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Christensen Newsletter’s “Solution” to Accreditation: Let Employer’s Drive the Train

May 21, 2016

“Five Ways to Modernize Accreditation”, Julie Freedland Fisher’s column in the weekly Christensen Newsletter, maddeningly misses the point about college. Like most of the thinking I’ve seen recently about college, Ms. Fisher begins with the assumption that schooling is all about workforce readiness. As one who attended a cooperative work-study university, led public schools for 29 years, and— most importantly— raised two children and spent 14+ years with three adult step-children I do not see college as training for careers. Ms. Fisher’s first four way to modernize accreditation focus on financing, measuring, and preparing students for work. In her fifth way to modernize accreditation, Ms. Fisher writes:

Let’s ask the question: what is college? Our answer should consider how emerging institutions–such as bootcamps, online competency-based programs, and employer-embedded training programs–can more effectively meet the educational and financial needs of increasingly diverse prospective students.

And here was my response to her question:

“What is College?” College is a place where students can spend four years figuring out who they are! As the father of adult children who work in social services, free-lance writing, managing and designing mountain bike trails, and rehabilitating old timber frame buildings I don’t see any connection between their college majors and their work. But I DO see a connection between what they learned about themselves during college and their work. I also note that two are self-employed and two work for non-profits… but none of them want to be billionaires or think of themselves as “cogs in an economic machine”. I think the “investment” in college paid off, though, because they find their work fulfilling and are doing a good job at raising their children and they seem satisfied with their lives.

In today’s corporatized view of “school”, children from kindergarten onward are subject to age-based tests that have nothing to do with their own interests and have no demonstrable correlation with work force preparedness or college readiness. If the high stakes assessments we administer DID have any connection to these outcomes one would expect that after 15 years of standardized testing that post secondary institutions and employers would see an improvement in preparedness.

The algorithm suggested in this article seems to be driven by the same logic as the factory model in place in K-12 education and seems to seek the same end: it seeks compliant, well-trained worker-bees for “employers” and does not strive to meet the needs of the human beings seeking meaning in their work. Maybe if we allowed children to seek meaning instead of ever increasing test scores we just might get the committed work force ALL employers want to see instead of the directionless sheep we seem to be graduating from high school and college.

I generally agree with the overarching themes of the Christensen Institute because they often– if unwittingly– recommend the abandonment of the lockstep age-based cohorts that characterize today’s public schools. But the end Ms. Fisher sees for schooling— workforce preparedness– is less important than preparing for life.

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