“Measuring” education

drdenny sent this along earier today. Before I launch in, let me note that the following isn’t intended as a scattershot against the whole concept of accountability, and there are people noted in the article that are behaving in what seem to be intelligent ways. That said, there are moments where other kinds of motivations become apparent to the critical reader, motivations that lead us not to real education, but to an assembly line, McDonalidized bastardization of learning. So, onward….
I tend to react violently to attempt at embedding sales jobs in apparently innocent critiques. In this article, we get Peter T. Ewell, senior associate of the National Center for Higher Education Management Systems in Boulder, attempting to sneak past us the idea that teachers who aren’t for “measuring” their effectiveness are hiding something, when in fact that whole rage to measurement is in and of itself a trojan horse that serves all kinds of masters, not the least of which are the sorts who benefit financially from our No Child Left Behind culture of euphemasia. One audience it doesn’t serve is the student audience.

Some of us recognize that “measurement” is about standardization, not excellence. It’s about administrativa, not teaching. It’s about meeting with consultants, not discussions with students.

I think about the best teachers I ever had, people who changed my way of seeing life. Dr. Jim Booth, (aka sirpaulsbuddy, then of Ledford High School, now at the U of Maryland University College, whose freshman and advanced senior English courses literally changed the entire course of my life, starting the day in August 1975 when I first walked into his classroom). Dr. Jerry Burger, whose Social Psychology class at Wake Forest is why I became a Psych major. Dr. Nancy Cotton, also at Wake, whose passion for things like drama as literature resulted in me being the only person in a packed theater in Denver, Colorado in 1998 who got the John Webster reference in Shakespeare in Love (which resulted in me laughing uncontrollably while my girlfriend tried to shush me – she didn’t get it, nobody else got, so I was therefore embarrassing her). Dr. Edwin Wilson at Wake, whose Blake, Yeats and Thomas course was so compelling I went back two years later and paid $60 for the privilege of sitting in the lectures to hear it all again. Dr. Neal Bowers at Iowa State, whose creative writing classes helped me figure out the importance of knowing who to listen to and who not to listen to. Drs. Wick Rowland, Stewart Hoover, and Mike Tracey at the U of Colorado, men who were so damned brilliant it was a privilege to be allowed to sit in the same room while they talked.

You know what they all had in common? Right – none of them were “measured” by corporate ed interests or accreditors.

I had a talk with one of the aforementioned educators the other day, and he now spends an inordinate amount of his time not teaching and having the impact I’m talking about here, but working on process and measurement and “rubrics.” Which means that somewhere in his university system are a lot of kids whose “education” will be quantified to the satisfaction of legions of lawyers, litigious students, and ass-covering bureaucrats. What they “know” might be useless, but it will by god be measurable. He and I talked about what this means for our futures as educators, and we both fear that in time it will surely drive us out of the profession.

I know a lot of the folks driving the measurement bus have the best of intentions, but they’re driving that bus top-speed down the Highway to Hell (which, as we know, is paved with good intentions). What we’re seeing in the cult of quantification is a societal pathology. This is what happens when things break down, and people who have studied the Myers-Briggs can tell you that when things start to slip, we tend to react by making decisions out of inferior modes. Which makes it even worse, and now you’re in a death-spiral.

Measurement isn’t the answer. We’re getting to the point where it’s the problem.


4 thoughts on ““Measuring” education

  1. 100% agree. I remember that as a kid, my grades were the most important thing. Then I worried about the SAT. I had absolutely no problem with grades in college, but did not learn a single thing as I was too busy playing poker and making drugs. In grad school, all I worried about was making a B and pleasing my advisory comittee. At our school, the grad courses had 3 grades….A,B, or F. I never fit into a standardized mold and have turned out all right.
    Where my kid goes to school, all classes use a technique known as the Harkness Table. It’s sort of a roundtable discussion on steroids. He was complaining that the school load was too hard as they made him translate Cicero, and read too much. He still complains, but over the year and a half he’s been there, I’ve noticed his mind becoming first rate. His school uses no form of rubrics, they just hire the best professors who are passionate……and let them teach. It’s a real good preparation for college.
    I really loved your post, I just had to interject my two cents.

  2. My guess is that hiring the best teachers also means they pay better than the minimum wage we pay most teachers.
    The old adage is oft true – you get what you pay for….

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