new learning environment called ONLINE LEARNING.  As educational consultants, our role is to help students understand each of the characteristics above and how to successfully implement them. 

~ Dr. Cleo Samudzi

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