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

Monday, April 23, 2007

From Educational Assessment to Customer Service at Harvard and Beyond

There is an interesting, if misleading, article in the Boston Globe today on the growing "accountability" pressures in higher education. Unfortunately, the piece conflates what Eric Mazur is doing in his physics class at Harvard, which is using formative assessments to improve teaching and learning, with what is being proposed by Spellings' bean counters, profiteers, and theocrats currently controlling the agenda at the U. S. Department of Education. In short, all accountability measures do not measure accountability, and the ones that Mazur and other professors have elaborately developed over recent years will go "poof" if/when the efficiency zealots of the Business Roundtable turn educational assessment into customer service, and, thus, the liberal arts university into corporate training schools.

Look to K-12 for an analogy of how to reach the dumbest common denominator in just a few years. In the late 80s and early 90s, states such as Vermont and Kentucky developed elaborate state-wide assessment systems that used portfolios and performance assessments to measure the progress of learners. In Tennessee, Bill Sanders introduced a quantitative algorithm to measure learning gains over time on standardized tests. It did not take long for these more nuanced approaches to assessment to be swamped by a rising political tide that washed together the bottom-line thinking of business efficiency zealots and the ideological confabulations of the education privatizers and theocrats to create the current suffocating flood of NCLB. Can the same outcome for higher ed be far behind?

Arthur Kleinman, a Harvard professor of medical anthropology, is particularly worried about the effect of more testing and of publicizing the results on higher education. He fears the outcome could be standardization and unhealthy competition.

"We live increasingly in an audit world, in a regulatory world," Kleinman said. "Once you start this, there's no stopping it. It's going to become a part of the culture of higher education."

It is past time for the those tenure lines up in their once-safe ivory towers to look out the window--the levee's almost topped, and the corruption and ideological thuggery is rising fast. Time to call out all hands and minds to stem this flood. And get ready for lots of unpaid overtime.

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