Public won’t buy ‘trust us, we’re experts’

“Trust us, we’re experts’ isn’t a persuasive argument, writes Community College Dean in response to Historiann’s rejection of measuring student learning, one of the ways to “fix” higher education in a Washington Post series.

Historiann dismisses this one out of hand, with a quick reference to No Child Left Behind and the following: “Let’s just strangle this one in its crib unless and until we get some evidence that more testing = more education.”

The argument rejects any sort of “measurement,” but demands “evidence” that measurement works, the dean writes. Surely that evidence would require measurement.

The knee-jerk response to any sort of accountability rests on a tautology. We know better than anyone else because we’re experts; we’re experts because we know better than anyone else. Screw measurement, accountability, or assessment; we already know we’re the best. Just ask us! Now, about that check . . .

The public doesn’t trust the experts, a “basically healthy” response, writes the dean. Academically Adrift has resonated because it “argues something that most of us (and most of the taxpaying public) secretly know to be true: many college students skate through without getting appreciably smarter.”

Oddly, many of the same people who share Historiann’s dismissal of testing are among the first to decry poor student performance. We expert educators are expert educators, if we don’t mind saying so; therefore, any student failings must . . . wait for it . . . be the fault of the students! In fact, they’re getting worse all the time! Now, let’s talk about next year’s tuition increase . . .

The public wants proof that college is not a scam, the dean writes.  Academics should be discussing how to  “show, rather than tell, the public that we’re worth supporting.”


POSTED BY Joanne Jacobs ON March 2, 2011

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Stephen Downes

Well, I recall going to both college and university and having my learning measured almost continuously though assignments, tests and essays assigned by a multitude of instructors and professors.

So I think it’s a bit of a fop to say that students’ learning is not assessed.

What is being objected to is the proposition that assessors who know utterly nothing about, say, physics, will be able to offer the definitive assessment of learning in physics.

And I’d say the professors have a case.

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