Defining A High Quality Education for All StudentsTestimony prepared for the Public Hearing of the Joint Committee to Develop a Master Plan for Education: Kindergarten through University


I want to thank the Joint Committee for their invitation to testify and to engage in a thoughtful discussion about high quality education.

The Academic Senate for California Community Colleges represents the local academic senates of all 108 colleges. We provide expertise in academic and professional matters to the Chancellor and Board of Governors as well as to the Legislature and Governor's Office.

The Academic Senate for California Community Colleges urges the Committee to beware of quick fixes or simple solutions; we believe there are no shortcuts in education.

As much testimony before the Committee has already stated, while it is essential to attend to outcomes, the move to look only at outcomes, without attention to the requisite educational support structures to ensure them, will shortchange our students. Educational equity means just that: equity. Of the educational experience as well as of the outcomes. This includes well-equipped schools, good teachers, as well as opportunities to explore and experiment beyond what is immediately useful or test related.

The best schools encourage creativity, support inventiveness and open ended inquiry: the ability, as the current clich puts it, to think "out of the box," not merely the ability to bubble it in.

This intellectual legacy is the hallmark of the higher educational system in the United States, and it is the right of all to inherit it, not a narrowed, quantitative, or numbers driven reduction.

The point of a quality education is to help our students master a basic proficiency level to be sure, but more than that, it is to encourage the development of their humanity.

The Academic Senate for California Community Colleges, in its paper, "The Future of the Community College: A Faculty Perspective," identified a quality education as one that is "maximally productive of humane values and which contributes toward students becoming informed, compassionate and productive members of their communities. The faculty believe.that democracy requires an educated citizenry, literate people who are capable of making informed choices, and that the development of such citizens should be the primary task of a `democratic' educational system." (p. 5) `Education' is defined in the paper as "the actualizing of the potential of human beings." In other words, a quality education is one that facilitates individuals' becoming more fully themselves. "Thus a good indicator of such an education is what the ancient Greeks called eudaimonia, a word which is often translated as `happiness,' but which is best understood as that sense of well-being that accompanies a state of spiritual and physical wholeness, an awareness that one is exactly who one ought to be." (p. 5).

It is true that such a definition and such indicators do not lend themselves readily to a quantitative assessment. The point to be made here was perhaps best put by a legislator from Oregon at a conference on performance-based funding, sponsored by the Education Commission of the States and held in San Francisco in the fall of 1999. "We have abandoned performance-based funding based on quantitative outcomes," the legislator said, "because we have found that the kinds of things you can measure are completely irrelevant to a quality education." This is a lesson that has not yet been learned in California.

Similarly, an inordinate focus on one aspect of education, for example casting vocational education too narrowly as training, can produce workers who in the short term will help actualize the potential of industry, but will not be prepared to actualize their own potential. While we are concerned with the building of skills, and specific occupational training, our view is to the long-term development of students, the creation of career ladders across the economic and educational institutions that give them the best hope of having choices, making contributions, and having fulfilling lives. We need not only to help our students access jobs, but also to prepare them for careers. In every interaction with our students, we should be thinking of the broad span of their lives.

To do otherwise is to run the danger of allowing in the community colleges a socioeconomic tracking system designed to create and sustain a permanent underclass. We insist that the community colleges be gateways to the fulfillment of people's quest for whole and fulfilling lives.

We need to address the longitudinal development of students. The community colleges are the institutions best designed to address this. Unfortunately, low level entry jobs are created in our society much more rapidly than high paying careers with a future. The community colleges have economic development as part of the mission; we have shown that we are a part of the real engine of the state's economy. But this aspect of our mission needs to be matched by a commitment to create viable, sustainable communities. The community colleges are an essential institution of stability in any community; and it is a reciprocal responsibility of industry to serve education as well as for community colleges to serve business and industry.

It is within this larger context that we would place a discussion of testing and assessment. As the Committee's materials note, the "assessment of learning is an imperfect science, one that has not yet evolved into measures that are commonly understood and easily transferable to different types of institutions." As you note, assessment and accountability are not the same thing. Efforts to improve one need not come at the expense of the other.

We must, of course, measure the right things. For example, an exclusive focus on testing purely academic rather than applied skills can unfairly disadvantage vocational students, as is apparent in the current K-12 testing controversies. Much more attention needs to be paid to what are authentic and valid measures of a sound education.

We would argue that everything that matters within an institution should not be viewed through the lens of how it contributes to student performance on a test, or any other single criterion.

We view with increasing alarm the equation of testing with excellence-it is a threshold perhaps, but not excellence. Excellence occurs when one goes above and beyond, when we encourage students to achieve, to pull for the best in themselves.

We are similarly concerned about the push for standardized testing across all segments of education. The community colleges have long been committed to the use of multiple measures in testing of our students. We believe multiple measures are an essential component of assessment, whether of students or of institutions.

We believe that no one measure should determine a person's fate. At the community colleges we use a diverse battery of procedures and methods for gathering information about students. The measures we use are both subjective and objective. And the tests we use must be locally validated against our curriculum. We require that the measures, taken together, are fair and sensitive to cultural and language differences. The measures should be used as advisory tools to assist students in selecting educational options, not to exclude them from opportunities or further education. Our approach to testing is for placement purposes, not sorting for exclusion.

Attention to outcomes measures in education is a welcome and important addition, but while it might help reduce budgets, by itself it is not enough to ensure quality. Outcomes are indicators, yes, but only partial ones. In fact, in isolation, emphasis on outcomes can drive institutions, administrators and faculty to pursue quantity over quality, to play numbers games, and reduce overall rigor, balance and quality in order to shine on selected measures. And, the Academic Senate is concerned that without a corresponding concern for rigor, standards and sound educational practices and processes, our Partnership for Excellence program will become a partnership for mediocrity.

A sound approach must include encouragement of learning outcomes assessment but also pay attention to all of the base line standards of quality and integrity.

Similarly, the evaluation of institutions (be they K-12 or higher education) should avoid singular measures. As Wellman notes, "One strength of accreditation historically is that it has avoided one dimensional measures of quality, instead. . . [institutions must] demonstrate performance in a variety of areas, including curriculum, faculty, finances, governance and student services. Academic freedom, institutional commitment to the public interest, and other important aspects evaluated through the governance standard should not be sidestepped. " (J. Wellman, Chronicle of Higher Education, Sep 22, 2000)

Establishing and explaining the standards that apply for degrees and certificates, ensuring integrity in governance, including whether governing boards are doing the jobs they should be doing and whether the principles of academic freedom are respected in public or private institutions-these are all measures of quality. Fiscal accountability must also be front and center; and it must be monitored directly, not only through the circuitous route of test scores or graduation rates.

The Academic Senate believes a quality education is one that affords both depth and breadth. The liberal arts are critical to student development. We believe general education is even more important now, as it promotes the very qualities required in our ever complex and changing society. These qualities, in fact, are what employers want, and beyond that, are the keys to full and rewarding lives.

In your briefing paper you posit tolerance as a key measure of diversity. Tolerance is a start, but it's not nearly enough. To be excellent, education must actively embrace and develop deep cultural understandings. A commitment to diversity and the cultivation of such understandings must be both an explicit part of curriculum, and an implicit element of instructional and institutional design, from the educational materials to the achievements of the students, from the composition of the faculty and staff to the opportunity structure itself.

Equity must be a central value. And equity of outcomes is key. When assessing outcomes, care must be taken to bring all students up to comparable levels of achievement. The Academic Senate has a deep concern that student equity dropped out of Partnership for Excellence, so that there is an emphasis on increasing outputs, but no requirement that the outcomes are spread across all populations. This should be corrected by requiring attention to equity in achievement by demographic group in the setting of goals and reporting of progress.

Equity of inputs is also essential; it is incumbent upon the state to provide all with equitable opportunity structures. Community college students deserve the same investment in their education as those at CSU and UC. Their intrinsic worth is the same; the state should value them in equal measure. We urge the Commission to bring community colleges up to similar undergraduate funding levels as UC and CSU. There is a nearly 3 to 1 ratio of undergraduate funding per FTES between UC and the community colleges. Asking us to do more with less won't work, and it is fundamentally unfair.

Equity of access must be maintained; this means building viable institutions with the capacity to serve growing number of students. We must work to keep the doors open, and the lights on. The opportunity to progress to successive stages of education hinges upon having sufficient classes and programs open to students in the community colleges. It also will require investment in student services infrastructure, counseling, advising, financial aid and other support structures. For students to succeed, they need encouragement, and mentoring; teaching and learning are relational activities. A quality education is about the nourishing of dreams along with the requisite skills and tools.

A quality education pays attention to the affective as well as the cognitive aspects of learning. The confidence that comes with achievement must be nurtured and translated into a sense of entitlement and empowerment, of personal agency.

We must take a broad notion of the critical capacities of our students. Our students need frameworks of thought, to be able to organize and use information, not just memorize it. They must learn how to ask questions effectively, formulate hypotheses, evaluate evidence, and derive conclusions. They must be able to apply these within specific disciplines and vocational contexts. Students must learn how to approach and deal with ambiguity. Education is about the development of habits of mind as well as heart, the integration of experience and insight, the cultivation of resilience.

While many think our system is too complex, we believe our strength lies in the multiple paths to achievement afforded by the community colleges. These colleges are for re-entry students, as well as for recent high school graduates; for those who never completed high school as well as for those with higher degrees returning for further study.

We would urge you caution regarding the increasing pressures to standardize, be it in curriculum or testing. We recognize these come from good intentions: the need to ease articulation and movement of students across our systems. We share these concerns. Together, the Academic Senates of the three systems are engaged in many efforts to address the need for smooth student transition, most notably the IMPAC project designed to determine the discipline competencies for pretransfer major preparation, and another project to determine the expected competencies for entering freshman in writing and reading across all disciplines.

But we would urge you to remember that this must be balanced with concern for the local and particular needs of communities of learners.

Courses are not interchangeable parts, to be further reduced to modules that can be put on disk. The relationship between the courses is the tissue that holds the curriculum together. The creation of the curriculum is an essential, and collective, expression of a college community. It is troublesome to us that increasing pressures toward homogenization and standardization are not balanced by a corresponding understanding of the need for teaching and learning materials and strategies well matched to the given students and communities. Or recognition of the need for constant revision, creativity and innovation in a world of accelerating change. A strength of the community colleges has been its ability, relative to other segments of education, to be responsive to the particular students and communities served. Tailoring our curriculum, along with experimenting in occupational and workforce development have been among our hallmarks.

As Norton Grubb points out, the push to standardize curriculum and requirements at the state level is pursued to help students in their transition from one institution to another, but it can undermine the efforts of any one college to create integrated contexts in which students can learn.

This is particularly troublesome given the nature of our student body. Given the demands of family and work, it is difficult for our students to sustain connection to the college community. Increasing numbers of them are drifting from institution to institution, part time students all too often taught by parttime faculty. (Grubb, Honored but Invisible: An Inside Look at Community College Teaching, 352-55)

Their lives stymie efforts to create coherent educational experiences; they come from communities often overwhelmed and stressed by the rapid social changes emanating from the new economy.

"These disintegrative and centrifugal forces are outside the control of the community colleges, but institutional practices that support good teaching and effective educational programs can help." (Grubb, 352-55)

Connection is what our students need: to each other, to teachers, to the historical dramas of humanity across varied disciplines and cultures. Connection to the cumulative set of skills and techniques in and about the material and intellectual worlds. Connection ultimately to oneself and one's place in the world. Well-designed educational experiences heighten the opportunities for students to make such connections.

Considerable evidence is mounting that interdisciplinary and integrated models of education hold the best promise for helping students make these connections, but these by definition are locally developed. The key lies in articulating the emergent competencies and requirements across systems, not in reducing the variation of approach and delivery within each.

Both Alexander Astin and Vincent Tinto have argued that beyond the demographic variables associated with student success, the most powerful predictor of student retention is contact and interaction with faculty members. When students interact with teachers-inside and outside of the classroom, the library, the counseling office-they gain a sense of each other and of themselves. The more involved students are as tutors, student representatives, or in other organized groups and events, the more likely they are to persist toward their goals, and make it to the next stage of achievement. As Astin has shown, the engaged learner is the most successful.

Several speakers today have stressed that we must pay attention to the whole learning environment. A quality education is one that invests in the educational community-the entire support structure necessary to uphold the curriculum and instructional process. This must include investment in faculty: full time, well qualified, and with ongoing professional development opportunities. It also means investment and support for students' full lives; increasingly this will need to include consideration of housing, access to computer technology and childcare for adult learners.

The conditions of quality education are far more sweeping than has been explored in the briefing paper. They must include institutional climates of open inquiry, mutual respect and the expectation and appreciation of professional and personal excellence.

It is time to match the rhetoric with real commitment to reforms that support teaching and institutional practices that improve the quality of teaching. We would agree with Grubb that "effective developmental programs are the only way to achieve high standards in open access institutions. These probably entail replacing ineffective skills and drills with more social and collective conceptions, including learning communities, and other resource intensive investments." And, these require more, not less, faculty, and more, not less connection to teachers. (Grubb)

Responsive curriculum, interdisciplinary approaches, learning communities and service learning are all labor intensive and dynamic activities. Learning communities cannot be sustained without investment for blocked classes, team teaching and smaller class sizes. Professional development that is centered on improvement of instruction and faculty driven is needed at all our colleges. Mentoring of new full- and part-time faculty is also essential. Sustained programs of faculty development, and investment of resources into teaching and learning centers have proven efficacious in improving student outcomes. But faculty also need time and opportunity to engage in these activities. The provision of resources to support faculty in this work is essential. The current teaching loads and class sizes in California community colleges make this very difficult. Faculty teach five classes (or 15 units) per semester, compared the national workload average of four classes (or 12 units); and we have on average 10 more students per class than the national average.

We have witnessed a decade of recession, and extremely conservative ideologies regarding taxation and public expenditures. Of stingy policies and attempts to starve public education. Of rationalizations for the growing divide between rich and poor.

Just as the most diverse set of students in the history of the nation comes through our halls, we have encountered notions that they must perform, cannot take too long, must prove their worthiness, or even, as one recent report put it, are "drains on the public resources." But we would argue they are our resources.

We must continue to stress the community component of community colleges. It has long been part of our uniqueness-that we are community based. In our colleges you'll find the vibrancy of hope in the intersection of cultures and the cauldrons of social mobility that have made us great as institutions.

But a central component has been neglected too often: protecting the space for democratic dialogue, the climate of inquiry and safety for controversial ideas. We must not shed our responsibility to provide the great service of cultural openness and intellectual discourse to communities increasingly without other venues for critical agency and voice.

The traditions of academic freedom and inquiry are more than traditions: they are the central gift of a free society. These must be kept alive, nurtured, fiercely protected not just in the star-studded halls of elite universities, but as the birthright of broad masses of people. That is our job and it is a noble one.

The community colleges are the infrastructure of democracy. But we have been buffeted and compromised. The dream is alive but tattered, our institutions threadbare.

The genius of the California community colleges has been the comprehensive mission-where the boundaries between occupational and academic education are permeable, where students can dream beyond expectation, where upward mobility is a daily interaction. These dreams must continue to be translated into real opportunity, and that is only possible when all students, not just a few, are given full and rounded educational exposures, that foster the ability to adapt to changing economic circumstances, not only narrow skill sets that will be outmoded at an ever accelerating rate.

The Academic Senate for California Community Colleges commends the Master Plan Committee for its commitment to address the educational needs of the whole state, from earliest experiences to lifelong learning. We urge you to push for the best, for all, and never to settle for less for the broad numbers of our people.

The community colleges stand at the intersection of the future of this state. We are in your hands.

These are precious institutions that took generations a century to build. In communities that are under stress, they can be the nexus of reconnection and renewal, and they are worth pitched battles to defend. About them we must be fiercely maternal.

Our job is to protect and to improve them. We cannot tolerate their further degradation. Our job is to strengthen and enlarge them, and in doing so to enlarge all of our humanity.

Joint Committee to Develop a Master Plan for Education - Kindergarten through University Senate Members:
Senator Dede Alpert (Chair) Senator Betty Karnette
Senator Wm. J. `Pete' Knight Senator Bruce McPherson
Senator Kevin Murray Senator Jack O'Connell
Senator Charles Poochigian Senator John Vasconcellos Assembly Members:
Assemblymember Elaine Alquist (Co-Vice Chair Higher Education)
Assemblymember Virginia Strom-Martin (Co-Vice Chair K-12 issues)
Assemblymember Lynn Daucher
Assemblymember Dean Florez
Assemblymember Lynne C. Leach
Assemblymember George Nakano
Assemblymember Sarah L. Reyes
Assemblymember George Runner
Assemblymember Vacancy (Alternate: Thomas L. Calderon)
Chief Consultant:
Stephen Blake
Charles Ratliff and John Gilroy
1020 N Street, Room 560, Sacramento, CA 95814 Phone: (916) 324-4983