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

Sunday, February 25, 2007

Next Phase: Killing Off Thinking in College

John Young of the Waco Tribune-Herald has a fine op-ed on what is quickly emerging as the corporate socialists' first big move in Texas (where else?) to kill higher education the same way they are destroying K-12 education--with an anti-intellectual testing blitzkrieg and a bullying buyout of administrators who are willing to sell their integrity and trade their ethics for a wad of dollars. First though, a clip from Wikipedia on anti-intellectualism:

Anti-intellectualism describes a sentiment of hostility towards, or mistrust of, intellectuals and intellectual pursuits. This may be expressed in various ways, such as attacks on the merits of science, education, or literature. Anti-intellectuals often perceive themselves as champions of the ordinary people and egalitarianism against elitism, especially academic elitism. These critics argue that highly educated people form an insular social group that tends to dominate political discourse and higher education (academia).

Anti-intellectualism can also be used as a term to criticize an educational system if it seems to place minimal emphasis on academic and intellectual accomplishment, or if a government has a tendency to formulate policies without consulting academic and scholarly study.

John Young's op-ed from the Dallas Morning News:

Warning to students at Texas state colleges: You are about to get used again.

Students got used four years ago when, to reduce its share of college funding, the Texas Legislature deregulated tuition. College administrators then jacked the cost through the roof.

It was another hurtful wrinkle by which lawmakers could balance the budget with "no new taxes." But it was a tax on students.

Now with a new Legislature, colleges stand to play the foils again, and students stand to be on the receiving end of a royal scam.

Gov. Rick Perry has proposed to spend $362 million more on higher education, with conditions, including standardized exit-level tests. He wants to tie funding to test scores and graduation rates. He also proposes an initiative to move students through college faster.

The idea of new dollars tweaks college administrators' salivary glands. New tests? Where do we sign? We'll just make students pay for them, $25 a pop.

But college faculty members have raised an alarm.

Texas Faculty Association president Charles Zucker told the Web site Inside Higher Ed: "We've had massive amounts of teaching to the test in public schools. ... Now there's a consensus that that has failed, the governor wants to institute the same plan for higher education."

His use of "consensus" is open to debate. If education's quest is to roll out drones who, when drilled under threat of retention, will do certain state-assigned tasks, maybe Texas' "accountability" is a success. But we all thought higher education was, well, higher.

As proposed, the plan would not require college students to pass the state exams to graduate. A no-stakes test. So, no overemphasis, right?

Listen, if money is attached, those tests will be high-stakes faster than Deutsche Bank can convert rubles to yen.

What kinds of tests are we talking about?

Let's ask Education Testing Service, the General Motors of school accountability. It has exit-level tests for college seniors in several disciplines. But a host of disciplines don't have any. Sounds like new business.

Standardized testing has become a dead weight on our nation's schools with far less benefit than anyone wants to acknowledge. It is a particular drag on children at or above grade level. Meanwhile, those in the bottom reaches of achievement are subjected to stifling repetition and test prep.

With Texas leading the way, states have shown they can increase test scores, but not necessarily produce thinkers or innovators.

Speaking to Inside Higher Ed, Bob Schaefer of the National Center for Fair and Open Testing warned that with state-imposed standardized testing and with economic incentives attached, colleges would "narrow their curriculum to test preparation for the exit exam."

"Test scores may soar, but education quality will be undermined."

One of two things will happen under this proposal:

1. Time and money will be spent on tests that students know don't matter but which the state says are important in "rating colleges."

2. The state would impress on colleges how important the tests are, and more and more classroom content would be dictated by some far-off test maker.

Presto. You have homogenization and standardization of a once-vibrant creature, American higher education, long the envy of the world.

John Young is opinion page editor of the Waco Tribune-Herald. His e-mail address is jyoung@ wacotrib.com.

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