Thursday, February 09, 2006

You call that an education policy?

The Bush Administration: Home to absurd policy initiatives that serve no practical purpose. Education seems to occupy the same approach the public policy that is present in nearly everything pursued by this Administration. In short, there is no policy. The New York Times today lead with this gem on page 1 collumn 1.

My first reaction was, in a sentence, "what the hell?" This makes absolutely no sense. I have always stood firmly opposed to standardized testing, but in the High School level some of the arguments make some degree of sense. The simple fact of the matter is that a percentage of High School teachers don't know what the hell they're talking about. They are a small percentage, but some High School teachers come in with little knowledge about the subjects that they're teaching and can't give the students any useful information. Furthermore, all American children attend High School, it is our bedrock education system and represents the bare minimum of what we expect our children to know. With that in mind there is some role for tracking student performance in High School, though again, I oppose the policy and it is a huge burden on schools that detracts from the actual learning process.

Colleges however, are totally different. First of all, colleges have some control over the students they are admitting. Secondly the presence of majors separates people into needing a knowledge base of some things but not others. Third all the professors in College are experts in their field, they have post graduate degrees in history or biology or political science, whatever it may be.

It is clear what a standardized testing regime would show us. The schools that test well would be the ones with higher admissions standards, the ones that do poorly would be the ones with lower admissions standards. For as is a problem with all testing regimes schools can only do what they can with the students they have. But Colleges have more direct control over what students they have. So the obvious result in a standardized test among colleges would be that schools everywhere would increase their admissions standards. It shouldn't be hard to see how this opposes the value of an educated public, because more people would not attend college. The article cites one cause for concern in American colleges as being a high dropout rate. But the cause of this is obvious and certainly isn't going to be helped by standardized testing. The cause of high drop out rates is twofold, the high cost of tuition and the difficulty of the coursework. Students who don't feel like they can keep up are likely to drop out. What this has to do with standardized testing is beyond me.

Quite frankly, this is one of the most idiotic ideas I've ever heard. So what the hell is the Bush Administration doing even seriously looking at it? Destroying public education. They know that in both High School and College the test scores will show that private schools do better in public schools. The cause of this is of course admissions standards in college, public schools often have softer admissions standards than private schools. In High School admissions is key to the answer once again. Private schools can reject anybody they want and control their student body to prevent people from attending who will drag down the test scores. Public schools on the other hand can't control their student body at all. The ultimate goal of standardized testing? Privatization of education. That is the only explanation which does not lead one to conclude that standardized testing (particularly in college) is bad public policy. For if the goal is privatization of the education system then it must first be demonstrated that private schools are inherently superior to public schools, and that public schools are incapable of supplying a good public education. This way the privatizers can demonstrate how much better the private secter supplies education than the public sector. Once that is done they can privatize education and make education something that only obtainable for the children of elites.

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