Last week was the visit from the inspection team from Beijing. I am at a national university, and that means that there will be national inspection teams. In the U.S., all universities are state-sponsored or independent and there are no equivalent national universities. In China there are roughly 40 nationally-funded universities as well as some Chinese Academies of Science that award degrees. The Ministry of Education inspection team was here all week.
There was the standard public relations banner welcoming them and the campus was kept very clean (but it normally is, anyway). Tarnished bronze signs indicating “Key Laboratory” (select, nationally funded) were replaced by new chrome signs. But classes met as normal.
The department chair led a portion of the team through the museum inspecting the actual condition of the collection. They already had all of the university data on classes, student numbers and facilities. You could say that they had been given the maps, but now they were here to confirm the ground truth. There were the standard meetings with groups of faculty. –And with groups of students.
But I asked a teaching/research colleague, “Do individual members of the team also chat with random members of the faculty?” –Yes!
“Do some sit down in the student commons and talk with random students?” –Yes!
“Do they check rigor of teaching by looking at sample tests at random?” –Yes!
With some of the team wandering around in an unscheduled way, they can actually detect most of what is really going on in the classroom. --Whether faculty meetings are honest discussions. --Whether rigor is being maintained in coursework, etc. Any idea of lying or misrepresenting anything to them is unthinkable.
Friday was the last day, with an exit ceremony. But there was no pronouncement whether the university passed inspection. There will be a detailed closed discussion back in Beijing. I have no doubt that this university will “pass” (it matches or excels any Kansas university). But I suspect that this inspection might have detected weaknesses in some program or staffing or some facilities, and that will be relayed via back channels.
It is therefore ironic that this is the very same week that in America, the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill got off free after a NCAA investigation of academic-athletic fraud. For nearly two decades, Chapel Hill had athletes who got credit for classes they did not attend and work they did not do. To quote the Chronicle of Higher Education summary: “The association not only stopped short of levying the extreme penalties that some observers had expected, but refrained from applying virtually any penalties at all.” This decision was by an athletic body. But all of that time, UNC-Chapel Hill was also fully accredited.
If accreditation in the U.S. was similar to the Beijing inspection, some teacher or student at Chapel Hill would have likely squealed. But U.S. accreditation visits are a brief, highly choreographed dance, the team having already supposedly read through virtual reams of online paperwork written by university folks who scored high in “creative writing.” By having institutions only address some selected “measureable outcomes,” the system is easily gamed. A large faculty meeting with administrators in attendance ensures appropriate answers. And a selection of hand-picked naive students are no better.
The simple evidence for much of U.S. accreditation being a farce lies in the fully accredited status of schools that were closed due to providing no genuine and substantial education, and to “schools” that award credit for just taking tests, and to “schools” that graduate “nurses” that have never set foot in a hospital, etc.
But the UNC Chapel Hill incident also shows that nothing is changing to force U.S. accreditation to detect such problems tomorrow.
Nor is K—12 education in Kansas any better off, where annual U.S.D. paperwork reports (now submitted online of course) are also accepted on faith alone.
The solution is the very procedures that I saw here in China last week: actual checking the ground truth at the school. Unfortunately, neither the KBOR nor KSDE has a single person who has the authority and the responsibility to inspect on site and in person. So if you like reading fiction, Topeka has a lot of accreditation literature just for you.