Friday, August 11, 2006

Higher Education Report

Today's NY Times reports:
A federal commission approved a final report on Thursday that urges a broad shake-up of American higher education. It calls for public universities to measure learning with standardized tests, federal monitoring of college quality and sweeping changes in financial aid.
The Washington Post notes:
A commission member representing nonprofit colleges declined to sign on, however, saying the report reflected too much of a "top down" approach to reform.... [David] Ward said he supported many of the commission's objectives, but opposed "one-size fits all" prescriptions that fail to reflect the differing mission of colleges.
Ward makes a good point. Higher education in the United States is highly diverse and competitive, and these features are among the strengths of the system. Any attempt to centralize oversight in the federal government is likely to be counterproductive.

I typically support standardized tests. For college admissions, for example, objective measurements of ability and achievement, though imperfect, are more free of bias than are subjective judgments from recommendations and interviews. In my Ec 10 class, multiple-choice questions are a significant part of the evaluation process. But I cannot imagine a standardized test that would be appropriate to test a large number of exiting college students, whose experiences are so heterogeneous.

Small-government Republicans used to call for abolishing the Department of Education. This report seems to call for expanding its powers. If so, it is a step in the wrong direction.