Saturday, July 04, 2009

As Oligopolists...

Dana Goldstein talks some sense:

As oligopolists, it makes total sense for the College Board and ACT to be eyeing, together, expansion into the immense K-12 assessment market. But given these testing companies' track records, it is worth asking if this is a wise idea. A number of studies have found SAT scores are far less effective than high school grades in predicting how well students will perform in college, and professors say standardized-test prep does little to teach students the research and critical thinking skills they will need at the college level. Because of these shortcomings, an increasing number of colleges--led by the giant University of California system--have made standardized test scores optional for admission.

There is no reason to assume that the overdue move toward federal standards must lead to national standardized tests administered by the college-admissions giants. In Finland, whose schools are ranked best in the world, there are detailed national curriculum guidelines but no mandated testing regime to go along with them. If past American efforts are any guideline, what we're likely to come up with is the exact opposite: vague standards and high-stakes tests. For example, 35 states participate in the Achieve-led American Diploma Project, in which states agreed to roughly align their education standards. Under that system, high school students are required to write a six- to 10-page research paper. In Finland, though, the national curriculum calls for research papers to be part of every subject course, from the life sciences to history and philosophy.

A major disadvantage of the states and testing giants leading the push toward national standards is that without Washington's involvement, the issue is less likely to register on the mainstream media's radar. But the public ought to be paying close attention. It would be a shame if national education reform further cemented a system in which passing standardized tests is the goal of learning. That would discourage creative teaching and push affluent families looking for more flexibility into the private system. And that simply isn't in the public's common interest.

To me, the subtext of our current debate is this: of which things we've consistently done wrong in the past, do you think we can suddenly, and quickly, get right? I suppose that's what "reform" is always about. But perhaps it is unusual for the Left and the Right to decide that they both want to reform the same thing at the same time, so more than normal it is simply a question of what does your ideology lead you to believe can and should be fixed? Our lousy... standards? tests? teachers? schools of education? contracts? inequality? school boards? technology? etc...

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