Parents and students “have no solid evidence, comparable across institutions, of how much students learn in colleges or whether they learn more at one college than another” (13). To address these problems, the Spellings commission urges a number of reforms. The most controversial is that, to improve accountability, “higher education institutions should measure student learning” (23) using “quality-assessment data” that would be made public. These “outcomes-focused” measurements of what students are learning at particular colleges would “be accessible and useful for students, policymakers, and the public,” as well as for academics themselves (23), and would enable parents and prospective students to compare the quality of education offered by different colleges and universities.
Comments on the Spellings Commission Report, from the Executive Council of the Modern Language Association of America, March 2007
First there was the fiasco of No Child Left Behind, which Brian Stecher has called “a failure of imagination,” that “focuses on a very narrow set of outcomes, and ignores many elements that students and their families find satisfying, challenging and motivating about their schools.” It’s also a boon for the standardized testing industry and contributes to shrinking budgets for everything from physical fitness to music education.
In classic Bush fashion, since it did not work, it’s time to bring the same programs to colleges and universities. This time, though, things are different. The Bush administration does not quite have the sexy cache it once had, to say the least, and the parties involved are much more powerful than teacher’s unions and parents groups. So the creation of a denatured, narrow curriculum, seem to have hit a snag. Here’s the MLA’s timid but nonetheless strikingly critical response.
What’s interesting about the Spelling Commission’s report is its utter irrelevance. It says nothing about the rise in the use of part-time labor, inflated tuition and fees, the destruction of academic freedom of speech, the rise of proprietary education. or the general dying up of funding for higher educatoin. It looked at an entire system in crisis and it decided that the best solution was standardized testing.