May 2007 Index
Home Page

A Measure of Success

Donald G. Perrin

At a recent faculty meeting, assessment was the topic of discussion. We were presented with a problem of enrollment beyond our capacity, a wonderful but challenging situation. In my mind, I was preparing a speech how the State of California a decade earlier solved the problem with distance learning. The conversation slid to the SAT and standardized tests for college entrance and graduate school. The validity of these tests questioned by many universities and alternative methods of assessment are supporting or even replacing the standardized tests. I began to muse on my dislike of trivia questions and multiple guess responses based on test-methods introduced by Stanford-Binet a century ago. I was jolted to sensibility by a statement: “The Educational Testing Service OWNS education!” quickly followed by “Did you know that the Federal Department of Education under Dr. Spellings is proposing a uniform exit test for colleges and universities!” Now I was outraged. In my opinion, the intrusion of politics is the unspoken reason for many failures in education, raising it to the most over-regulated under-funded enterprise in the United States. (I cannot speak for other countries including my native Australia, but I have studied and worked in all levels of U.S. education for over 40 years.) As cannons fired around me, I withdrew to my intellectual cave in an attempt to regain objectivity.

My biggest concern about public education in the United States is that the world is changing more rapidly than education can respond. I compared it with Drucker’s Theory of the Business. In the early 1990’s, major corporations like IBM were failing even though they were doing what made them successful even better than before. The problem, in simple terms, was that the world had changed and they had not. I mused that teacher training and teaching methods are surprisingly similar to those of a century ago, yet the world around us has undergone remarkable changes.

In many disciplines, we start by teaching the history – the part we as teachers are intimately familiar with from our own education. For some reason, this is less interesting to our students. They would rather start with the present, something that modern students may be more intimately familiar with than their teachers. Relating this to Drucker’s Theory of the Business, education must change to be relevant to the world around us. But how?

Curriculum is based, for the most part, on the past. I drew a Venn diagram with a small overlap between a small circle and a very large circle. The small circle represents the past; the large circle represents the future. The place where they overlap is the present, that thin line we cross as we move from the past into the future. We are attempting to prepare students to live and work in a future using a curriculum that is based on a world that is rapidly changing - so rapidly in many instances that we are preparing students for a world that no longer exists! With the explosion of technology and the diminishing half-life of information, education as we experienced it in past generations, and implement for each new generation of students, has become a dinosaur.

We know a lot about the present and the future that is not yet part of the curriculum. We know how to teach much better than we do. We have yet to implement much of what we have learned in a century of research and innovation in teaching and learning. And when budgets are cut, we return to traditional ways of education: lecture, reading, discussion, and lab and measure results with time honored methods of testing like essays and multiple-choice.

Education is a conservative profession, anchored in the past, and performing like a folk culture in a technology-based world. It requires a level of funding and a quality of leadership not likely to be found in the Department of Education or the Educational Testing Service. Where do we begin?

go top
May 2007 Index
Home Page