Tomorrow the meetings start, followed by a few days of registration, and then classes begin. It’s that time of year again. Question is – what exactly will I and my colleagues and my students accomplish this year? There’s a great article in the September Washington Monthly by Kevin Carey called “Is Our Students Learning?” that gets at just that question – and the inability of most people to answer it.
There are no widely available measures of how much learning occurs inside the classroom, or of how much students benefit from their education. This makes the process of selecting a college a bit like throwing darts at a stock table. It also means that colleges and universities…feel little pressure to ensure that students learn.Carey’s article is aimed mainly at elite schools, pointing out that their reluctance to publish data on student outcomes makes it impossible to assess whether their high-priced services are really worth it. But elite schools are not the only ones where this is an issue. At all levels, it’s very hard to get real data that would enable prospective students to judge whether a particular school will in fact provide them with a good education. I can’t believe that this will last. As tuition rises everywhere (more about that in a later post), parents, students, and legislators are understandably demanding to know if all that money is accomplishing anything. It’s just a matter of time before every school in the country has to start publishing data on teaching effectiveness – and that’s when things will start hitting the fan, so to speak.
I for one welcome it. We need to have our feet held to fire. Sure, it’ll be more work for me and my students, but I got into this business to teach, dang it (oh, and to have summers off). Accountability is a must, and it will spur better teaching everywhere. And here’s where I have a small bit of agreement with the wingnuts. I don’t think competition can improve public schools like they think it will, but I do think it will work for higher education (it’s a question of universal vs. selective enrollment, mainly). Publish those scores – I’m ready.