The Spellings Commission and the Case for Professionalizing College Teaching

By Brint, Steven | Academe, May/June 2008 | Go to article overview

The Spellings Commission and the Case for Professionalizing College Teaching


Brint, Steven, Academe


If we ourselves reconstruct teaching as a profession, we'll head off those who advocate external control.

Today we face a challenge to the organization of higher education that, however it is resolved, will transform the enterprise. That challenge goes under the name "learning outcomes," or sometimes "accountability." It is a challenge brought largely by those outside higher education and is based on criticisms of the performance of college and university instructors in the face of heightened public expectations. One resolution to the challenge may be the adoption of standardized testing for learning outcomes; another may be the establishment of greater professionalism in college teaching.

Taking steps to professionalize college teaching can improve the quality of teaching while leaving intact three essential features of higher-level teaching and learning: (1) the centrality of discipline-based knowledge systems; (2) the plurality of approaches that contribute to the formation of well-educated adults; and (3) the transformative potential of the college teacher who joins reason to creative insight. If we take the initiative to enforce standards of professionalism, the faculty itself, rather than external regulators, will be in charge of accountability in higher education. It will not be easy to bring greater professionalism to college teaching, because graduate education has, understandably, focused on research rather than teaching. But the future of higher education may ride on our willingness to make the effort.

Calls for Accountability

In 2006, Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings's Commission on the Future of Higher Education issued a report highly critical of the performance of America's colleges and universities. The report proposed incentives for the adoption of standardized testing to make higher education accountable to "consumers." Although the implicit model for the commission's recommendations, the No Child Left Behind Act, had by 2006 already failed to deliver on its promises for continuous growth in student language and math proficiency and had provoked a bitter, if largely unpublicized, backlash among classroom teachers, the Spellings Commission's report has not faded away. Learning outcomes are on the agenda of virtually every public educational system and nearly every institution of higher education in the country. Two of the leading higher education associations, the American Association of State Colleges and Universities and the National Association of State Universities and Land-Grant Colleges, have begun a voluntary system of accountability, which authorizes six competing test instruments as sources of information on learning outcomes.

A large part of the success of the Spellings Commission must be attributed to the growing opposition of much of the American public to continuing "business as usual" in higher education. Americans are very concerned about escalating tuition costs and want to be assured that they are spending their money on something of value. They like the idea of "accountability" and measured improvements in learning and are not confident that higher education will provide such accountability without outside pressure. In a 2002 survey commissioned by the Educational Testing Service, a near majority of Americans said they wanted "more accountability" for student learning in college. Slightly larger proportions of respondents said they considered "low standards" a "very serious" issue in higher education and wanted a role for government in ensuring "cost and quality." Accountability was on the higher education policy agenda of many states long before the Spellings Commission issued its report. The commission only pushed accountability closer to the top of that agenda and made it a national issue.

The CLA

Few anticipate a future for postsecondary accountability that looks like K-12 accountability. The most widely praised of the current learning outcomes instruments, the Collegiate Learning Assessment (CLA), aims to assess capacities much higher on Bloom's taxonomy of cognitive skills than the state K-12 tests. …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Sign up now for a free, 1-day trial and receive full access to:

  • Questia's entire collection
  • Automatic bibliography creation
  • More helpful research tools like notes, citations, and highlights
  • Ad-free environment

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited article

The Spellings Commission and the Case for Professionalizing College Teaching
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Full screen

matching results for page

Cited passage

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited passage

Thanks for trying Questia!

Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

Already a member? Log in now.