The State of Education in America Today…..

From a little-known blog I like comes the following:

Your host is in the throes of final exams. It is getting ugly, good friends, once again seeking that right and appropriate balance between the evaluation instrument that adequately tests students’ mastery of course objectives while at the same time not turning finals into the academic equivalent of a slaughterhouse. Of course, there’s also the small consideration of not wanting my tires slashed, too. So what do I do? The same thing I’ve done for more than two-and-a-half decades. I write the finals, then I walk away from them for a day, then I go back and look at what I’ve done. When I see a question that makes me wince, I kill it and put in something easy as penitence. One big problem is perspective: everything I ask looks easy and obvious to me, but that is most decidedly not the case for students. Setting aside the undeniable fact that students in this era are woefully underprepared not just for the coursework, but for learning, itself, any teacher who thinks he or she is giving an “easy” test needs to step back and ask, “Easy for whom?” It’s still frustrating. The so-called “No Child Left Behind” initiative is a miserable failure. Ask a hundred parents, educators, and politicians what its primary objective was supposed to be, and you’ll get a surprising diversity in answers. Was the objective to make students ‘smarter’? better able to take standardized tests? more capable of performing well in the work place? more prepared for the next level of learning? Even the best program of education rehabilitation could not achieve all of those noble objectives; but NCLB most definitely is compatible with the increasingly pervasive institutionalization of productive environments everywhere from the work place to the schools. Even colleges are becoming more institutionally rigid, with catch words and phrases like “standards,” “assessments,” “learning outcomes,” and all manner of complicated, multi-word babble starting to sneak out of the administrative ranks and into the classrooms, themselves. It all becomes a game with most outcomes not very attractive. On the one hand, I can be the outspoken, acerbic, snarling Luddite, growling, “Oh, knock it off with that crap, already,” thereby becoming the lightning rod for all kinds of punitive administrative measures that come like finely honed knives in the back. On the other hand, I can play right along, perhaps even out-doing the out-doers with babble-phrases and reams of evaluation instruments and proposals for assessment enhancements and multi-dimensional learning outcome checklists, thereby attempting to short-circuit the nonsense with the administrative equivalent of sensory overload. I thought this one was a good idea, so I did it a couple of years ago. Much to my horror awhile later, my crowning glory of utter insanity in a learning outcomes checklist (what is sometimes referred to these days by the gag-inducing term “rubric”) actually showed up as a recommended instrument for implementation! Dear God, you want to talk about hate speech: no one would have believed me if I’d said the whole thing was supposed to have been a joke. Fortunately, the way academia works, if an idea can be stolen by bigger fish, it will be stolen by those bigger fish, and that’s what happened. Only a small group of people ever knew that the instrument was my doing. So much for creative rebellion. I’ll be administering tests next week. Most of my students will pass. Most of them will have learned quite a bit. Sadly, though, I cannot guarantee you that their grades reflect some absolute level of achievement or even aptitude with respect to the content of the course. They’re not well-prepared academically when they come in, and they’re not well-prepared academically when they leave, even if they have passed. But they do have knowledge and skills leaving that they didn’t have when they started. Whether they wanted to or not, they learned quite a bit. Although I cannot give you any assurances, I can say that it is my hope that, not only did they learn a lot about the subjects of the courses they took from me, but they also learned at least a little bit about how to learn.

I, A.Citizen, thought you’d be interested.


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