"A child's learning is the function more of the characteristics of his classmates than those of the teacher." James Coleman, 1972

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Let 'Em Eat Ivory Soap

"Since Spellings never worked in a school system, and has no formal training in education (her B.A. is in political science), she is free to make educational policy on purely ideological grounds, unencumbered by the real problems facing America’s teachers." -- Howard Karger, professor of social work at University of Houston.

Now that NCLB is well-entrenched in K-12, Margaret Spellings has set her sights on higher education and the view is anything but pretty.

The poster mom for NCLB, (or as I like to call it these days, PIS, since Spellings claims it is "pure as Ivory Soap"), is busy setting the table for bigger profits that could make her friends in the testing industry even richer. All this while sucking the quality out of institutions of higher learning and creating a world in which liberal thought or any thought for that matter, will be a relic of ancient history. If she and her cronies have their way, the United States sink into the economic and educational abyss.

A professor of social work gives us a glimpse into the educational world of the rich and famous and the world of everyone else. It is a world in which any real education will be reserved for those who can afford the price tag. In the new ownership society, education will become a luxurious commodity for those who can buy their way out of being tested and measured into oblivion, as it is now becoming with public schools struggling under the weight of number 2 pencils. And, all those professors who thought they could seek refuge from the testing madness and accountability in K-12 will find themselves and their students filling in the bubbles once again.
Mandatory testing of college seniors will have a profound effect on higher education. Colleges with low scores on standardized tests—often heavily minority—could be punished by reduced state funding. Federal research dollars might also be linked to student test scores. Outcomes might determine whether some colleges are even denied federal student loan funds.

If the Spellings Commission report led the horse to water, Republican governors like Texas’ Rick Perry are ready to make that pony drink. Texas is the home of standardized testing—out of a 180-day school year about 120 days are devoted to testing or preparation. So it’s predictable that Perry’s new plan for educational reform includes standardized testing for college seniors. While students initially won’t have to pass the test to graduate, high scores will mean extra money for colleges, and extra money is something that cash-starved Texas universities can’t resist. The Texas Faculty Association’s Charles Zucker says, “It’s so ironic because, just at the point where we’re beginning to develop a widespread consensus that teaching to the test has been a miserable failure in K-12, now the governor wants to do it for higher education.” The danger, of course, is that other state governors will follow suit. (By the way, standardized testing for college seniors won’t be cheap. Education Week ’s annual report found that school districts pay many millions for these tests.)

Since money will be attached to scores, college administrators will push for more basic courses geared to the test material. Math and science will increasingly replace the soft subjects like anthropology, sociology, history and philosophy. Say goodbye to diverse and interesting college courses. There’s no room for nuance or variety in an outcome-driven learning model.

College professors who reject standardized testing will either be disinvited from the academy or leave out of disgust. Most casualties will be progressive instructors interested in teaching critical content. Their replacements will be educational technicians or hungry adjuncts willing to teach for peanuts. Textbooks—like those in high school—will be standardized and used across public universities, a move that will make textbook publishers happier and richer. Since cost-cutting is a concern for the Spellings Commission, cheaper teaching models like distance education and online courses will increasingly replace traditional and more expensive classroom settings. While some private schools will still offer a rounded education, it will be only for those who can afford the $30,000 to $40,000 a year in tuition and board.
Let 'em eat Ivory Soap.

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