Academies use them, to ensure the quality if their graduates, which they need, to keep a reputation. If you turn out one dolt after another, with a PhD degree, that's just currency deflation and zero new tuitions for you on the next round, when would-be recruits learn it's the kiss of death to get a degree from your school.
Haim, insofar as I'm able to decipher his rants about mafioso ayatollahs, seems to think teacher peer groups doing internal policing is a direct conflict of interest, and points to CPAs and their independent status vis-a-vis the corporations they oversee. Surely it's corrupt to put faculty in charge of its own quality assurance?
But don't schools compete for customers (future students), just as in private industry? They might do so -- no reason they shouldn't.
I say we can do this (foster an atmosphere of creative competition) *within* the public system, in full view of the public eye. Show the alternative school systems on television even. Let informed viewers make their choices from the comfort of their own homes.
Public servant management teams "campaign" for allegiance, so why shouldn't public servant faculties? My gnu math teachers certainly do. We'll put the rest of you out of business if you ain't careful. They'll simply vote with their feet, just wait and see.
In theory, schools also get audited by taxpayers, given their delegated control over the purse strings, meaning taxpayers in theory have the means to reward the most promising new charter school models (a way to keep standards in view, no?). Given television and polling have a long history together, it won't be hard to close this circuit. Show what's happening in the classroom on TV, poll, reprioritize funding, and again... a simple feedback loop.
Do you want legislation in favor of family summer camps that teach new skills as a public service, sort of like the military does but more fun (and still with pretty good toyz)? Consider drafting some legislation to that effect and sending on up the line. Why should tax-exempt religious sects have any monopoly over summer camp opportunities? What if you're not a believer in any of them? Are you any less of a citizen?
Anyway, the core problem is: who gets to pose as an expert on the best way to teach kids? No other question seems thornier. Everybody's an overnight expert, when it comes to passing on the core memes of our culture (you might say it's built in to our genes to share memes).
My advice: give venue to everyone's opinion, as our infospace has gotten big enough (thanks to cyberspace) that "finding sufficient real estate for the expression of ideas" is not a chief concern. There's room for any number of web sites. Encourage independent thinkers to at least develop enough skills to maintain one (Myspace has been a big help in this direction).
The real challenge is sifting and filtering through vast amounts of information to find just what you need to solve this particular New York Times crossword puzzle, or to recruit just the right collaborator for some project.
Thanks to search engines like Google, that's become a lot easier too.
Result: more informed public opinion, better policies, and more interesting future options when it comes to continuing with schooling (for adults too).
Coming back to the tests: the different schools will have them, as a part of their internal quality assurance machinery (even if you're audited from without, you'll need to audit from within, if only to anticipate how you'll be judged).
In my school, you need to know about the sequence 1, 12, 42, 92... or you're considered a rank beginner. Our tests focus on that particular sequence (among others).
We could put kiosks in shopping malls, for free auto-testing. The not-so-subtle-message: if you're not getting this stuff in school right now, you might want to consider switching? Yes, an advertising stunt. Public figure politicians do it, so why not public schools?