"National tests and standards can be a positive step toward higher student achievement, but by themselves they do not result in student learning," says Marilyn Haring, who is also a professor of counseling and development who specializes in education reform. "Test scores will merely provide markers for comparing states and districts, which in turn can be used to identify necessary reforms."
She says the greatest challenge is developing a national exam that everyone can agree on.
"As a society, we have deep philosophical differences as to what students should know," Haring explains. "We are also deeply divided on what students should be able to do and how we should teach them to do 'that.' For instance, on some level all Americans agree that children should be able to read and write, but there is significant disagreement as to whether those skills should involve the ability to analyze and think critically. This concern generally comes from those who question what values would be applied to those processes."
Haring also points out that even when there is consensus on a basic premise like "all children should be able to read," there continues to be some disagreement on how to reach the goal. Consider the phonics vs. whole language debate. The state legislature in Ohio recently addressed the issue by mandating that every college student preparing to become an elementary school teacher take three courses in phonics.
"I think the Ohio legislature has gone overboard in requiring three courses where the content probably justifies one course at most," Haring says. "And what's going to be eliminated? Perhaps a course in children's literature, which can be an important way of encouraging youngsters to read for pleasure."
Purdue's elementary education majors are required to take two courses that include some instruction in phonics.
Haring says it's clear that Americans no longer can say with one voice what an education should be or how it should be achieved.
"The 'three-R's' are a vast oversimplification that cannot be defended as our national goals, and drill is no longer the way to teach students and keep them in school," Haring says. "However, the discussion of national testing indicates that we're making progress on agreeing that education is very important, and that seems like a start in the right direction."
CONTACT: Haring, (765) 494-2336; e-mail, email@example.com
That's precisely the premise of Gender and Diversity in Management, a senior-level course offered by Purdue University's School of Technology.
"We can't change prejudices with just one class, but we can teach students to manage their biases," explains Janet Achor, associate professor of organizational leadership and supervision. "Lack of tolerance and insensitivity to these kinds of issues can cost you your job."
Gender and Diversity in Management is one of dozens of diversity-related courses offered at Purdue, but its applications for the workplace and the "no holds barred" approach of the instructor make it a popular elective. Achor opens each semester by leading students through a series of questions, the answers to which invariably result in both teacher and students admitting their own prejudices to each other.
"It's a pretty explosive exercise," Achor acknowledges. "But it's designed to get their attention, and the results are accurate and true. We are all prisoners of our past experiences."
Achor started teaching the course in 1986 in response to a need she saw among female students in the School of Technology, home of the Department of Organizational Leadership and Supervision.
"We were finding that young women in our field weren't equipped to deal with the realities of the workplace in terms of gender issues," Achor explains. "Since then the class has evolved into a seminar on diversity, which includes race, religion, sexual orientation, disability, socioeconomic class and education, as well as gender. I also work on issues such as age, language, culture, ethnicity and the concept of time."
The goal of the course is to increase knowledge and awareness, foster appropriate attitudes and assumptions, and eliminate stereotyping, all of which have been shown to improve employee morale, boost productivity and increase creativity in the workplace.
Achor uses a variety of media to spark discussion, ranging from textbooks to popular films to role-playing. She calls the format a potpourri of things designed to make students think, regardless of how narrow or broad their previous experiences may be.
"Most students come into the course believing in the concept of America as a 'melting-pot,' but I urge them to think of it more as a salad," Achor says. "Each ingredient is distinct and retains its own flavor regardless of how much the salad gets tossed."
Because of the nature of the subject matter and the seminar format of the course, Achor says it's important to balance the numbers of men and women in the two classes offered each semester.
"Having an equal number of men and women helps give some balance to the dialogue," Achor says. "We get into some sensitive issues, and it's important that students be comfortable in the discussions."
Though not required for students in the School of Technology, both sections are always filled within the first week of registration.
"It's a popular elective because students recognize the value of this kind of information," Achor says. "They realize that the world extends quite a distance beyond their own backyard."
CONTACT: Achor, (765) 494-7989; e-mail, firstname.lastname@example.org
The course is taught by visiting professor Patrick Duparcq, who also teaches the course at Northwestern University and runs a distance learning lab at Tilberg University in the Netherlands. Duparcq says that there aren't very many courses in electronic commerce being taught right now, but they soon will become a mainstay at business schools worldwide.
"Some of the programs in electronic commerce that I am aware of are here at Purdue and at MIT, Northwestern, Duke, Stanford and at the University of Texas at Austin," Duparcq says. "But the demand for such courses will grow based on market needs."
For example, in his book, "What Will Be," Michael Dertouzos, the director of the computer science laboratory at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, predicts that by the year 2015, 50 percent of the U.S. gross national product could be directly related to electronic commerce.
"That tells me that we're in for quite a change in the way we do business," Duparcq says.
Duparcq does not agree with those who say the Internet hasn't proven itself yet as a major tool of choice for business and communication in the next century.
"In the past three years, we have experienced a shift in the demographics of people who are on-line, from 95 percent male to a nearly 65-35 ratio of males to females," Duparcq says. "And that's promising news for on-line marketers and advertisers. Also, the fact that companies like Dell computer are conducting $2.5 million worth of transactions on the Internet each day indicates a hearty future for commerce on the Internet."
Another indicator of a robust forecast for electronic commerce is the use of the Internet for advertising.
"There are one-and-a-half to two times more advertising dollars spent on the Internet than there were on cable television when it was new," Duparcq says.
Students in Duparcq's course will study the nature of interactive media, how traditional marketing and market research principles are adapted for the Internet, security issues and laws and regulations.
CONTACT: Patrick Duparcq (765) 494-4461; e-mail, email@example.com
A strong and varied job market is getting some of the credit for the increasing number of students signing up for classes in Purdue University's School of Agriculture.
"We've noted a decade-long rise in enrollment, and it corresponds directly with the number and kinds of jobs available," explains Allan Goecker, assistant dean and associate director of academic programs. "Ten years ago there were 1,655 undergraduates in the School of Agriculture, while 1997 enrollment figures show 2,539 students. And that number is up 63 from just a year ago."
Goecker says the job market for agribusiness positions, technical fields, natural resources and environmental management is particularly strong. Companies in these areas are seeking employees with a strong agricultural and science education, and they are increasingly looking at Purdue. A recent agriculture career fair drew 97 businesses to the West Lafayette campus -- 28 more than attended the same event a year ago.
"This is one of the strongest colleges of agriculture in the United States, but being a good school is just part of it," Goecker says. "You still need students to take on challenging roles after graduation. If an employer does well with one graduate, they often return to hire others."
In a professional employment survey of 1997 Purdue ag graduates, the average starting salary for all degree fields was $27,621. Agricultural and food process engineering graduates reported the highest average beginning salaries at $38,378. Food science graduates commanded starting salaries of about $33,000 and had a 96 percent placement rate.
The Department of Food Science will move into a new $26 million building next summer. Classrooms and laboratories are expected to be ready for use for the 1998 fall semester.
CONTACT: Goecker, (765) 494-8473; e-mail, firstname.lastname@example.org
Compiled by Sharon Bowker, (765) 494-2096;e-mail, email@example.com
Purdue News Service: (765) 494-2096; e-mail, firstname.lastname@example.org
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