July 16, 2006

Making sense of expertise

I'm back to rolling on the book today—deleted some outline stuff, but I added about 5-6 pages, the organization is much more clear (I hope!), and I know much more clearly where I'm going with the rest of the chapter.

Most of what I added today concerned the birth of a testing industry as part of the growth of expert professions in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. One notable trait of professions, as many have observed (and I'm racking my brains to think of a few I might link to), is that professionals often have more of an affinity to their peers in other organizations than to immediate coworkers or their workplace. So historians think of themselves as historians and gather together with historians in other universities rather than gather with engineers. This is an oversimplification, of course, but there is one functional truth to this conventional wisdom: expertise is helpful in both managing and controlling inter-organizational tasks.

And that's one of the open secrets of education: public schools are often as much about their relationships with contractors as about what happens inside a classroom. This set of relationships includes the test industry. I know that David Tyack disparaged it as an "interlocking directorate," and he had a point, but I think he could have gone further if he had looked at that phenomenon a little more analytically. It sounds remarkably like the classic "iron-triangle" relationship popular among political scientists (or that was popular among them a few decades ago).

And now... off the laptop for a bit.

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Posted in Accountability Frankenstein on July 16, 2006 5:16 PM |