Some think it’s standardized test scores; others think it’s high school graduation rates. Some think it’s college acceptance; others think it’s getting a job.
“Employers are looking at things beyond degrees and beyond standardized tests now, they're looking at things like portfolios, what can you actually produce?"
What should the outcomes be for America’s schooling system?
“So if you were just to step away from the system real quick and have a conversation with any normal person, and you said, ‘What's your goal of the education system, or what's the goal of education in general?’ They would tell you, ‘I want my children to live a successful life,’ and that might mean a different thing to your family than it does to my own family. It might be going out and making a lot of money, it might be just being happy with your life,” said Corey DeAngelis, director of school choice at the Reason Foundation and adjunct scholar at The Cato Institute.
But, DeAngelis contends, many “experts” in the schooling system define ‘outcomes’ as, "Oh, I want them (students) to be able to do a really good job at bubbling in answers, and getting as high a standardized test score as possible."
His remarks came during an interview about educational freedom and school choice with Freedom Media Network founder Curt Mercadante. DeAngelis said that things like test scores, graduation rates, and college acceptance “are just inputs” rather than meaningful outcomes.
“Employers are looking at things beyond degrees and beyond standardized tests now, they're looking at things like portfolios, what can you actually produce? Because what's more important … if the employer wants to know what you can do for them, they don't want to know if you've got a gold star, right?,” DeAngelis added.
He said that, while students “do learn some valuable things in college,” much of it is “just stuff that you're not going to use ever again after you escaped the system.”
“So there are benefits of college, I just think right now that the costs outweigh the benefits,” he said. “Looking at the K–12 system, all of these outputs or outcomes like graduation rates from high school, enrollment in college, and standardized tests. All of these things can be gamed, they're all subject to Campbell's Law: That whenever a measure becomes a target, that measure essentially becomes useless.”
He pointed to problems within Washington, D.C.’s government schooling system to make his point.
“We're here in D.C. right now, and just a year or two ago, Max Eaton and Lindsey Burke wrote a good article on the D.C. fraud and failure in their public schools, in that they boasted a 100% graduation rate,” DeAngelis explained. “Half of these kids weren't even at school half the time, so the graduation rate became the measure of interest. So what did they do to look good? They just said, ‘Everybody gets a trophy, everybody graduates whether you attend school or not.’ We saw this with the Atlanta cheating scandal on the test. They were actually bubbling in answers for students to get higher test scores.”
Mercadante pointed out that many schools are incentivized, sometimes through dollars, to achieve these inputs.
“Especially when you assign an incentive to these measures, it definitely makes the outcome measure useless. But even if you don't have the financial incentive to do so, there's just this appearance incentive. I think that's a huge issue,” said DeAngelis. “I think it's a bigger issue in the system of residentially assigned government schools, because customers can see all this bogus stuff that's going on.”
He said that school choice would allow “customers” (parents) to “vote with their feet to other schools” when they see problems in their local “residentially-assigned” school.
Why do parents pick one school over another?
“So Jason Bedrick from EdChoice, and Lindsey Burke from the Heritage Foundation did a survey of over 13,000 families in Florida using their education savings account program, which is a private school choice program that you... it's essentially a voucher,” explained DeAngelis. “Only 4% of these 13,000 respondents listed standardized test scores as one of their top three reasons for choosing their particular school. They listed things like safety, they listed things like culture of the school, they listed things like civic education, and moral education.”
He added, “Families value a lot more than, what's your high school graduation rate? What's your college enrollment rate? What's your standardized test score? Technocrats get very obsessed with these types of measures, and they think that they could force schools to be excellent just by mandating things from the top down. I think families have figured out rightly that their kids are much more than standardized test scores.”
Watch Mercadante’s full interview with DeAngelis by clicking here.