If Education Is Just About Producing Good Test Scores, Then $11,000 Per Year, Per Child, Is Too Much To Spend

An interesting article in Slate by Zephyr Teachout, predicts, “The web will dismember universities, just like newspapers,” and says, “Undergraduate education is on the verge of a radical reordering. Colleges, like newspapers, will be torn apart by new ways of sharing information enabled by the Internet. The business model that sustained private U.S. colleges can’t survive.”  Teachout writes:

Both newspapers and universities have traditionally relied on selling hard-to-come-by information. Newspapers touted advertising space next to breaking news, but now that advertisers find their customers on Craigslist and Cars.com, the main source of reporters’ pay is vanishing. Colleges also sell information, with a slightly different promise—a degree, a better job, access to brilliant minds and training in the art of thinking. As with newspapers, some of these features are now available elsewhere. … A student can already access videotaped lectures, full courses, free articles, and openly available syllabi online—plus books that can be searched and borrowed from libraries around the world. The amount of structured information is already astounding, and in five or 10 years, the curious 18- (or 54)-year-old will be able to find dozens of quality online History of the Chinese Revolution classes, complete with video lectures, syllabi, take-it-yourself tests, a bulletin board populated by other ‘students,’ and links to free academic literature.”

I like that insight that education traditionally has been defined as acquiring “hard-to-come-by information.” Our whole state testing system defines education as the knowledge of information that can be demonstrated on standardized objective tests.  Everyone in “successful” schools seem to want to agree with this definition of education and are happy to display banners within their school showing their state grade of “Excellent,” and now, even, “Excellent With Distinction.”

I said in the LWV taping that we need to remember that the whole state testing program is based on minimum standards.  It is not reasonable to suppose that if a school accomplishes sufficient minimum standards it should be judged an “Excellent” School, but that is how the system works.  And the standards are all based on objective tests that are subject matter information based.  When this system was initiated, it was seen as a big improvement over the laissez-faire system it replaced that every year gave high school diplomas to scandalously undereducated students.  But the system was never meant to be a measure of “Excellence.”

How “education” is defined has huge consequences.  We don’t think someone is properly educated to drive a car simply because he or she can pass a written information-based objective test.  We know that to be educated means much much more than knowing information.

Teachout’s idea that “Both newspapers and universities have traditionally relied on selling hard-to-come-by information,” is provocative because, yes, his insight that the definition of “education” has been largely dumbed down to mean that which can be tested is correct.   If education is simply what can be tested, if test scores of objective tests is how we define school “excellence,” then Teachout is correct, there are many ways now to achieve this definition of “excellence,” test scores, at a much cheaper cost.

Kettering Schools spends over $11,000 per year on each student’s education and if it’s just about producing test scores, this is way too much to spend.  If it’s about children understanding and developing their potential, about children finding and using their talents and creativity, about children growing into responsible and active citizens and neighbors, then it’s money well spent.

I like the phrase I read recently, I forget where, that education has fallen victim to “McNamara’s Fallacy” – the tendency to make the measurable important rather than the important measurable.

One reader of the article replied,  “I disagree with Mr. Teachout’s basic premise, that the product of both newspapers and colleges/universities is information and thus online sources will kill the physical institution.  The product of a college/university should be a well- rounded student well-versed in his or her major.  Online classes are already a part of that, but they will never be the whole of it.”

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