• Confessions of a Community College Dean

    In which a veteran of cultural studies seminars in the 1990s moves into academic administration and finds himself a married suburban father of two. Foucault, plus lawn care.


Friday Fragments

High school epistemology, multifactor placement and a classy end to a drum battle.

September 18, 2020

The Girl, who is a junior in a public high school, is taking a class called Theory of Knowledge. The Boy took it, too, a couple of years ago. As near as I can tell, it’s a sort of introduction to epistemology. Her interpretation of it, two weeks in:

TG: We’re doing things like “what’s the difference between perception and reality?”

Me: Okay, what’s the difference between perception and reality?

TG: If there is one, we wouldn’t be able to tell anyway.


When the Accuplacer exam went dark this spring, we were forced to cobble together an alternative. Drawing on national research that suggests that high school GPA is a far better predictor of college readiness than a single placement test, we put together a multifactor placement regime and congratulated ourselves on our forward thinking.

On one level, it seems to be working; so far, we haven’t had many complaints of misplacement.

But there was a catch that we didn’t see coming. In retrospect, it should have been obvious.

It’s much more labor-intensive than just looking at a single score.

No two high schools do transcripts in quite the same way. New Jersey has a robust tradition of home rule, so we have about five dozen school districts in our county, plus however many from out of county. Each has its own system.

Making matters more complicated, most of them are partially closed over the summer. (Admittedly, Pandemic Summer may have been a weird sample.) We get the majority of our new applications over the summer, so getting students to send in transcripts took more effort than anyone expected.

Selective colleges generally don’t have to deal with that; they tend to have application deadlines in the spring, and they have students who trip over themselves to get in. We’re in a different situation.

If any community college folks have found a streamlined, not-too-burdensome way to do multifactor placement, please let me know either via email (deandad (at) gmail (dot) com), or on Twitter, where I’m @deandad. I’d hate to see a good academic method fall away just because it’s clunky.


The Nandi Bushell/Dave Grohl drum battle is balm for my soul.

Nandi is a 10-year-old girl. Dave Grohl is Dave Grohl. She is an excellent drummer, and she challenged him to a drum battle. He accepted, they played and he conceded defeat in the first round. Then, this happened.

As a Gen Xer, and as a dad, I love everything about it. And no, I will not admit in public how many times I’ve watched it.


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