Thursday, October 06, 2005

I Heard it on the Radio

It seems that there was a show on PBS last night about education reform, but I didn't get the chance to watch it. However, on the Kojo Nnamdi show yesterday, there was an interesting interview with the producer of the show. Also, Kojo interviewed Chris Whittle from Edison Schools. I thought he had some good insites, and as much as I find that he brings too much corporatism into education, I think he genuinely is into his work for the right reasons.

The one place where I did find that I had dissagreements with him was where he places such a high opinion on the American University system and how it teaches students. Basically, he wants to drop the number of classes in High school, and give students more independant time. He says that if it works so well for the Universities (where students spend about 1/3 the amount of time in class as high schoolers), then it should work in high school. There's something to this. I certainly believe that the American high school is way too rigid and doesn't allow for students to independantly follow ideas, nor does it allow for good mentorship. However, I think that he's wrong in thinking that Universities actually teach anybody anything.

There is a small minority of undergraduates who are able to involve themselves with their professors, begin reasonable research, and actually get something academically out of the experience. These students mostly go on to graduate school, and perpetuate the "great american university". But these students mostly started with good SAT scores, came from good high schools, and were going to get good grades no matter what.

The rest of students at universities go to class, do some work because they have to, pick up some life skills, make some social/work connections, and enter the work force 4 years later with probably not that much more academic skill than they started with. Largely, I would say this is the fault of poor teaching, but the blame really goes to the administrations that don't give their professors the environment, resources, training, or threat to teach more effectively. Although academic freedom is very important to the argument, as well as the diversity of courses of study, I would bet that many universities shy away from state level exit assessments, because they know that their students wouldn't do that well. And even if they did, I have to wonder whether college student scores would increase at all between an entrance and exit exam. (Yes, I admit that that test would be awful hard to define.)

If you want to base high schools on the honors college at Harvard, then be my guest. But, if you want them to look like the average university student's educational experience (which is what would happen if you weren't very very careful), then you're not helping anyone, and probably you're making things worse.

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