College administrators gathered in Washington last week at the annual conference of the Association of American Colleges and Universities. One of the subjects they discussed was how to make professors better teachers. Really. According to an article in the Chronicle of Higher Education:

“Successful campuses sometimes improve their student learning despite their faculty-reward structures,” said Jill N. Reich, dean of the faculty at Bates College, during a session organized by the association’s Bringing Theory to Practice project. “Don’t assume that you need to change your tenure-and-promotion process first.”

[One college dean] is working with campuses to adopt what he calls “high-impact practices”—including classroom models that involve more-active student learning and less rote lecturing—in introductory courses where students often struggle.

The trouble with this is that talking about improving instruction in terms of motivating professors to care about instruction is that, as one commentator pointed out, is that “this whole push ‘to motivate professors to improve their teaching’ is that it doesn’t square with the reliance upon cheap adjuncts to teach a larger and larger proportion of those ‘introductory courses where students often struggle.’”

This a good point. It’s also very hard to induce schools’ to change the way they teach when most of them remain reluctant to reveal anything at all about what students actually learn in college. Improving college effectiveness may not be about motivating faculty to care about this issue so much as it is about motivating administration.

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Daniel Luzer is the news editor at Governing Magazine and former web editor of the Washington Monthly. Find him on Twitter: @Daniel_Luzer