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Saturday, April 21, 2012

Holding Educators Accountable

A report published by Uwezo, an education advocacy organization based in East Africa revealed that only 75% of pupils in class five could read and add at the level expected of a class two pupil. This report raised, unsurprisingly, the questions and debate on weather our kids were learning, and what they were learning.  

In my opinion the question of weather learning is occurring must be asked at all levels of education. I think we must direct our focus to what is going on in our universities, especially the quality and caliber of our graduates.  

We must think about how to hold our professors accountable to the modest but considerable public resources we spend on higher education.

In an Op-ed piece published April 19 in the NYTimes, David Brooks writes that there is fragility hanging over America’s colleges. This fragility Brooks writes comes from the fact that colleges are charging high tuition but it is not clear what benefits they provide.  

Brooks cites the seminal work by Arum and Roska in their book, “Academically Adrift”, in which they found that nearly half the students showed no significant gain in critical thinking, complex reasoning and writing skills during the first two years in college.

Here is an excerpt of David  Brooks column, Testing Teachers.

“In 1961, students spent an average of 24 hours a week studying. Today’s students spend a little more than half that time.  This is an unstable situation. At some point, parents are going to decide that $160,000 is too high a price if all you get is an empty credential and a fancy car-window sticker.

One part of the solution is found in three little words: value-added assessments. Colleges have to test more to find out how they’re doing.  Colleges and universities have to be able to provide prospective parents with data that will give them some sense of how much their students learn.

In 2006, the Spellings commission, led by then-Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings, recommended a serious accountability regime. Specifically, the commission recommended using a standardized test called the Collegiate Learning Assessment to provide accountability data. Colleges and grad schools use standardized achievement tests to measure students on the way in; why shouldn’t they use them to measure students on the way out?

The challenge is not getting educators to embrace the idea of assessment. It’s mobilizing them to actually enact it in a way that’s real and transparent to outsiders. The second challenge is deciding whether testing should be tied to federal dollars or more voluntary. Should we impose a coercive testing regime that would reward and punish schools based on results? Or should we let schools adopt their own preferred systems?

Given how little we know about how to test college students, the voluntary approach is probably best for now. Foundations, academic conferences or even magazines could come up with assessment methods. Each assessment could represent a different vision of what college is for. Groups of similar schools could congregate around the assessment model that suits their vision. Then they could broadcast the results to prospective parents, saying, “We may not be prestigious or as expensive as X, but here students actually learn.”

This is the beginning of college reform. If you’ve got a student at or applying to college, ask the administrators these questions: “How much do students here learn? How do you know?”

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