Strengthening Constitutional Self-Government

No Left Turns

Assessment, ugh

A friend called my attention to this compelloquent response to the educrats. Here’s a bit:

(1) The report has forgotten the centrality of the faculty to what we are about in our colleges, and risks leaving on the sidelines of the national dialogue those who most need to be at the heart of
the conversation. We will not answer the question about the quality of education by addressing transferability of credits. That only helps us focus on the “degree” as the end of education, rather than the learning itself.

(2) Learning assessment ought to be an integral part of learning itself. It must be left to the classroom, the faculty, and the local institution. Nothing can be gained by broad, outside measuring instruments that cannot take account of what is going on between student and teacher, student and student, or the student and the books or equipment in the classroom. The report allows for such a solution, but encourages the worst tendencies in us --- to teach what can be
measured, or to focus our attention on those things that are of least importance to living a thoughtful, examined life. “Objectivity” in assessment tools is useless or harmful when it measures nothing essential to the kind of learning we seek to foster.

(3) The report fails to recognize that its aims --- economic competitiveness, efficiency, and productivity --- are not the highest aims of our democratic society, founded on the rights of all to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, and that education is a means to these goods too.

Read the whole thing.   

Discussions - 9 Comments

I can’t read the entire thing w/o fooling around with some drawing for a coffee mug.

But the intro is loony enough. Educators are totally concerned with degrees, publications, certificates, and phony measurements of students and each other.

What they repeatedly reject is the contention that they account for how public money is spent. When that is asked they resort to mystic chants that money and material things are not what is truly important in a well-lived life.

All they wish is that others pay while they tend the candles on the altars where they worship themselves.

Puffy and stuffy, ain’t it?

Conservatives who wish to have something to conserve had better figure out a way of supporting the elements of a liberal education (such as that offered by Chris Nelson’s institution, St. John’s College, Annapolis) that aren’t susceptible to the ham-handed sorts of measurement typically deployed for the sake of assessment. In addition, if the freedom and decentralization that have been the hallmarks of the American system of higher education are worth anything, if our system is preferable to that, say, of France, then conservatives ought to support folks like Nelson and his colleagues at SJCA.

Nelson surely has a point, even if he expresses it somewhat stuffily for my taste. I had no trouble making a living with an English degree (even without teaching, the only thing my peers at the time considered the degree to be worth) but a legislator (Tom Delay comes to mind here)isn’t likely to be convinced that a liberal education, for its own sake, is worthy of a lot of tax money. He has to have numbers to prove his point. I suppose that’s why the St. Johns Colleges have always been rather small--although in their case, across the street from the Naval Academy, there’s nowhere to expand.

Compelloquent is a cool word, and immediately understandable to me, altho Google can’t figure it out.

I pretty much endorse what Stanley added. Liberal arts, a love of learning, or non-materialism are things well worth having. And they are private beliefs.

When public funding enters the picture things change. Exactly why should elected officials not be allowed to decide if spending is effective or produces what they wish?

Public funding is money taken by decree from taxpayers. If those elected cannot decide what to fund and how to evaluate the results then who is to do so? In what way is the public obligated to obey educators?

No one, including educators, likes others tinkering with their work and saying if it is well done or should be done in another manner. But that is what happens when others supply your funds. Private colleges will either be private or they will not - it’s that simple.


I guess you didn’t regard Nelson (an impressive chap in person, by the way) as "compelloquent" in the same way I did.

Dick and K,

I agree that the presence of federal money and, generally speaking, the high sticker price of private higher education pose a challenge to the traditional guild-like self-regulation of higher education. I’d add that the relatively recent post-modern assault on common standards (except when convenient) has made self-regulation less trustworthy. But the easy alternative (finding standardizable, measureable outcomes) runs the risk of reducing education to the lowest common denominator. The quantifiers will run the show, which will discomfit the lefty professors conservatives would surely like to discomfit, but also undermine a diverse system that has worked reasonably well for generations. Couldn’t we agree, for example, that federal student aid money functions like a voucher, trusting students, parents, and the marketplace generally to "discipline" the providers?

Joe: Your last about vouchers or money functioning like a voucher. That suits me fine personally. Yet I think it only shifts the problem.

SJC and many other smaller schools are, I assume, run by conscientious people and offer excellent programs. And, as I said before, many such things ARE worthwhile besides materialism, unexamined lives, and associated ills.

But how do we decide which ’schools’ offer something worth subsidizing by vouchers? Accredition? By whom?

Is the public to pay for schools devoted to advanced sexual satisfaction? Or marital arts, or levitation by breath control, or finger painting as a diet technique, or the philosophy of Adolf Hitler (he did have one). Everyone of those things has advocates and if there is easy money to be had from vouchers anything will be taught and students gulled.

So we come back to either giving the money away or limiting how it may be spent. Individuals should choose as they wish. But if elected government is to mean anything those elected must decide how to spend public money.

No one says you have to fund everything with vouchers, but at the same time I’m not sure I want the feds (or even the regional accreditors) deciding what the appropriate content of an education is. The likelihood in those circumstances is that bad ideas would win the day, as they almost did a bit more than a decade ago when two of the regional associations tried to impose a bit of politically correct diversity on the curricula at St. John’s and Thomas Aquinas College.

Our choice seems to be between government money with probably ham-handed (and often misguided) control and government money empowering consumer choice, with accreditors making sure that what’s in the box is roughly the same as what’s on the label. If we could get federal money of it entirely, I might be happiest, but that strikes me as highly unlikely.

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