The push by the Kansas Board of Regents to require all general education courses be accepted across Kansas schools entails more than just making all course numbers and names uniform. A second committee has been charged to ensure that the "course outcomes" will also be the same.
Kansas K-12 teachers have already heard these weasel words before. This outcomes-based "logic" was used to standardize courses, eventually culminating in math and reading teachers teaching-to-the-test. Kansas K-12 teachers in assessed classes lost their academic freedom over a decade ago. Now, this teach-to-the-test disaster called "No Child Left Behind" is coming to Kansas colleges and universities under the mandate that all gen ed courses transfer. Just as standardization was unavoidable in K-12, it will drive a common syllabus and most likely common exams at the college level as well.
"Academic freedom" encompasses a wide array of faculty responsibilities and protections that have contributed to our American university system being the world’s best. It includes a freedom to assign grades free from political influence as well as other rights and responsibilities. But here we are looking at the teachers’ responsibility to define their course curriculum within the boundaries of their subject. And the regents action will take away faculty control of both our syllabus and grade book.
Our current system of articulation of general education courses is not broken, but the Regents are hell bent on fixing it. The first step is common numbers and name and they appear to want this finished by December. The second step is uniformity in outcomes. That has already played out in several other states that have gone down this disastrous route.
It has occurred at some community colleges already. Embarrassed at the quality of coursework being offered at their outreach centers, faculty at one community college stipulated a common final exam that must be taken. But quality free-lance teachers often turn down such job offers that involve teaching-to-the-test. Teaching-to-the-test kills the creativity and function of the American college classroom.
The KBOR committee for common course outcomes has not yet mandated common syllabi and final exams. But once the common course mandate is delivered, it is about the only possible consequence. Such a teach-to-the-test general education system brings all the madness of K-12 NCLB to the university classroom.
In China, I will be helping with bilingual entomology classes. Last May, while at the agricultural university, I asked if there was a standard book or syllabus that I must follow. The Chinese K-12 system has a teach-to-the-test system that allows no variation for problem-solving and creativity. I was told to design my entomology course as I would in America: structured uniquely by the teacher for unique students. They want the creativity and variable problem-solving that is the hallmark of U.S. universities.
The American system where the teacher decides what, when and how to teach a course is being lost. This system, that has produced over 270+ Nobel awardees, is being changed into cookie-cutter courses with common syllabi and common tested outcomes. That was a system that China had for over 1600 years. And they have no Nobel Prizes. They are eager to change to a system that provides professional responsibility and freedom to promote creativity.
Kansas is abandoning a successful system for political reasons.
By ignoring the academic judgement of our four-year schools, and standardizing syllabi and testing, the KBOR is contributing to the decline in creativity that has been measured over the last decade of K-12 students under NCLB.
I will have more academic freedom teaching in China next spring, than when I return to Kansas next summer.