COOL CLASSES: “Measuring Education”

This sociology course explores contemporary political movements to measure learning outcomes in educational institutions and covers such topics as standardized testing for college admissions and development of online learning tools, among others.

Class name: Measuring Education
Taught by: Professor of Sociology Matthew McKeever


Here’s what McKeever has to say about his course:

This course explores contemporary political movements to measure learning outcomes in educational institutions. The beginning of the course focuses on arguments concerning the purpose of education, as well as background readings on the development of measurement in education and the social sciences more broadly. This leads into the topic of contemporary policies regarding measuring learning in secondary school. The latter part of the course shifts to tertiary education. The topics for this part of the course include measurement in college admissions, learning, accreditation, and ranking, as well as discussions of new organizations of college and delivery methods for college-level coursework.

I hope that those who take the course come away with a sense of both how important measurement is, and how much work it takes to effectively measure something as complex as learning. Too often would-be reformers make arguments about the best way to set up institutions, such as schools, without any sense of how to measure whether the impact they’re having is positive or negative. One can see this tendency in all educational reforms over the past 20 years, from the No Child Left Behind reforms to current assessment fads in higher education. Our current students have all experienced some form of these as they’ve made their way through educational settings. On top of this, most measures of learning are inextricably tied to simplistic theories of human differences that are no longer relevant for explaining achievement. I hope that students understand the historic roots of these links, as well as the need for better theories to understand differences in educational outcomes.

Examining differences in educational attainment are crucial for understanding social inequality. This is an idea central to both sociology and educational studies. Looking at the differences requires a critical reflection on how educational achievements should be measured. I created this course to give both myself and the students in the course a space to discuss the practices of measuring learning, to both better understand inequality and issues of measurement more generally.


See what other courses the Department of Sociologyis offering this semester.

Cool Classes is a recurring series on the Haverblog that highlights interesting, unusual, and unique courses that enrich the Haverford College experience.