I’d like rant a little bit today about something that has been happening in my fair state. North Carolina’s governor, Pat McCrory, has recently spoken out about his plans for our university system. In particular, he spoke about funding to this system. It is no secret that our system features incredibly affordable public universities, heavily subsidized by the state government. Apparently, Governor McCrory is not a fan of our system because he feels our graduates fail to get jobs. Instead of giving money to universities based on the number of students enrolled, he proposed giving money based on the number of students who get jobs.
McCrory argued, “I think some of the educational elite have taken over our education where we are offering courses that have no chance of getting people jobs,” and proceeded to cite gender studies and philosophy degrees specifically as producers of unemployable graduates. (BTW, Governor, if the educational elite shouldn’t be running education — their area of expertise — then who should be? Isn’t that the job they were trained to do? I’m confused.)
This has become, essentially, a battle between vocation and liberal arts education. It’s a very common educational debate: are we preparing student for jobs or are we preparing them to think critically with a broad base of learning experiences? I’ll say up front that I am firmly in the liberal arts camp. I went to college to get a liberal arts education, not to get a job. And this model has been highly successful at schools like UNC-Chapel Hill. It enrages me to see what politicians want to do in the name of “job creation” or “the economy.” The last thing we need is thousands of engineering students (who would rather have been philosophers) flooding the job market and making things worse.
There are many more good points stated in various articles and blog posts that I have seen posted around Facebook: businesses are actually looking for skills taught in liberal arts degrees, that Governor McCrory himself has a liberal arts degree (and a job…), that Republicans are anti-intellectual, that Republicans would have benefited from some gender studies knowledge during the 2012 elections, that the job market is too unpredictable to determine with majors will lead to jobs, etc. It just really makes me sad to see what the leader of my state values. Am I particularly surprised? No. But that does not make the verbal blow hurt any less.
If you want to know more about this issue in depth, you can read this article from The Charlotte Observer.
Or check out this blog post from Religion News Services that examines the politics of this debate.
What do you think is the value of a liberal arts education? Do you stand on the vocational side or the liberal arts side of this debate?
It’s that time of year, folks.
Buy a whole pack of #2 and sharpen them all, buddy, because we’re doing this for the next three weeks.
Yeah, you heard me right. THREE. WEEKS.
Personally, I think this time of year is my personal version of hell. I have to sit with students for four hours each day, and I literally can do nothing except watch them take the test. I can’t read, write, doodle, sleep, or do anything except watch my kids fill in bubbles. My brain needs mental stimulation and I can’t handle just watching the clock tick for hours and hours over three days of testing and three days of retesting.
Testing in my state (and probably in yours!) bothers me because it’s too much. There are so many stakeholders in education: teachers, administrators, parents, community members, policy makers, and even the students themselves. Because each of these groups are demanding MORE data and MORE accountability, we equate that with MORE tests, LONGER tests, MORE days of pre- and re-testing, and MORE testing security. As a result, we spend at least fifteen days pre-testing, testing, and re-testing our students just for the main test — that’s not counting, ESL, writing, vocational, and high school-level exams. We also devote several hours each morning over fifteen days for school-wide “tutoring” and remediation, in addition to our government-sponsored after school and Saturday tutoring.
Testing is important because we get an individual score for the student, the teacher, the school, and the district. We calculate pass/fail rates, growth, and value added by the teacher. Score are tied to the school improvement plan and goals for the following year. We are constantly shown data and graphs telling us how we rank against other schools in our district. When our school shows up at the bottom of the graph, teachers and administrators are told we aren’t working hard enough. When we are at the top it is assumed that we are doing something right. Everything comes down to the test.
Testing fascinates me because I think we do too much of it. Too much rides on one test, and I don’t believe the test gives an accurate picture of a student’s success. Don’t get me wrong — the scores are definitely useful. They show us patterns and areas we need to target. However, I think we can get these same results with a shorter test. Two hours of math one day, and two hours of reading the next would suffice — no quarter tests. No retests. No four hour testing sessions. While testing stresses the kids out, most of them realize it does not define them as students. Their grades don’t always correlate with their test scores, and they are almost always promoted to the next grade level, even if they fail. We aren’t making our kids pre- and re-test for their benefit, we are making them pre- and re-test so we can force them to get the highest possible score on a very specific test. The adults (teachers and administrators) need the highest possible scores to justify budgets, teacher quality, and policies.
Our students would fare better and learn more if we took back our thirty days of testing and tutoring and put those back into teaching curriculum. If we’d stop teaching to the test, students might actually perform better on the test itself.
Just a thought.
Since I can’t do much else during testing but think, I’ll be thinking a lot about these issues over the next three weeks. I hope folks across the nation are thinking about some of the same things, and that one day we can scale back on our death-by-assessment practices.
So tell me…what do you think of testing? Love it? Hate it? Necessary evil? Do you have to participate in testing? Does it numb your brain like it numbs mine?