Are Teach-Bots “Conservative?”

When Arnold Schwartzenegger played a robot, it was the mean, human-killing kind (at first). But when he played a teacher, it was the cute, love-them-kids kind. But in the real world, we will soon have machines performing crucial teaching tasks. Will this be embraced by conservatives?

Hasta la Vista, Human Teachers...

Hasta la Vista, Human Teachers…

According to Politico, the company that is in charge of producing Common-Core-related standardized tests has promised to introduce computer grading. The company, Pearson, wants computers to grade student essays in order to cut down on the costs of test processing. In fact, those algorithm-guided grading programs were an essential part of Pearson’s original contract with the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC), the folks behind the Common Core tests.

Caitlin Emma of Politico reports that those robo-graders have been delayed without explanation. Pearson’s original plan was to phase in computer grading. This year, all Common-Core tests would be graded by humans. Next year, two thirds would be done by computer. After that, computers would “read” and evaluate all student essays.

For us here at ILYBYGTH, this raises a tricky question: Is this plan “conservative?” As we’ve seen, conservatives have been bitterly divided over the plans to introduce Common Core curricula. Some conservatives have insisted that the CCSS are the best, most conservative way to reform education. Others have called the new standards a “progressive beer bong,” or a socialist plan fomented by “Obama administration left-wing bureaucrats.”

So what will conservatives say about robo-grading? I can imagine some free-market types will embrace the new technology. If computers can grade tests quickly, efficiently, and accurately . . . why not? This will represent, after all, the triumph of business principles in the hopelessly sclerotic world of public education, some might say.

On the other hand, conservatives might be aghast at the dehumanization of the process. It is one thing to use machines to grade multiple-choice answer sheets, but another thing entirely to have them grade essays. For one thing, conservatives might agree that computer grading is simply inaccurate. Conservative critics might side with progressive pundits who insist that computers can’t possibly evaluate the complex meanings of student writing.

My hunch is that this issue will divide the traditional “conservative” constituency. I’ve argued that the Common Core has forced a re-shuffling of what it has meant to be “conservative” on educational issues. This question of computer grading will only deepen that divide among conservatives.

Leave a comment


  1. Agellius

     /  November 19, 2014

    I don’t know if this is a conservative position or not, but this seems ridiculous. How can a computer possibly grade an essay?

    • Back in 1988, a computer jock in my office came around to tell me that his job was to “make me” more productive. It was very offensive. If I had been his boss, I would have fired him on the spot—guess I am a hard ass. He went on to tell me that one day computers would be editing and writing my reports for me. Computers were the answer to every question. Gotta take a leak? No need. The computer will do it for you. I am beginning to think that Jacques Ellul and his distrust of pervasive technology are correct.

  2. Speaking as a Technical Editor and Science Writer, the notion of grading essays by computer is absurd. People should grade essays.

    Better watch it Adam. Some college professors tell me that computer-based learning, testing, and grading is an attempt to devise a means to get rid of college professors all together. Get the class sessions on videotape or present the subject matter in computer-based modules—then fire the professor or greatly reduce his hours to a simple advisory role carried out by email or scheduled office visits with students. This is the next evolutionary goal beyond converting everyone to a poorly paid adjunct professor.


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