Philosophical Multicore

Sometimes controversial, sometimes fallacious, sometimes thought-provoking, and always fun.

A Proposal for Grade School Testing and Accreditation

Posted by Michael Dickens on November 24, 2010

Standardized testing is broken. The main problem isn’t even that it’s impossible to measure the skills of every student with just one test, although that is true. The main problem is that the state monopolizes these tests. The Board of Education decides what grade school students do and do not need to know. This is a problem: if this one small body makes a poor decision, it will hurt the prospects for millions of students’ futures. I think I have a solution.

The first step to this solution requires that schools be able to compete with each other. Schools or districts should be run independently. This could mean that we privatize education and use a voucher system; how exactly we do it is something of a side point. What’s important is that we introduce competition into grade schools.

The next step is that the United States implements a competitive accreditation system. Accreditation should be done by private organizations. Colleges will accept accreditations from good accreditation organizations and reject accreditations from poor accreditation organizations. Schools, which are working independently of each other, will use material that will be accredited by one or more of the reputable accreditation companies so that their students can get accepted into universities more easily than they would if the school was not accredited.

Although this new system is fundamentally about accreditation, it also would affect testing as testing is intricately linked to accreditation. A test is a way of assessing whether a school is doing its job. Any accreditation will almost definitely include some sort of standardized testing. If there is a problem with standardized testing then there is a problem with accreditation. My proposed system is a solution to both.

If such a system is implemented, the successful accreditation programs will be the ones that colleges find the most useful. Grade school will more effectively prepare students for college. This is both an advantage and a drawback. The drawback is that schools will be oriented towards preparing students for college rather than preparing them for life. But a quick look at another side of this system reveals why this is not such a problem.

Colleges prefer to admit students who have been effectively prepared for college. But in the same way, businesses will prefer to hire people who have been effectively prepared for a job. In this way, accreditation programs that ensure students are being prepared for a job will be more successful than those that do not.

In practice, entering the accreditation market will be difficult. Soon after this proposed system is implemented, certain few companies will jump into the accreditation market. For an organization to easily enter the market it must already have a good reputation. This makes introducing competition problematic. This issue is not unique to this market, though: it is shared by any market in which a company must have a good reputation or a lot of resources.

The entering-the-market issue is not quite as bad as it first appears to be. An organization that wants to enter the market could do a thing or two to get its foot in the door. For example it could offer free accreditations to certain schools, establishing itself as an accreditor. It could start by requiring mostly the same sorts of things as other big accreditation agencies. Once it is well-established, it will be able to start to deviate from its original curriculum and bring something new to the market.

This raises another issue: curriculum is sticky. Organizations may be reluctant to change the accreditation requirements for fear that they will lose market share. This is part of the very problem with the current monopolized accreditation system: grade school curriculum today is sticky, albeit for somewhat different reasons. Although curriculum will be sticky in the new system, it will almost certainly be less sticky than it is now. Organizations will still have room to maneuver, and universities and businesses will have room to choose which accreditation organizations they like.

At this point, the details of how exactly such a system would work are vague. What is clear is that such a system, if we were to get it working, would be much superior to the current one. Grade school would actually teach what needs to be taught. Education would no longer be structured by the state and improved only by external measures, but would organically improve itself. Such a system would much more readily adapt to the ever-changing world.

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