Saturday, August 12, 2006

High School Exit Exam Upheld--And Chickens Come to Roost in Higher Ed

Here's the news you didn't hear: Yesterday, the California Court of Appeals upheld the requirement that every student in the Golden State must indeed pass the High School Exit Exam to earn a diploma. Lawyers for the plaintiffs, who have not challenged the test itself but rather the quality and equity of school resources, are now appealing to California's Supreme Court. (For background, see our recent coverage of Valenzuela v. O'Connell.) If students don't pass the test, the judges argued, they will be given a message that they don't have adequate skills to succeed in life.

Here's the news you did hear: Two days earlier, university professors from across the country were shocked! shocked! to hear Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings and her federal commission admonish higher education to clean up its act with standardized testing. (The committee did settle on laughably euphemistic language for some recommendations at the end of its session, as reported by the NY Times, changing "should require" testing to "should measure student learning" with tests. Of course, any public school teacher knows what this really implies for colleges, who would be foolish to consider the phrase adjustment some sort of appeasement or exemption.) Spellings' Commission on the Future of Higher Education--which includes members from private and public schools, think tanks and corporations--certainly did offer some enticements, in the form of increased money for Pell Grants to finance student attendance. Pell Grants, of course, mean more political leverage via federal money spent expressly on colleges and universities.

It's difficult to sympathize with the outcry from universities, who have themselves been largely complicit in the test mania perpetrated on "little sister" K-12--while remaining insanely out of touch with daily realities of compulsory schools and local communities. The university system has, in effect, fed the monster it now decries as counter to its educational interests.

As an ETS speaker told one group at its Orlando Pathwise Conference in June, "The old system used to be that universities told the primary and secondary schools what to do. Now the Nation's Report Card is going to tell the universities." This statement is only half of the story, however. The Nation's Report Card itself has been largely influence by corporate interests such as Achieve! and The Business Roundtable. Educational testmakers such as ETS and Reed-Elsevier have long been in bed with corporations such as Hewlett Packard, Microsoft, and IBM.

Consider this passage on corporate involvement in education as posted on our own U.S. Department of Education website:

Today, more than ever before, corporate prosperity as well as our economic success as a nation depends on a highly educated workforce. The demand for highly skilled and well-educated workers in the new economy will only increase over time, making businesses major stakeholders in the educational success of our children.

To this end, the Office of Corporate Liaison works to facilitate effective communication between business leaders and program officers at the Department, to build mutual understanding of the needs of both the corporate world and local communities, and to promote business—education partnerships around the country. Businesses interested in supporting local efforts to improve education may consider aligning their current programs with one or more of the Department's priorities.

The now public-push for testing in universities, where professors have too-long enjoyed the privilege of obliviousness, shouldn't be a surprise. I'm reminded of the old parable: They came for the blind, and I did nothing because I could see. They came for the crippled, and I did nothing because I could walk. They came for the Jews, the Catholics, the evangelicals, the atheists, and I did nothing because I was none of these. When they came for me, there was no one left to stand up.

No comments: