I ended a recent paper for the Gordon Commission on the Future of Assessment with comments about the possible disassociation of schooling from assessment. My argument was that the association between the two has been 1) good for schooling in that it has massively increased its reach and claim on resources, and also 2) terrible as it makes it less and less relevant to education. The recent, and ongoing, controversy about publicizing teachers’ scores on invalid measures is a case in point: teacher-ing, with ever more symbolic violence (a.k.a “accountability”), is made into a skill for putting measurable bits into students’ head. That teacher-ing might be about participating in shaping a mind is left aside as not a concern for the State. But why, may we ask, should the State be concerned with education? Well, of course, because
…..that lead to the degrees
……….that accredited schools grant
……………that employers use to open or close doors to careers
are essential for the representation that a political system is indeed “democratic” and that state rewards are indeed distributed on merit rather than birth privilege (in its racial, ethnic, class, gender, etc. forms).
In many ways, as the people of the School have been saying, focusing on tests leading to degrees is a radical narrowing of what was the mission of schooling. Arguable, the battle has been lost as much (most?) of what was included in this mission has now been distributed out to the family, the media, religious institutions, etc. But schooling, as an institution, appeared to remain central because it has kept its monopoly on the granting of degrees.
What if this changed? What if a successful challenge was mounted to legitimize other doors to adult careers than those controlled by the current schools, colleges and universities (and their teachers or faculty)?
In the past week, the New York Times published evidence that this challenge has started. One is an opinion piece by Charles Murray asking an “energetic public interest law firm” to challenge “the constitutionality of the [bachelor’s degree] as a job requirement” (March 8, 2012). The Supreme Court, I did not know, has made it unconstitutional to make test scores the key to employment unless there is a tight link between the test and the job. Demonstrating the link between almost any college degree and almost any job might be difficult.
The other report may be a more immediate and less ideological challenge, and possibly much more difficult for school people to block (particularly since some of them are profiting from this challenge). I am talking here about “Massive Open Online Courses” (MOOCs). Stanford offered a classes for 160,000 students in 190 countries! Another class, on Machine Learning, was given for 104,000 students with 13,000 completing the course.
The figures are astounding. They are about something that is happening now and will have social and political consequences. Of the 13,000 who complete the course on Machine Learning, most of them must have learned something but none got a State recognized certificate or a degree. So, at this point, they completed the course “for nothing”–that is just for the education of it. Some of them may also perform their professional tasks better. I suspect those will not accept for very long to be passed for promotion by people who have a degree.
If the State finds ways to accredit (“give credit for”) the taking of MOOC (perhaps by asking a company like ETS to give an independent and controlled test), the implications for universities and their faculty are staggering. The New York Times quote one of the Stanford professors who taught one of the MOOC as saying that he does not want to go back to teaching just twenty students in a small classroom. When Stanford has found a way to charge people for the course, and reward the faculty member in commensurate fashion, the whole economic basis of colleges is transformed.
We may be seeing the end of schooling as we have known it (and for people of my generation profited from it). It is going to be quite a ride.