March 2010


Measuring School Success (in the USA)

I’m not an education expert, but I’ve long felt that education is far too important to be left to the educators.

It’s also in terrible shape due to stupid pieces of legislation like the No Child Left Behind Act which focuses on easily measurable, and consequently, totally useless skills that do not reflect the real world.

So I’d like to toss some ideas out there. I realize that my ideas are just off the top of my head, but I believe that the ideas focus on school achievement in better ways.

For example, and perhaps most controversially, I’d like to propose that we measure school quality after children have left the schools—perhaps by a year or two. At that time the number of pregnancies should be determined. Schools whose students are excessively pregnant would be required to improve sex education. My measure would make allowance for the fact that no matter how perfect the system is, some girls will always get pregnant.

Of course that’s directed at girls and overlooks the male half of the equation: unfortunately it is more difficult to track down the fathers. However we could broaden this out by measuring STIs. How many graduates have syphilis? HIV? Again, in my system there would be allowances for the fact that people get STIs, but the goal would be to reduce the frequency—schools with too many STIs amongst its graduates (or attendees, in the case of drop outs), would be required to change and improve its sex education standards.

On another front, I think it’s important that people be able to identify bullshit. Toward that end, I would have graduates (and drop outs) read a variety of texts and ask them to identify salient details about it. One of the texts would be a Nigerian scam letter—if the individual is unable to identify that they are about to loose all their money if they participate then the school that educated them is at fault.

Toward that same end, schools should be judged on whether or not their graduates (or drop outs) can critically read a newspaper article and identify the errors in said newspaper article. Can the individual understand the statistics and identify suspect statistics? Does the individual understand what is meant when it is reported that the US Supreme Court declined to hear a case? I don’t expect 100% success, but clearly if more than 20% of a schools graduates cannot undertake these simple steps, something is wrong.

I would also judge research skills. It’s not that going to Wikipedia for answers is bad, but if it’s somebody’s only source of information, then the schools have failed to teach how to do research and how to question things. If an individual watches only Fox News, something is wrong. If an individual reads only the New York Times, something is wrong. There must be a mixture of information sources and it is critical that schools teach people to question authority and question sources.

These types of measures, things that look at basic skills for research and living, are far more important than teaching to a test: Life is not like a test. I don’t fill out a bubble sheet with options A, B, C, D, or E in my daily life. I need to navigate complicated choices, absorb information from multiple places, and use my bullshit detector.

5 comments to Measuring School Success (in the USA)

  • yg

    i love the idea of an anti-bullshit class. and especially the thought of teaching kids hwo to critically analyze news texts (and well any texts) instead of spending all those school years teaching them how to swallow tests from text books just as jam packed with crap. so when are you running for education minister? 🙂

  • koko

    Education blows in this country…not matter what level. Kids need to be allowed to explore their interests. They also should be encouraged to do trade school instead of ridiculed for it if they want to do some trade over college.

  • mateo

    They don’t want us to recognize bullshit, otherwise we’d be able to tell when they were trying to pull the wool over our eyes!b

  • Spoken like a true “elitist”. *grin*

  • Bullshit is subjective, surely. One man’s bullshit is another man’s pot of gold. YOU just want to stuff YOUR bullshit down our throats. Every person’s bullshit has the right to be heard. It’s the American way.