Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Proud of the alma mater

Good old Kenyon College and some of its fellow liberal arts schools (including Oberlin, Wooster, and Sarah Lawrence) won't fill out all of the US News and World Report survey.

Good for them. As one member of Kenyon's class of 2011 said, "I don't really care how much alums give. I care what students think."

It's also good that Kenyon, a school of high quality, makes the move. Kenyon, with an endowment so much smaller than similar schools, has never broken into the tip-top echelon of liberal arts schools...Williams and Amherst do a lot of back-and-forth at #1, if I remember right. Both are, of course, excellent schools, but I don't see how their higher endowments made their students better thinkers or their professors into better teachers. But Kenyon is respected now--named as a "New Ivy" somewhere. I don't expect tip-top schools to join Kenyon...they'll want to trumpet their rankings to their advantage. But if enough great schools that are less-high in the things Newsweek measures follow Kenyon's lead, maybe people will discover that the best undergraduate school for their teenager isn't based on some silly list, but based on fit.

I hate educational rankings. It leads to the yucky gotta-get-in syndrome that harms education--the sweatshirt syndrome I complained about nearly three years ago. It actually discourages students from working...makes education into a commodity rather than something a student does.

Newsweek has joined the fray, now listing The Nation's Best Public High Schools. Jay Mathews, an education writer, measures something worthwhile when he divides the number of AP tests given in a given year by they number of graduating seniors. The resulting number indicates something about rigor and challenge. But "Best High Schools?" Ick. You could totally screw over every special-ed student, every potential artist, have horrible student-teacher rapport, crumbling facilities, and any number of other shortcomings, and be considered a "great" school. The reverse is true. The high school that prepares my autistic nephew for success in the world doesn't register on the list. So while I don't mind Mathews' formula, and believe schools should strive to score well on it, I think printing it under the title "Best American High Schools" is journalistic malpractice.

Additionally, at the high school level, it exacerbates the problem of educational inequity. Powerful parents don't mind that there are bad schools as long as their kid is at a "good" one. All the more chance that their kid gets into a name school, right?

So bravo, Kenyon. You've just increased your esteem in my eyes, and I'm such a purple-bleedin' Lord-and-Lady-lover that this is quite an accomplishment.


Eve said...

And I'm proud of MY alma mater...

Reed was the first college to refuse to fill out the US News and World Report survey, and everyone said they would hurt their admissions. Last year, they were overenrolled because more students than ever before opted to come to Reed.

I'm happy to see that so many other colleges are following Reed's lead.

TeacherRefPoet said...

Credit where it's due. Go Reed.

Alison said...

IIRC, the whole "New Ivy" thing came from Newsweek.

TeacherRefPoet said...

All the better. It shows that Kenyon's refusal to cooperate isn't a sour-grapes thing.

tommyspoon said...

And I heard that "New Ivy" shit back when I visited the Hill in 1985. Good on ya, KC.