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Posted at 12:55 PM ET, 04/02/2011

Jaw-dropper of week: Snooki beats Obama

This is another installment in an experimental weekly series of posts that will highlight something in education that made my jaw drop. Submissions, to straussv@washpost.com, are most welcome each week. You can find the first two installments here and here .


Jaw-Dropper No. 3

It appeared for days that the jaw-dropper of the week would be President Obama's comments about how kids take too many standardized tests. He said, to be exact:

“...We have piled on a lot of standardized tests on our kids. Now, there’s nothing wrong with a standardized test being given occasionally just to give a baseline of where kids are at. Malia and Sasha, my two daughters, they just recently took a standardized test. But it wasn’t a high-stakes test. It wasn’t a test where they had to panic. I mean, they didn’t even really know that they were going to take it ahead of time. They didn’t study for it, they just went ahead and took it. And it was a tool to diagnose where they were strong, where they were weak, and what the teachers needed to emphasize.”

Of course, there is nothing in Obama’s signature education initiative, Race to the Top, that says anything about making standardized tests less important than they became in the era of former President Bush’s No Child Left Behind law. And in fact, Race to the Top has spurred many states to raise the stakes involved in these tests by significantly linking test scores to teacher evaluation and pay.

But at the end of the week, Obama got bumped by Snooki.

According to the Star Ledger, a student committee at Rutgers University in New Jersey invited Snooki of “Jersey Shore TV fame to speak to students at two sessions at the Livingston Student Center in Piscataway. Snooki, known to her parents as Nicole Polizzi, was paid $32,000.

That is $2,000 more than university officials offered to Nobel Prize-winning author Toni Morrison to deliver this year’s commencement speech.

Rutgers — and other schools — do not commonly pay commencement speakers beyond their expenses; in fact, Rutgers said that paying Morrison would mark the first time it had done so, the newspaper reported. Her fee will be paid, the school said, not from state or tuition funds but from money Rutgers gets from PepsiCo for exclusivity in vending machines on the school’s several campuses.

Students have yet to hear Morrison’s wisdom, but here, according to the Star-Ledger, was some of what Snooki dispensed: When asked to give advice to students, she offered, “Study hard, but party harder.”

Even though it was students, using activity fees that undergraduate students are required to pay, who invited and paid Snooki and it was school officials who engaged Morrison, the episode could be seen as surprising for various reasons: that Snooki got paid more than Morrison; that Morrison is taking $30,000 to give a commencement speech; that college students thought an appearance by Snooki — star of a reality TV show whose stars spend a lot of time drunk and in bed — was worth $32,000; all of the above.

Whatever the reason, it all made my jaw drop. Literally.

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By  |  12:55 PM ET, 04/02/2011

 
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