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Further Updates From #ASA2012: Men's Friendships, NCLB, and Outputs
August 20, 2012 - 7:20am

One of the great things about the ASA Annual meetings is the Film/Video Screenings. While I missed the one showing of Jessica Valenti’s The Purity Myth, I did get to catch Erik Santiago’s Five Friends, which was very moving. The film focuses on male friendships and centers on a 65-year old man named Hank. (While watching the film, I couldn’t help but think of my husband and 7-year old son who were participating in a Father/Son weekend at a boy’s camp on Squam Lake in NH (aka the On Golden Pond lake)).

On Friday, I had attended a presentation by Rachel Dwyer (Ohio State) on Gender, Debt, and Dropping Out of College and the topic of male college drop-out rates was one that interested many of us in the audience. Although Dwyer didn’t mentioned peer support groups in her presentation, Santiago’s film made me wonder what role the lack of these groups may play in retention of male college students. In my work with Ph.D. students (particularly at the dissertation stage), I have found peer writing groups to be a crucial component of retention and completion.  (UVenus writer Liana Silva has a recent post on this at her blog, Sounding Out).  If, as Santiago suggests, many men struggle to build and maintain meaningful intimate relationships with male friends, this impacts their ability to connect to a supportive peer group. (as the mother of a boy, I think about this quite a bit).

After a fantastic meeting with UVenus writer, Casey Brienza, I headed over to the Colorado Convention Center for a panel on Accountability Policies and Student Achievement. Deep into several No Child Left Behind (NCLB) presentations, I was enviously reading Sara Goldrick-Rab’s tweets on the Wendy Espeland’s presentation – Valuing Education: Why Media Rankings Rankle Higher Education – on one of my favorite topics, college rankings! (how had I missed this in the 350 page program guide!? For one, it wasn’t in a Sociology of Education session – perhaps I will write a post on the pros and cons of sections…). Luckily I tuned back into my panel just in time to catch Emily Meanwell’s (Indiana) presentation on Federal Education Policy and Inequality. Meanwell analyzed congressional hearings from 1965 and 2001 to look at the shift from inputs in 1965 (family income, inequality) and a focus on compensation to a shift to outputs in 2001 (scores, achievement gaps ) and a focus on quantification. In 1965, impoverished parents were identified as the problem and schools were presented as the solution. By 2001, the focus had shifted and failing schools were called out as the problem with parents holding schools accountable as the solution. Obviously, both of these scenarios are problematic and reality is a lot more nuanced – we need to consider both inputs and outputs. Thinking about higher ed, I think of a shift in framing college as a solution/path to the middle class to framing college as a waste of time and money and the intense focus on the link between college degree and job attainment.

After a panel of NCLB, I went on to more NCLB at Building a Better K-12 Education System. I couldn’t stay for all of this but I did stay long enough to hear Aaron Pallas (Columbia) talk about teacher evaluations and the public dissemination of those evaluations. This public release has the effect of presenting teacher quality (from highly effective to ineffective) as a commodity exchanged on the market.

I instantly thought of my son and the upcoming school year. What if I knew the rankings of the two second-grade teachers…wouldn’t I fight for the higher ranked teacher? Especially if the lower ranked teacher had been labeled ineffective? Would I threaten to leave the school if I couldn’t get him out of the ineffective teacher’s class? Would they move him to the other teacher’s class? Who would be left in the ineffective teacher’s class? The children of the parents who didn’t know about the evaluations and/or didn’t fight to have their children moved?

What if we did this in higher education? What if we ranked professors based on their outputs? If all of our students took standardized tests at the end of each semester – how would this change the way we teach? Who we teach? Who we recruit to our classes? Who we discourage from taking out classes?

Have you experienced something like this? If you thought you would be promoted or fired based on these outputs, how would it change your behavior?


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