Friday, January 20, 2006

Imposing Standardized Testing on Choice Schools

From Eminent Domain:

. . . a discussion of Governor Doyle’s demand that private schools in the school choice system submit to a state-imposed system of standardized testing.

This might sound like a good idea — why not see how well kids are doing and make the information public?

But the notion is highly problematic. Eminent Domain quotes the following comment:
Requiring private schools to give state-selected achievement tests would have harmful effects on the participating private schools. Some private schools would have to give up the curriculum they have designed for their own students and teach the state-sanctioned curriculum instead.

That would kill the diversity and vitality of the private schools. Many state tests emphasize fuzzy math over traditional math, and stress the use of “culturally diverse texts” over traditional classical literature, a staple of many effective private schools.
Clearly, the bureaucrats in the State Department of Education, if allowed to dictate how schools will be evaluated, are likely to use their power to enforce their notions of political correctness.

Do the private schools fail to teach kids in junior high how to use condoms? They may be found to violate educational “standards.” Do religious schools fail to teach that gays are the victims of “homophobic” prejudice? Same thing.

In fact, at the college level, education schools in order to be accredited have to engage in politically correct indoctrination.

Not that education school faculties much mind this requirement.

Even if the testing doesn’t have a tendentious political agenda, it’s likely to be burdensome. The bureaucrats imposing the testing will likely have a “public school” mentality. They will care more about “standards” and “outcomes” and “assessment” and “procedures” than about actually teaching kids.

They will tend, in other words, to undermine the distinctive ethos of private schools.

Don’t parents looking for a school in which to enroll their kids have a right to know how effective the school is? And don’t parents with kids enrolled in the school have a right to know how their kids are doing?

The answer is simple: in a competitive market, all schools will be under pressure to show that they are effective, but there are different ways of doing that.

Schools may choose to administer some form of standardized test, but will be free to pick a test that reflects their educational goals and philosophy.

Parents will want to know how their kids are doing, but this might involve sitting down with a guidance counselor to discuss scores on standardized tests, or it might involve having parents review all their children’s graded assignments.

The key thing to remember is that public school bureaucrats will, either by design or because they don’t know how to think any other way, subvert the benign organizational culture of private schools.

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