Tuesday, April 16

Willful Ignorance

The latest Labour education initiative is a real head-scratcher. The plan is to reward universities for taking students with low grades who happen to come from schools designated as underperforming. Mushy sentimentalism aside, this plan has nothing to commend it. What kind of incentive does it provide underperforming schools to improve their standards if they are more likely to place students in university if they remain underperforming institutions? The article makes a similar point:

"It is for the schools to prepare their pupils to the highest possible standard and, if they don't, that is where government should be stepping in, using its resources to improve bad schools, rather than reward poor universities for admitting students who haven't made the grade."

The natural progression of this policy, of course, is tediously predictable. Universities are encouraged to admit unqualified students. Those students underperform at university and drop out at a disproportionately high rate. The universities are forced to combat the drop out rate by (1) lowering internal standards and (2) creating less academically challenging degree programs that are really dressed up remedial programs. Eventually, the country ends up with a system in which students are cheated at every stage of their education, from elementary school to graduate school, and dumbed-down universities churn out record numbers of meaningless degrees.

But what, I hear you ask, is the remedy? Well, reform must be radical, aimed at the elementary and high school levels, and should proceed along the lines outlined by former School's Inspector Chris Woodhead in his recent indictment of the current British education system "Class Wars" (not available on Amazon yet, but you can read a review here). And the Labour government must give up its crusade against standards which, in the blind pursuit of radical egalitarianism, ends up depriving all students of a chance at a real education.