Strengthening Constitutional Self-Government

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More Conservative Standardized Tyrannizing Over Higher Education

NRO’s Clark Patterson enthusiastically endorses the scheme of Texas Republican Governor Rick Perry to institute a broad and comrpehensive array of standardized exit exams for college seniors. Patterson’s slogan is "a return to standards," but when was it that we ever had such standardized standards for higher education? He cites the ISI study on the dearth of civic literacy--also based on a standardized test--as evidence that it wouldn’t be so bad if college professors had to "teach the test." (You have to scroll down a little to get to the Patterson comment.)

Discussions - 15 Comments

Peter, I’ve spoken out before against what I think are horribly misguided efforts to subject higher ed to these trivializing "rubrics". However, given a great decline in the seriousness of the university mission---its superficial fashionableness, its reflexive leftism, its tendency to demagoguery,the facile relativism and dogmatic secularism, and the often transparent contempt for traditional curriculum has made such an approach reasonable to many. So we seem to be caught between safeguarding what is truly high in higher ed or trying to prevent an ever deeper slide into what is low.

Ivan, Good comment...It is the cure is worse than disease case, though...

If, as Charles Taylor, head of the Texas Faculty Association asserts in opposing the Perry proposal, teaching to the tests has been a massive failure, one is forced to conclude that teaching itself has failed. I am not a teacher, but those of you who are will have to do better to persuade me the cure is worse than the disease, especially when you seek more of my money.

Tom T - Let’s take three Texas Schools: Texas Tech, UT Austin, and San Angelo State University. You are suggesting that graduating seniors from all three schools should be administered the same exit exams in order to gauge each school’s worthiness.

You also seem willing to accept the argument that the satandardized tests will be culturally, ethnically unbiases, so that, for instance, a ranch kid, an oil family kid, a Norwegian visiting student, and a border town Hispanic student will all have the same access to the text. We’ll grant you that, for now.

Now, how are you going to ensure that, on the basis of differential results from these schools, you have accounted for the differential admission standards of the three schools? I don’t know the numbers, but you can be certain that there are kids admitted to San Angelo that could never get admitted to UT. If San Angelo is going to compete against UT for YOUR tax dollars on the basis of these standardized tests, then they will have to stop admitting students with the potential to bring their scores down.

A college education is not a toaster. We cannot assume that the same materials go into each one, or that every student will make standard choices once in college. One kid will choose to work 50 hours p/week representing his school on the football field, while another will spend those 50 in the library, and still another will spend them in bed with her new boyfriend. All of them will learn different, important lessons from their choices, and not all of those lessons will be complete by the end of senior year.

Let me go on the weeny record of saying that I sort of agree with all the comments so far. And I’m not that concerned about UT-San Angelo one way or another; there might be SOMETHING, if not that much, to requiring standardized competence is some areas--reading, writing, and ’rithmetic--from that sort of college at the gen ed level. The big thing, maybe, is that the public college requirement will be forced on the privates via government pressure on accrediting associations and related methods, as we have talked about. That will, as Fung suggests, be an attack against the beneficial diversity that characterizes American higher education alone. I am, to put it plainly, okay with allowing some colleges (and professors) to suck in order that the government etc. leave the good, and especially good and strange, ones alone. That’s why I’m for tenure; I’m okay with some tenured leftist holdover losers from the sixties to protect the tenured rightists from the thirteenteh century or whatever--the latter will always be the more endangered species in our politically correct time. And all professors, it seems to me, have the right to be more bohemian than careerist (well, maybe not professors of accounting).

Peter, you apply Abraham’s logic concerning Sodom & Gomorrah to the university system...interesting. I for one don’t see much point in standardized testing for college graduates...they’ve been prescreened for IQ, essentially. And the plethora of majors makes anything beyond very basic test themes impossible. Moreover, most people don’t ever attain a college credential, so I don’t much see the point. The Right needs to keep experimenting with its strategies for balancing the ideological direction and quality of university education...standardized tests are a non-starter.

On the elite university as Sodom and Gomorrah, see I AM CHARLOTTE SIMMONS. The right needs to monitor ideological excesses, which are usually offenses against freedom--that’s true. And the right even needs to raise heck about the moral irrespnsibility that has produced the S and G or state of nature social world, but without much hope in any quick results. The key is to leave the alternatives to S and G alone.

It should be kept in mind that this attempt, like the one currently being undertaken by USDOED Secretary Spellings treats all education the same: job preparedness. This is not what is highest in higher education. It also assumes that there is some sort of minimal agreement on what should be taught to all students and that there is an effective way to test for it. There is in fact no such agreement. One testing regime that is showing promise, as part of a larger assessment protocol, is the Collegiate Learning Assessment. As Phi Beta Kappa stated last week, the highness of the liberal arts needs to be defended. If conservatives merely poke at much of the silliness in higher ed, without offering what the substance should consist of, we are not adding to the discussion, just marginalizing ourselves.

With apologies to million pissed-off secondary and primary teachers, most of whom hold the line on our behalf on the civlization v. barabarism front day after day, I like national standardized testing for the secondary and primary levels, so the Feds can provide to everyone reaonsably neutral statisitics for evaluating the performance of local districts and schools. If you don’t have that, you can’t even pretend to fairly institute voucher programs.

But I think it’s a laughable idea at the higher ed level. What this is going to boil down to is a bunch of harried seniors being told in April that they have to take the exit test before they graduate, and three hours of their life will be wasted. I mean, what’s seriously going to be the consequences of poor scores for any school that places anywhere in the US News top seventy? At any such school, the tenured profs (who control each and every department and who make each and every president cower in abject fear) are going to say, again and again and with a serious degree of plausibility, "No crude test can hope to measure the rich and diverse education we give our students."

No school with the slightest degree of rep is going to say, "Oh no, we scored poorly on the civics test, let’s fire our loony leftists!" And even if they did say this, they couldn’t fire such profs...they could only resolve not to hire new ones...but even for that they’d need substantial tenured faculty agreement.

I like the idea of sane states and sane private-school alumni trying to discipline irresponsible universities, but one has to recognize that these tests can only constitute one sort of evidence-gathering. For those state legislatures that are seriously prepared to shove hard, and who could care less about being called boobish morons day after day in the press by the profs, I think it’d be a lot easier to gather up syllabi in a particular department, or to analyze patterns of party-contributions. With the latter, make it the 80% rule--for every humanities/social science dept that has 80% or more Dems, that University will lose such-and-such an amount of state funding. Unless one is prepared to play such hard-ball, tests are a waste of time, and they are a cure worse than the disease that will wind up harming and badgering those (likely at the smaller schools) who deserve it least.

Does Jeff Martineau have any idea how many well-educated people it would take to empirically demonstrate, in a stringently fair and thus standardized way, the real "highness of the liberal arts?" I have every confidence, that taking the time to create a truly fair and thus truly comprehenisve test, you could compare seniors at Thomas Aquinas with those at UCLA and find the former to be much higher than the latter, on a whole host of rubrics. But such a test would have to employ an army of high-quality evaluators to get reliable results.

Alternate ending to the Republic : Socrates has all the young men in Polemarchus house take a test about what they’ve learned in the course of their dialogue. He and Diotima and Anaxagoras promise to have the results tabluated in a week, which will decisively show that Socrates’ students learn more from his dialogues than Gorgias’ students’ learn from his.

I don’t like the idea of Higher Ed tests. Assuming these tests were to begin as tests of real knowledge (reading, writing, etc.)they would still be problematic for all the reasons that Carl and others have touched on. The REAL problem however is that they will eventually be coopted by college administrators, panels of retired professors, or "nonpartisan" professional bodies like the APSA. Legislators don’t have the will to watch over stuff like this. eventually higher ed tests will seek to assess how well students have imbibed the correct opinions on social justice, diverstiy, etc.
I want to add, contrary to Carl, that NCLB is overall a bad thing for public schools. that piece of legislation was touted as a way to close the achievement gap. The idea being that African American students aren’t achieving because teachers don’t expect them to achieve. this idea is risible. NCLB shifts the blame from where it belongs,parents, to those least to blame, teachers. And don’t think that the black community hasn’t adopted the pernicious logic of NLCB. I have sat thru too many school board meetings in the last couple fo years in which african american parents and community leaders castigated teachers for letting their kids fall thru the cracks, for having the soft bigtry of low expectations, etc. The sad reality is that the problem is with the families or lack thereof from which so many of these students come from.
NCLB is not a complete disaster, but it is close.

My post was written as two seperate ideas/paragraphs. I guess you have to click the New Paragraph button to make it come out right.

Ryan and Carl are right...unless someone can convince me otherwise.

Peter apparently means we’re both right about college testing, because about NCLB/national testing at lower levels, we can’t both be right!

Oh, and Fung’s point remains pragmatic obstacle #1 to any state that wants to try college testing.

Well, right on that 2ndary difference of opinion. Let me repeat that much of what goes on in colleges and universities in the social sciences and humanities is utterly ridiculous, but standardized testing ain’t going to fix that. And if you know what you’re doing, you can get a fine education at many places in our country because of the relative freedom accorded to professors and colleges...

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