Home > Uncategorized > “Efficient” Outcomes Based Education Good for “Second Tier” Colleges and Learners… Not So Much for Affluent Students

“Efficient” Outcomes Based Education Good for “Second Tier” Colleges and Learners… Not So Much for Affluent Students

February 25, 2018

Today’s NYTimes features an op ed piece by Molly Worthen, an assistant professor of history at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, titled “The Misguided Drive to Measure ‘Learning Outcomes’“. In the article, Ms. Worthem describes the cottage industry that has sprung up around the demand that colleges prove that students are receiving a good return on investment through the use of standardized assessments that “measure” whether students are mastering skills like “truthseeking” and “analyticity.” In her essay, Ms Worthem also notes that this desire to measure “outcomes” is particularly emphasized in second tier colleges, particularly those state and proprietary colleges designed to serve first generation students. At the same time, the “elite” colleges effectively ignore the entire movement, signaling a disdain for any effort to measure what a college education provides for its students. Near the end of her article, Ms. Worthem offers this observation:

“Teaching it is not a cheap or efficient process. It does not come from trying to educate the most students at the lowest possible cost or from emphasizing short, quantifiable, standardized assignments at the expense of meandering, creative and difficult investigation.”

In a comment I left at the conclusion of the article, I noted that this drive for efficiency is the fallacy in the entire “reform” movement in public education, which is designed to use standardized tests to identify “best practices” that can be scaled up to help “deficient schools” improve their performance as measured by standardized tests. The “failing” public schools serving those who do poorly on standardized tests, like the “less prestigious colleges”, gear their curriculum to increasing their test scores while the public schools serving affluent and well educated children– who do well on these tests without coaching— offer a wider array of courses and opportunities.

What I didn’t note in the comment was this: the “elite” colleges do not make any effort to strive for affordability any more than “elite” private schools or “elite” public school districts. The parents who spend their own funds to pay tuition for elite private schools or pay a premium on their housing to reside in affluent school districts do not view their spending as “throwing money at a problem”. Rather, they see the premium prices they pay for schooling and housing as an investment. In the meantime, those who resent paying taxes for “other children” see low test scores as evidence that their precious tax dollars are being spent wastefully. The desire for cheap and efficient education only exists when voters are seeking a rationale for lower taxes and when voters see education as an “expense” as opposed to an “investment”.

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