Sunday, February 7, 2010

Colleges makes kids Liberal apparently.

The Chronicle quotes a study that college makes students more liberal but not smarter about civics.

I have so many questions, starting with basic methodology, below the fold:

  1. Does A cause B, does B cause A or is it C causing both, or nothing?
  2. Does the change in liberalism follow the change in civics knowledge or vice versa?
  3. Is there a confounding factor, like the changing male-female ratio? or the changing attitude that "All students must go to college" - are we seeing the results of increased perception of need for a college education to make a good living?
  4. Are younger people more likely to be liberal anyway, regardless of college?
  5. Is civics something colleges deal with, or is this a K-12 thing?
  6. Did the researchers control for age and SES? A PhD might have taken HS civics in 1975 and the HS graduate two years ago. Education has changed in the HS setting. (no shit).
  7. Does ALL higher education make graduates more liberal or is the choice of college or major an issue?
  8. Did the researchers bias their own study by excluding the military academies (like yours truly) and the religious schools like Brigham Young? (by asking 2500 random people that's what they essentially did)
  9. Wealthier people take more college - was wealth a factor rather than the years in school?
  10. The institute has a "tradition-minded view of issues" - was this the only study they did?& Or did they throw away data that would have changed their results?
I don't like this study. Results seem too pat, too simplistic. Too Glenn Beck-ian.

The survey contained 118 questions: 33 on civic knowledge, 39 on public philosophy, 29 on civic behavior, 16 on demographics, and 1 on popular culture.

Many questions are worded strangely or have answer choices that "guide" the respondent, while some are just odd. "Socrates, Plato, Aristotle, and Aquinas would concur that: ... " -- Maybe it's that I'm not a civics teacher. They were chosen from previous ISI tests, Immigration, and NAEP tests. This makes them perfect survey instruments?

I did find the 33 questions pretty easy - but I was able to read them and consider the answers. A typical telephone survey doesn't allow for consideration or for nuance. How would you respond if you were asked this one over the phone?
Free markets typically secure more economic prosperity than government’s centralized planning because:
a. the price system utilizes more local knowledge of means and ends
b. markets rely upon coercion, whereas government relies upon voluntary compliance with the law
c. more tax revenue can be generated from free enterprise
d. property rights and contracts are best enforced by the market system
e. government planners are too cautious in spending taxpayers’ money
The numbers are weird for a random survey, too: this "random telephone survey" of 2508 managed to include 240 people who self-identified as college professors. Really? 10% is very high. And a random telephone survey with all the quits, drops, and lying?

And then, the conclusions. They used regression to determine the effect of more education instead of just measuring it. More civics education meant more disagreement with phrases such as "The Bible is the Word of God," "The Ten Commandments are irrelevant today." "America corrupts otherwise good people." "Public school teachers should be allowed to lead prayers in school." "Homeschooling families neglect their community obligations." "Religion and science typically conflict." None of these correlates with conservative or liberal views and all of them are of the "We'll tell you the good answer" variety - bias built right in.

Oh well. Gotta get back to work.

Here's the article if it gets hidden in archives:

College Makes Students More Liberal, but Not Smarter About Civics, Study Finds

By Jill Laster
While many graduates of American colleges cannot answer basic civics questions, a higher education does make their opinions more liberal on controversial social issues, according to a new report issued on Friday by an academic think tank.

The Intercollegiate Studies Institute, an independent group with a tradition-minded view of issues, asked about 2,500 randomly selected people more than 100 questions to gauge their civic knowledge, public philosophy, civic behavior, and demographics.

"The Shaping of the American Mind," the fourth report from the institute on civic literacy, will be formally released on Wednesday.

Richard A. Brake, a co-author of the report, said he and his colleagues had sought to see what civic or social lessons students were learning in college.
The institute found that people who had attained at least a bachelor's degree were more likely than Americans whose formal education ended with a high-school diploma to take a liberal stance on certain controversial social issues. For example, 39 percent of people whose highest level of education was a bachelor's degree supported same-sex marriage, compared with 25 percent with a high-school diploma. The trend continued with advanced degrees: About 46 percent of people with master's degrees supported same-sex marriage, as did 43 percent of people with Ph.D.'s.

Previous surveys have found that, in general, college does not bring students up to a high level of civics knowledge. According to the Institute's 2008 report, based on a survey of 2,500, people whose highest level of educational attainment was a bachelor's degree correctly answered 57 percent of the questions, on average. That is three percentage points lower than a passing grade, according to the survey's authors. (This needed to be said? and quoted? and the reporter scored what? - Mr. C.)

Even earlier surveys showed that years in college were only slightly correlated to civics expertise. For a 2006 report the institute surveyed 14,000 college freshmen and seniors on basic civics questions. It found seniors answered an average of 53 percent of the questions correctly, just 1.5 percent higher than freshmen. (After the 2006 report was released, some experts questioned the study's methodology and focus on a small range of facts.) (And they will again.- Mr. C.)

Mr. Brake said results of the studies in the last four years showed that many universities do not place enough emphasis on civics or the basics of American history. He also called for universities to adopt better-balanced curricula.

"College graduates, whether it be current or graduated in the past, seem to have difficulty knowing basic things about our government and our history," Mr. Brake said. "Does college share all the blame? Of course not — this is a systemic problem, from K through 12 and all the way up. But universities train our teachers and train our leaders, so they play a role." (And newspapers play a role, too. As well as demographics. - Mr.C.)

Civics curricula have drawn concern recently from other critics, such as Bob Graham, the former U.S. senator from Florida who is now based at the University of Florida. He suggested, in an interview last summer with The Chronicle, that colleges be measured based on the number of their current students or graduates who participate in community-service or civic organizations.

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