What Do You Think?
Donna Garner: Whoever Writes the Tests Controls What is Taught in Every Private and Public College/University in the Country
Texas education policy commentator and teacher Ms. Garner writes "Here it is all laid out for even the most naive to see. The Plan. Establish curriculum standards in colleges/universities, test students, and base federal aid to all private and public colleges/universities upon those tests." In Michigan, Ryan Olsen points out that educrats seem to be focused on a policy to average our way to average.
Okay, here it is all laid out for even the most naive to see. The Plan. Establish curriculum standards in colleges/universities, test students, and base federal aid to all private and public colleges/universities upon those tests. The tests then control what is taught each day in the college/university classes. Soon the college/university professors will narrow the day-to-day instruction to whatever is tested on the tests. Whoever writes the tests controls what is taught in every private and public college/university in the country.
Texas again is leading the way through Charles Miller and Margaret Spellings who helped drive this system into K-12. Because of HB 1 which was passed in Texas just last week, two unelected Commissioners will control the process to set standards for P-16, putting Texas in line to follow The Plan as outlined in this article.
The Plan might not be so bad if we could trust that the college/university standards would be written by people who value traditional, knowledge-based, academic content; but that certainly has not been the case in K-12 standards teams. Most of the states have produced flawed standards which emphasize project-based learning; and consequently, the tests based upon the standards are also flawed and contain highly subjective sections which emphasize students' opinions, beliefs, emotions.
Give this some thought: What if you as a parent of college-age students do not hold the same value system as the people who write the tests? What if you want your children to have a traditional college education that emphasizes Western Civilization and the Judeo-Christian ethic? What if you want your children to take deep-content courses that emphasize democracy, free enterprise, capitalism, and the historical foundation of our country? What if you want your children to read, discuss, and analyze the great classical pieces of literature which have connected generations? What if you choose to pay high tuition to send your children to a private college only to find out that their professors are forced to teach the same type of curriculum as is taught in public colleges/universities because all students must take the same tests in order to receive financial aid?
Remember this guiding principle which every K-12 classroom teacher in America now understands: What gets tested gets taught! Whoever controls the tests controls the minds of the next generation.
May 20, 2006
Future of Higher Education Is Divisive Topic for Panel
By SAM DILLON
WASHINGTON, May 19 - At one end of the table was the chairman of Kaplan Inc., complaining that he could not get Kaplan's for-profit, Internet-based law school accredited because it has no law library. At the other end was former Gov. James B. Hunt Jr. of North Carolina, white-haired and distinguished, pleading for more federal aid for needy students.
The two are members of the Bush administration's Commission on the Future of Higher Education, which concluded a two-day meeting here on Friday. And the person keeping them all laughing was Richard Vedder, an Ohio University economist who suggested that some college students who take six years or more to graduate from college might be too lackadaisical to deserve government aid at all.
"They're climbing rock walls, they're playing, they're drinking - and they're getting Pell grants?" Dr. Vedder said.
The 19 members of the commission represent disparate opinions and interests, and finding common ground is not easy. Refereeing was the chairman, Charles Miller, a private investor and former head of the University of Texas Board of Regents, who wondered aloud how to build consensus among this cacophony of views.
"We may have to duke it out, or have a jump ball," Mr. Miller said.
Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings established the commission last fall to study how to increase access, affordability and accountability in higher education (accountability = tests). Its recommendations on these issues could be critically important for the country's 17 million college students and their parents.
In an interview during the meeting, Mr. Miller said he hoped the commission's report would galvanize the Bush administration and Congress to legislate broad reforms in the nation's system for financing and regulating higher education. If it is punchy and well-written, he said, it could be as influential as "A Nation at Risk," the 1983 report commissioned by President Ronald Reagan that inspired a movement for higher standards and accountability in America's 90,000 public schools.
The commission includes representatives of wealthy private colleges, underfinanced public universities, overcrowded community colleges and for-profit trade schools, as well as private industries that want colleges and universities to concentrate on preparing students for the workplace. The members have discussed thorny issues, including how to control skyrocketing tuition, the proper role in higher education of Internet-based classes, and whether government should use its leverage as a provider of billions in federal aid to require private universities to administer standardized tests.
Mr. Miller's frequent mention during the commission proceedings of "A Nation at Risk," which excoriated the sorry state of America's elementary and secondary education, has left some members nervous.
"We've talked in private to him about that," said David Ward, a commission member and president of the American Council on Education, the largest association of colleges and universities. "If he means that 'A Nation at Risk' had a rhetorical flair that got people's attention, that's certainly true. But the pathology of the public schools in the 1980's is not comparable to higher education today. Our colleges and universities are successful - just not successful enough to confront the challenges of globalization without significant change."
After eight months of meetings and hearings, the commission is to begin writing its report, Mr. Miller said, hoping to get it to Ms. Spellings's desk by mid-September.
The members have a congenial working style that has often masked profound differences. Mr. Hunt argued to his colleagues that to help more needy students attend college, the commission must ask for more government money, because Congress will not simply reallocate financial aid away from middle-class families to the poor.
"If you think you're going to go out there and take those tax credits away from middle-class families, you ought to re-enroll in Politics 101," Mr. Hunt said.
Dr. Vedder said in an interview that his priorities were controlling costs and raising productivity.
"If the report argues, front and center at the top, for large increases in government spending on higher education, then some of us will have trouble signing," Dr. Vedder said.
Perhaps the commission's deepest conflict has been about how to measure student learning and compare it across institutions, (national tests) a goal Mr. Miller has endorsed frequently.
Charles M. Vest, president emeritus of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, said that some on the commission would like it to recommend one or several national tests to measure what postsecondary students have learned. Others, Mr. Vest said, would have the commission ask that every institution state its educational goals, and how it will measure progress toward meeting them. Using a single test to compare students at a community college with students at an Ivy League institution would be of little use, he said.
"We mustn't fall into the trap of 'one size fits all,' " Mr. Vest said. "This is a critical moment for this nation. As the forces of change and globalization accelerate, I want this report to be a call to leadership and effectiveness, not an indictment of the current system. There's a difference in tone."
Copyright 2006 The New York Times Company
Charles Vest on the Open Content and the Emerging Global Meta-University
Committee on Education and the Workforce
Richard Vedder on Comparable Worth
Averaging Our Way to Average
Ryan S. Olsen
The Michigan Education Association and other interest groups are attempting to mandate funding and spending increases in the state education budget. Most of the rhetoric from both proponents and detractors has focused on mandatory funding increases set at the rate of inflation, but the proposal includes other ominous policies that would water down incentives and further damage educational quality.
One such policy is averaging enrollment numbers over three years, a Trojan horse that would substantially and negatively alter incentives for districts to offer quality instruction and practice careful administration and fiscal management. Under current state law, a majority of Michigan's K-12 education money is provided by the state to local districts through a foundation allowance for each student. The total amount a district receives through foundation allowances is based on its pupil count.
Generally, the foundation allowance follows the student. For example, if the parent of a student at Bunker Middle School in the Muskegon city district wants her child to fill a seat made available by the neighboring Mona Shores district, most of the foundation grant from the Muskegon district would be paid to Mona Shores instead of Muskegon.
The proposed mandate would substantially weaken the limited influence parents have in the current system.
The petition circulated by the MEA and currently being considered by the state Legislature would require the state to distribute funds based on the larger of two figures: the current year's enrollment, or the average of the current year's enrollment and the enrollments in the previous two years. The three-year calculation method is currently used only for districts meeting very specific size criteria.
If the proposal had been in effect last year, the Muskegon district would have received funding from the state for about 6,100 students, even though the district's enrollment for funding purposes was about 5,880 that year. Tellingly, the difference between Muskegon's actual and averaged enrollments is about the same as the number of Muskegon students who transferred to the Mona Shores district last spring, according to data from the state government's Center for Educational Performance and Information.
Set aside the fact that the proposal's enrollment calculation would put financial strain on the School Aid Fund by inflating the total number of students actually attending Michigan schools.
The more insidious effect of the proposed mandate would be to weaken incentives created by competition. What strong incentive would the Muskegon district have to improve educational quality enough to encourage students not to transfer to another district or to a nearby charter school? What compelling motive would the Muskegon school board have to be a good steward of taxpayer dollars if the board knew that losing kids to another district would have only a diminished effect on the district's revenue?
In fact, the mandate would substantially weaken the limited influence parents have in the current system. Under limited public school choice laws, including charter schools and inter- and intra-district choice, some parents can participate in their child's education in the most fundamental way, by choosing the school that best suits their child's unique needs.
Every time parents choose a public but nondistrict school for their children, the assigned district loses the state funds it would have received had the parents chosen to keep their kids in the assigned school. When enough parents "vote with their feet," a school district begins to feel the pinch. School board members, administrators and teachers begin looking for ways to cut costs and improve schools. If a district can reverse a downward trend and convince parents it's successful, enrollment numbers and revenues will increase.
Public school choice options constitute a severely restricted market, but they are creating market-like effects around the state. Parents are able - albeit in a limited way - to influence educational quality by making choices that affect school funding.
Further divorcing district income from actual enrollment figures would tell parents as educational consumers that their choices do not matter much. It would tell teachers and administrators that letting educational quality slip would not make much difference. It would tell school boards in districts with dwindling numbers that they don't need to keep as close a watch on taxpayer dollars. It would tell kids that they just don't matter enough to have everyone count.
And it would tell other states and countries that we're not interested in being competitive. Instead, we'd rather average our way to average.