Posts Tagged ‘education’

The Fat, the Dumb, the Happy… America, the mediocre educator

April 30, 2010

Eli Broad has it about right in this Bloomberg article:

“The American people frankly have been over many, many years, to be blunt, fat, dumb and happy,” said Broad, 77. “If they want their children to compete with children in India, China or Korea, they better get them a far better education.”

The U.S. ranked 21st with 78 percent of high school students graduating and going on to college in 2007, according to a 2009 survey by the Paris-based Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, which promotes economic growth, employment and higher living standards. Germany and Finland led with rates of 97 percent or more.

Broad, who has sought to improve instruction and student skills, said he wants his Eli and Edythe Broad Foundation to devote the next 10 years to influencing state and national education policy, and to promote a standard national curriculum for mathematics and science.

“The biggest problem we have in America is governance,” he said. “You cannot compete with national education ministries and have 15,000 school boards. It’s going to take more direction at the national level.”

I think that first quote is worthy of a book title. Politics of public versus private education aside, Broad hits at one of the core issues in our education system. You may disagree on the solution, but our priorities are out of whack. Broad points out the issue of having thousands upon thousands of school boards deciding their curriculum standards, and trying to compete against centralized educational systems. Our systems are administered and delivered by, in his mind, the bottom 30 percent of the people coming out of college. I don’t totally agree with that—some of the smartest people I know became high school teachers, and not for the glory and power—but I do agree that the bar, and the comp, is pretty low to become a teacher. Moreover, a school board can be a very politically heated venue for controversial and irrational behavior; in our system the local flavor of political fervor can make a lasting impression upon our youth from a very young age. I guess any attempt to modify that system at this point would be labeled The Socialism, so I’m not sure what the best course of action is on that front. But the problem runs deeper than that.

Another issue with the status quo is our competitive emphasis on grades and degrees over learning and growth. How many college students get through a course final and go straight to the bookstore to see how much they can get for the book? If it’s not enough money, I’ve known some to ceremoniously burn books. It’s symbolic of the thought process that they will never actually need that knowledge in the real world. The student’s presence is a waste of money, but money is exactly what our universities need to stay competitive. So they let that mindset slide. Worse, since those are the cards universities and high schools are dealt, they play them, they up the ante, and according to Mark Ames, some stack the deck.

Ames recently touched on this in a “Fraudonomics” piece for The Exiled and The New York Press:

If you want your kid to grow up to succeed in a fraud-based economy, you need to teach him the ABC’s of cheating starting at a young age. This is one area where America’s schools aren’t failing their students. Cheating is so rampant in schools that nowadays if the student doesn’t cheat on his exam, chances are his teacher or administrator will cheat on his test for him. One in five elementary schools in Georgia are currently being investigated for tampering with the students’ standardized test scores—although suspicious patterns of erasing and remarking answers showed up in half of the state’s elementary schools. In California, as many as two-thirds of its public schools admitted to fudging its students’ standardized test scores. A survey of graduate school students found that 53 percent of business school grad students admitted to cheating, more than any other grad school discipline. Overall, up to 98 percent of college students today admit to cheating, compared to just 20 percent who cheated in 1940.

Those are pretty disgusting numbers. I’ve never really worried about cheaters with relation to my own grades because I’ve never really worried about my grades… I like to learn, I get what I earn, and that has worked pretty well for me. Cheaters could be a problem in a highly competitive, rigorous academic program as well as in an ass-backward, lazy system. But it’s that standardized test score tampering that strikes me as a systematic problem. That tampering allows schools to lower their standards to meet their students’ lowered performance.

When I sought out an MBA program, and then a law program, I went the private school route. It’s more expensive—luckily I got some scholarship money cuz I writes real good—but I’ve learned that a Jesuit education involves at least some modicum of teaching the ‘whole person.’ Unfortunately, I ended up in grad programs with a large number of Boeing employees who were there for their free, employer-funded education. Too large a number of the MBA students from Boeing* could care less what they got out of the program, other than a grade higher than D. This made group projects hell. The law program attracted far fewer of the certificate-chasers as you don’t go through that type of an academic pace just for fun. The program was high quality, but the company included a mix of the “Fat, Dumb, Happy” bunch that was there for a free buffet. The economic downturn has since forced Boeing to close the payment offer. While it might smart for a while financially, that move will make my university smarter in the end.

*Not a majority, but close. The “I have a full-time job” excuse didn’t fly far with the rest of us full-time workers.

Taking your educational system for granted? Consult Goat Bank

March 5, 2010

Amid student tuition-hike protests and dismal pass rates on dumbed-down basic skills tests, it’s nice to read a happy story on a Friday afternoon.

This rural Kenyan community built a school from nothing, using a goat bank. The entire paper is fun for a change of pace.