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Tuesday, March 8. 2011
Another good one from Mead
Walter Russell Mead is rapidly becoming one of my favorite Liberals. This from Paul Krugman Gets It Half Right:
These are things I have been preaching for years.
(Good comments here. Thank you.)
Posted by The Barrister in Education, The Culture, "Culture," Pop Culture and Recreation at 14:12 | Comments (10) | Trackback (1)
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As long as cognitive knowledge is the sole expectation, this would all make perfect sense. As concepts such as maturity and experience creep in, however, it tends to fall a little short. I suppose that if we could get used to being defended by a 12 year old lawyer or if we accept 23 year old fourth graders, then sure, why not?
Great column. Covered a lot of topics with some brutal honesty.
There are several problems here, all related to using testing to determine competency. I leave aside the construction of such tests, and merely reference New Rochelle firefighters and the ACT/SAT.
First, for reasons of economic efficiency, students in the K-12 schools would be strongly segregated by test scores so that students at the same level of development could be taught together. Considering that racial groups and boys and girls show consistent differences in test scores, the K-12 schools would also be strongly segregated by race and sex. Don't see that happening. Even the mild "tracking" of the 50 and 60s led to law suits that successfully suppressed them. And even today, there are pressure groups that have conniption fits whenever tracking or segregation for any reason are mentioned.
Slmilarly, at the college level, the numbers of minorities getting BA/BS, MA/MS and PhD degrees would be radically reduced. No or very few Michelle Obamas at Princeton. And except for some areas like engineering and the physical sciences, the number of men getting degrees would also be reduced. On the other hand, the present strong discrimination against Asians in all colleges would be eliminated, and the numbers of Asians getting these degrees would really, really increase. You would have graduating classes consisting mostly of Asian and Ashkenazi Jews.
Most likely, there would be colleges that cater to those scoring low on the entrance exams, and our colleges also would become strongly segregated by race and sex. There would be very strong prejudices pro and con the degrees from certain schools, much more so than now.
Finally, schools at all levels use "butts in seats" as their funding model--how they get money and how they distribute it internally. If students pass more quickly through their education, the number of students enrolled at any one time will be smaller, and the schools will get less money. The funding losses would be exacerbated by using testing to establish competency, because students could then test out of courses (this already happens to a degree for incoming freshmen), bypassing required courses and their instructors entirely.
The result is that many, many vested interests would band together to prevent any significant shift to using testing to determine competency.
As an example, until 20 to 30 years ago, anyone with sufficient experience working for engineering companies could sit for the engineering licensing exam. Nowadays, a BS degree from an accredited college is required. And, some engineering societies, the American Society of Civil Engineers in particular, are pushing for requiring an MS or equivalent to sit for the exam.
Finally, why don't we have trade schools anymore? Is it because of "tracking"? Something like 80% of our children would be better served by a trade school education than by a college preparatory education.
I had a conversation a couple of days ago with another Republican about all the people we had met who regarded themselves as Democrats, but whose ideas were completely conservative. Undoubtedly related to the Independents who can't see any difference between the parties. I've been enjoying Mead as well, but he sure doesn't sound like a liberal.
Certainly many uninspiring college professors could be replaced with a master teacher and excellent film production on your computer. I spent 2 splendid years in a one-room country schoolhouse with no indoor plumbing, which made me permanently skeptical of the idea that more money is the answer for good education.
Schools have never understood the computer, neglecting to teach basic math because you now have a calculator to do the multiplying and other hard stuff for you, and neglecting to teach children to write because they will always use a keyboard.
Perhaps the way to fix education is to really get through to the Humanities departments that they can all easily be replaced with one outstanding teacher online, and there will be a lot of competition for the job of online professor.
Competition usually improves things.
The British university bound students have usually mastered a tougher curriculum than most college bound American students. To get As in the GCE A level exams (which is what it takes to get into Oxford orCambridge takes at least university freshman grade work. So three years is fine.
Also, it depends on the maturity and focus of the students. Most students with high IQs end up changing their mind about majors or at least exploring a variety of subjects that make them better rounded individuals. Four years make this possible. If you take a trade school or early specialist approach to college, 3 years is enough. But if o e wants people to be exposed to a variety of substantive courses untelated to their major, more time helps. Statistics, Economics, biology, government, US and European history, a foreign language, geography, expository writing, Classical Greek and Roman History, international relations, psychology might be the bare minimum to round out a kid's major.
Hey Dr. Mercury!
I had an awesome comment get eaten up by your spam filter.
The only thing I did differently from commenting in the past was put in a Maggies Farm url (I linked back to The Barrister's post on education and signalling. Search for Princeton).
Behold the awesomeness (link removed):
Technology has wrought significant change.
We are still early on in the days of the internet. How long did it take for the steam engine or electricity to reorder society?
Newspapers. Books publishing. Music distribution. Retail. Manufacturing of mass merchandise and automobiles.
To think the same won't happen to education, medicine, law and government is foolish. Like Mead, I don't know what the future of education will look like, but I believe the accreditation model of measuring inputs will be the first to fall. Bob rightly points out problems to be solved and that the entrechened rentiers will fight change every step of the way, but the change is coming.
The techinical fields will fall first. It is easier to design a test to measure the competence of an engineer than an historian. This will be offset by the fact that it will be easier to teach history with video lectures than the science classes engineers need.
Mead's point about the egalitarian nature of competency tests is a good one. Another advantage the test model has is it will significantly reduce the costly waste of our current signaling model of education. It will no longer matter if you went to Princeton or not (go back and find The Barrister's last post on Princeton).
I have talked about this here at Directional U to the point of possibly damaging my career. I believe there will be great rewards to the first mover in this field.
Retriever is right.
The 3-years at Oxford or Cambridge are 100% entirely within one's major.
In UK universities there are no requirements to take a broad spectrum of courses in order to understand history, society, economics, and general science.
When we talk about government run student loan programs and state universities, it is worth asking again what university is for. In the USA private universities were often religiously affiliated at first and intended to develop church-leaders, public ones were often intended to develop teachers for primary and secondary education. We still have a model where the point of education is to develop educated people, rather than just training people for the tasks they might do in a particular career.
The UK has a different paradigm than ours. The UK model of university is different from the US model, which partly copied the UK model, partly copied the German model, and partly developed to compensate for the differences between our primary&secondary education and theirs overseas. The UK didn't need to have the plethora of "Intro to ..." 101-level courses, because this broader education has been done in A-level studies or I.B. before matriculation.
Now, none of this is to say that the time is not ripe for a change. The bulwark that is in the way right now is accreditation, as who would want to certify the first program that had 600 fewer classroom hours of instruction than the equivalent degree from neighboring institutions? The for-profit and trade-schools have been madly adding those 600 hours of math, writing, history, society, economics, and science, because they want the accreditation that qualifies their prospective students for the easy federal college loan money.
I think it would be great for a state university to put together a program like a UK university:
- you have to have completed coursework equivalent to an IB, not just have a HS diploma. If you don't qualify, spend a semester or two at a community college.
- your study will be entirely within your major subject, or related courses that are essential for understanding your major subject (as biology and chemisty are for veteranary and pharmacy programs, etc.)
Of course, as an individual student if this is what you are looking for, you can find it all over Europe right now.
My advice for US high-schoolers, which I have been free with in parson and also on web-fora is this:
Study in Europe.
Not as an exchange student, just apply directly to the European university of your choice and stay there until you graduate. At some universities, the foreign-student tuition cost is reflective of their actual cost-per-student for faculty. staff, facilities, and operations. At others it is heavily subsidized by their own taxpayers. In nearly every case, citizens of any EU country pay the non-foreign rate at any EU university regardless of country. So if you have any kinship relation that qualifies you for citizenship in an EU country, get that passport before you apply for the university. It is fairly simple, for example, for anyone in the US with an Irish grandparent to qualify for Irish citizenship. And there are many people with Irish citizenship who are studying in Sweden and paying zero in tuition as a result.
There are programs all across Europe where the language of instruction is English. This is especially true in Business, Science, and Engineering. I've looked for a good place to get an overview of a countries programs and costs, and this one is pretty good:
studyineurope dot eu
A couple of posters already hit my points, but I will reinforce. One, keeping you in school longer, especially at the college level means more tuition = more income. Second, and closely related making you take classes that have nothing to do with your major protects jobs of those teaching disciplines that we as individuals value less.
Another devious practice, my alma mater has been eliminating lower level non teaching support staff to save money, while at the same time the cost of professors and the very upper level salaries has gone up way beyond the rate of inflation. It has nothing to do with education and everything to do with grabbing all you can for yourself, to hell with everyone else.
I just read a report about local teacher salaries. The state website lists all teachers' salaries, so I hopped over to see what the griping was all about. Here, teachers get raises based on additional degrees and certificates. So the teacher that boogies out of school to run over to the local tech college makes more money than the teacher with 20 years experience or the one that stays after to help students and/or works with a team/club. We have a beloved teacher at our high school that has taught my friends' parents, she has been there so long. She makes 25% less than the 30-somethings that take class after class. Who is the better teacher?
So, it begs the question....who is making the unequivocal statement that buying $$$ more degrees makes you a better teacher and therefore deserve more $$$ pay? Who decides this? And taxpayers don't question it at all.
And, by the way, before someone blasts me for griping at teacher salaries, we live in a small southern (one of those places Wisconsiners are afraid they'll become if funding is cut) community and our experienced teachers are making 55,000 to 100,000 not including their very generous benefits, for nine months of work. It is almost stupid not to teach here. :P (Yeah, silly me.)
Tracked: Mar 08, 21:01