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

Monday, November 12, 2007

The Beginning of the End for the Last Bastion of Free Thought

It is interesting to see how higher education has quickly knee-jerked into voluntarily accepting the test-label-punish agenda of the K-16 advocates on the Spellings-Miller Commission that sputtered out before any of its grand scheme of mandated "accountability" for colleges could even come close to approved policy.

With show-me-the-way-over-the-cliff leaders in charge at public universities and ready leap into the testing void, who needs a bare-knuckled bully hired by ED to impose the extension of an educational caste system that is now in full operation in K-12, where the poor waste their time in test-prep drudgery to avoid school closure or individual retention, where the middling suburban school students focus on test prep drudgery (called AP) for college credit, and where the well-off, who don't know what all the fuss is about, continue to make their quilts for the poor, put on their stage plays, and "construct their meaning" in the best private schools.

Of course, the best private colleges and universities will tell these Kool-Aid drinkers to go to hell, which plays nicely into the democracy-by-a-few model that became so popular at about the same point in the previous century, when eugenics was offered for college credit and when social darwinists argued against public assistance to the poor for fear of upsetting the natural law sanctioned by God to eliminate the weak.

So in the end, the 10 percent or so of our best and richest will purchase their permanent Visas and their legacy Master cards in the colleges and universities with endowments big enough to continue the luxury of free and liberal thought. The rest of us will urge our children to walk up one another's backs to attain one of the few slots remaining for those of lesser worth who have shown that they can work harder and be nicer than the rest the "rubbish," as Jefferson would have it, in their KIPP chain gang schools.

Where this leaves the middling private universities is yet to be seen. Will they side with the preservation and expansion of our humanistic civilization, or will they trade in the question of the purpose of living and education for the all-encompassing answer of the GLOBAL ECONOMY, with its purse strings attached to the corporations that can guarantee access to the government grants. I wonder.

From the Baltimore Sun today:

November 11, 2007

College students in Maryland and across the country might soon be taking standardized tests to determine how much they've learned on campus - part of a national effort to hold universities accountable for student achievement.

An association representing more than 200 large public universities is expected to vote today to recommend that its member colleges adopt standardized tests and within four years begin to publish the results. A group representing another 400 colleges will take a similar vote this month.

The tests would measure students' critical thinking, reasoning and written communication. They would likely be given to representative samples of freshmen and seniors, allowing schools - and the public- to measure the improvement in scores.

The assessments are part of a broader initiative called the Voluntary Accountability System, which was developed in part to reassure Washington that publicly funded higher education does not need a No Child Left Behind law with uniform exit exams given to art history and engineering majors alike.

"There was concern that they would start trying to do these grade-by-grade assessments, which I think all of us feel would be inappropriate in higher education," said University System of Maryland Chancellor William E. Kirwan, who chaired development of the project with input from more than 80 public college administrators nationally. "So it's time for us to come together as a community and develop a system of accountability."

But other educators have profound misgivings about the notion that any generic tests can capture the learning produced by a college education.

"How do you measure citizenship?" said Goucher College President Sanford J. Ungar, who called the initiative "a very unfortunate" development. "How do you measure values? How do you measure inspiring a spirit of lifelong learning?"

The proposed system is a joint effort of the National Association of State Universities and Land-Grant Colleges and the American Association of State Colleges and Universities. The governing board of the first group is scheduled to take up the initiative at a meeting this morning in New York City.

Kirwan said he expects "most, if not all" of Maryland's public colleges to sign up.

Essentially, the Voluntary System of Accountability is a publishing project. Participating campuses would start by posting on the Internet a wide array of institutional data - such as graduation rates, student demographics and cost calculators - in a common format so students and parents could compare institutions.

Within two years, the schools also would publish the results of standardized surveys that measure student perceptions of their college experience.

The third phase of the project would require all campuses within four years to publish the results of one of three commercially available tests designed to measure student learning. . . .

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