- With today’s brouhaha about high-stakes testing, I was curious about the outcome of the Ford Foundation Early Admissions program that lasted from 1951 to 1955. (I was in the penultimate group admitted). A little online research brought me to this study: They Went to College Early. There I was — a guinea pig data point in a five year study that ultimately involved about 1,300 students. I found the motivations and the outcomes very interesting, particularly in light of what is happening in schools today.
- Why did they do it? The overall purpose was to addressed the future supply of “.... what is variously termed ‘high ability manpower,’ ‘specialized talent,’ or ‘leadership.’” Mostly they were afraid that if bright students were not put in challenging environments they would be lost as highly productive members of society, including teachers. “The most critical requirement, of course, is to attract into teaching enough of the Nation’s finest quality manpower, for it takes talent to produce talent.” [italics, mine] They feared that the American educational system, which kept students in lock-step with their chronological peers, would ultimately “frustrate young talent...for whom the pace is too slow and the academic diet too thin.” In other words, they knew that students needed to be challenged and happy for learning to be successful. [This applies regardless of class ranking by any standards.] They thought early admission to college for able students might help.
- How did they do? The program was deemed a success. Most Ford Scholars did slightly better than assigned “comparison students” who had similar backgrounds and aptitudes but had finished high school. The programs live on today with Advanced Placement programs and early admittance for college courses for credit for bright high school juniors and seniors. A few schools, including Shimer, still admit 11th and 12th graders for a college degree.
- What conclusions did they come to? “The important lesson from the Early Admission experiment is that the American educational system cannot afford to overlook the individuality of the students with whom it deals. [italics, mine] Whether these students are normal age or underage, or whether they have completed a formal program in secondary school is probably of less importance than their capabilities and aspirations as individuals.
Students are now facing weeks of Standardized Tests. My question: why are we now oppressing students with formalized standards that are the same for everyone and creating school environments from which students want to flee?
Clearly, no long-terms lessons were learned from this grand experiment of which I was part of the data. In fact, the standards for teachers have now been formalized to the extent that they have little classroom autonomy--a privilege extended to professionals in all fields and one I enjoyed as a teacher. I have felt for a long time now that sadly, education is going backwards.
It is very interesting that at this moment, teachers in red states are organizing and marching, not just for a living wage for themselves but for money to repair crumbling school buildings and for updated instructional material for students.