11 February 2006

Higher Ed

Somebody explain to me why the HELL they think this is a good idea?! The United States has higher education that is the ENVY of the entire world. The best students in foreign countries come to the US for their college education. The best of the best go on to our graduate schools, so that international students make up the majority of many departments in the US. On the other hand, our lower (K-12) education trails behind that of most first world nations. Our students struggle to go to college, are poorly prepared when they do, and area easily outpaced by their international peers.

So Congress decides the best thing to do is to institute standardized testing at the college level.

A higher education commission named by the Bush administration is examining whether standardized testing should be expanded into universities and colleges to prove that students are learning and to allow easier comparisons on quality.

Charles Miller, a business executive who is the commission's chairman, wrote in a memorandum recently to the 18 other members that he saw a developing consensus over the need for more accountability in higher education.

"What is clearly lacking is a nationwide system for comparative performance purposes, using standard formats," Mr. Miller wrote, adding that student learning was a main component that should be measured.

Mr. Miller was head of the Regents of the University of Texas a few years ago when they directed the university's nine campuses to use standardized tests to prove students were learning. He points to the test being tried there and to two other testing initiatives as evidence that assessment of writing, analytical skills and critical thinking is possible.

(Karen W. Arenson, The New York Times)

Why the fuck is a businessman dictating education policy? Someone needs to explain to him that all that standardized tests actually determine is whether (1) the student comes from a rich family, (2) the teacher was teaching to the test, and (3) the students are capable of memorizing. I have yet to see any evidence that critical thinking skills can be tested through multiple choice.

It's pretty clear to me that all attempts at national standardized testing, even prior to NCLB (No Child Left Behind), were miserable failures. And yet they're trying to force our very very successful higher education into this broken mold that didn't help lower ed.

NEA opposes proposals that would that imply a federal role in directing, evaluating, promoting, or cajoling any aspect of speech in education by students, professors, classroom teachers, or anyone else.
States, universities, community colleges, and K-12 systems have their own policies and practices for determining curricula, evaluating programs and employees, and resolving problems or disputes about fairness and protection of free speech.

NEA also opposes politicization of professional programs on campus through creation of an International Higher Education Advisory Board. Establishment of this new board would undermine a longstanding bipartisan consensus that the federal government should respect academic freedom and independence.

Current policy has been successful and should not be abandoned. The proposed Board could intrude into academic conduct and content of higher education and could impinge on institutional decisions about curriculum and activities.

(National Education Association (NEA))

The National Education Association is a nationwide union that represents most K-12 educators, as well as many higher education professors (including yours truly). Go read their statment, and follow the link to send an email to Congress about this issue.


Allison said...

"The proposed Board could intrude into academic conduct and content of higher education"

This is probably the whole point of the exercise. Standardized testing is not about making sure the kids learn what's important, it's about making sure they learn what the testing authority WANTS them to learn. If university profs are spending all their time preparing students for the testing, they won't have time to teach all the "liberal commie gay agenda" stuff that the Right is now obsessed with purging from university campuses. Standardizing higher education would reduce the free-wheeling intellectualism which right-wingers are always generally suspicious of - and which is one of the major differences between "basic" K-12 education and university.

It is definitely an attack on academic freedom, and what's more it is a deliberate attack.

Anonymous said...

What you call "academic freedom", I call "teaching from the same yellow lecture notes for 35 years and giving the same test each year despite the fact that the average score is 38% and nobody does anything about it." Univerisities are places for research, not for teaching. Everyone knows that. Why do you think that "You teach the way you were taught" has negative connotation? Because we have researchers preparing our future teachers, not expert teachers. There are mounds and mounds of educational research that says that out of all of the methods of teaching, two of the worst are lecture and reading the textbook. So why should we trust what the post-secondary educators say about accountability when they are using the least effective teaching strategies in their "lecture halls" every day despite all of the evidence against it.

Avoidance of accountability is one of the "Five Dysfunctions of a Team." It is no surprise that universities would avoid accountability. Effective instructors welcome accountability and use it as a tool to improve their skill. Ineffective instructors whine that it takes away their academic freedom.