Friday, November 05, 2010

Progress on Measuring Student Learning?

by Andrew Gillen

Doug Lederman reports that
A new alliance of college presidents was born today, aiming both to show the world that colleges are working to measure and improve student learning and to put pressure on themselves to intensify that work…
Part of the reason behind the effort is
to help combat the "bad rap," as Paris calls it, that "colleges are just dragging their heels on this.... If you look at the institutions, that isn't true," says Paris. But "this is a way of saying, 'We're on it. We know we have to gather evidence, report on it, use it. And we need to do it sooner rather than later.' "
A year or two ago, I would have said this was a great step forward. Maybe it is.

But as Andrew Kelly and Chad Aldeman documented, past efforts along these lines do not have a promising track record. Indeed past efforts bear an eerie resemblance to developments in the railroad industry, as reported by John Kay
In 1887, Congress passed an act to regulate the US railroad industry. The legislation originated in the demands of farmers and merchants for protection against the “robber barons”.

Despite this background, railroad interests supported the bill. Charles Adams, president of the Union Pacific Railroad, explained his reasoning to a sympathetic congressman, John D. Long. “What is desired,” he wrote, “is something having a good sound, but quite harmless, which will impress the popular mind with the idea that a great deal is being done, when, in reality, very little is intended to be done.”…

(HT: Alex Tabarrok, who also comments)
I don’t know enough about this new alliance to know if this is what’s happening or not. But I do know that I hold out much less hope than I would have a year or two ago.

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