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Posted by on Sep 6, 2010 in At TMV, Education, International, Places, Politics, Science & Technology, Society | 0 comments

‘Education’ in America: Read the Fine Print… & Caveat Emptor (UPDATED)

Hello there: Dr. E. here… It’s often told as a joke, but it’s no joke really: what money is charged to the consumer of education vs what money can actually buy for that consumer, has often become a mockery … With the massive closing of excellent trade schools across the nation, and university increasingly out of financial reach, what if we are driving toward a majority mass of minimum wage workers, thereby defining the lifetimes of our young to be mired in ever ‘barely making it?’

What if such sad state of the nation continues to devolve… as more and more colleges price middle class and lower classes out of education that normally would help raise their progeny up, and in some part, allow for those higher income workers to support the governments’ promises to their own people… the same promises the people–and present workers– have asked be granted for the last six decades.

As JSpencer, one of our commenters points out, there is great value in ‘the school of hard knocks’ and learning by doing, lessons that higher education most often omits to teach to bridge between the world of school and the highly competitive work world. And surely some of each: straight street learning, and exposure to ideas and ways and means from good minds at university, would seem a boon to the student and to the culture as well.

Here Dorian DeWind continues with an article regarding High School education and Junior College education. He cautions about paying attention to the stats often given in media, for their accuracy or lack of it, nonetheless influences policy and execution

‘Education’ in America: Read the Fine Print
by Dorian DeWind
When one hears that “education” is so bad (or so great) in our country, one should first ascertain what level of “education” we are talking about and when the studies were done.

For example, discussing a November 2007 study, the New York Times said at the time:

American students even in low-performing states like Alabama do better on math and science tests than students in most foreign countries, including Italy and Norway, according to a new study released Wednesday. That’s the good news.

The bad news is that students in Singapore and several other Asian countries significantly outperform American students, even those in high-achieving states like Massachusetts, the study found.

However, a 2006 Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), Program for International Student Assessment (PISA) study I quoted in my comments, ranked the U.S. 35th in Math and 29th in Science worldwide.

The NYT referenced study used standardized test scores of eighth-grade students in each of the 50 states with those of their peers in 45 countries.

Additionally, the tests were administered in the United States in 2005 and 2007. For foreign students, the tests were administered worldwide in 2003.

The PISA survey was conducted with 15-year-olds (Junior High school?) and the results were published in 2006.

My personal experiences in U.S. and foreign education.

I believe that education in the U.S. is good, but it can be better, much better, especially since we are the best in so many areas—why can’t we the best in education, instead of 35th, 25th or even 5th.

As to “The U.S. is ranked 35th in Math and 29th in Science worldwide,” I can attest to this personally—at least as of the late 50s, early 60s (I am sure things have changed somewhat).

When I emigrated to the U.S. in 1957 from the Netherlands, I discovered to my delight, then, that my Dutch High School education—especially in math and science—was equivalent to the first two years in an American college. Therefore, when I started college here, I was able to “breeze” through those subjects. Of course, it was a different story with other subjects such as English, literature, history, etc.

But I can also say that things are improving. I religiously help my 11-year old grandson—he is now in 6th grade—with his homework, especially math and science. To my pleasant surprise, the way math is being taught today and “here” is so much superior to the almost-rote-memory way I learned mine in the Netherlands and, more importantly, my grandson is already being introduced to math subjects that I didn’t learn about until I started High School “over there.”

In this article, tag-teamed by Dr. E and Shaun Mullen “We Have The World’s Finest Universities, Why Then Is America Such A Mess?”. Dr. E rightly calls out “the cost of a university education is out of reach of the average middle class citizen…” You’re telling me! Ever since my grandson was born I have been consistently putting away some funds every month into one of those college savings plans, but it is like bailing water out of a sinking row boat. Equally consistent are the fund managers’ almost monthly reminders of how skyrocketing college costs make a mockery of almost any savings plan.

Thus, I am so proud of our Democratic legislators who persevered during the previous administration and were able to pass the New GI Education Bill. At least our returning heroes will be able to afford a higher education.

While I have heard of “souls who happen to be college students looking drunken and drugged, and at that moment, having little interest beyond a whole other pc route,” I have not personally experienced much of this during my teaching career. Probably because most of my teaching at colleges and universities has been in evening schools, to adults and elders… eager to learn, eager to make good grades, eager to (finally) graduate, and eager to better support their growing families who are also sacrificing while the breadwinner slugs it out evenings, late nights and weekends. My hat is off to them.

Reading the Fine Print in surveys and studies.
These are some of the key findings of the 2006 OECD PISA survey:

Finland, with an average of 563 score points, was the highest-performing country on the PISA 2006 science scale.

Six other high-scoring countries had mean scores of 530 to 542 points: Canada, Japan and New Zealand and the partner countries/economies Hong Kong-China, Chinese Taipei and Estonia. Australia, the Netherlands, Korea, Germany, the United Kingdom, the Czech Republic, Switzerland, Austria, Belgium and Ireland, and the partner countries/economies Liechtenstein, Slovenia and Macao-China also scored above the OECD average of 500 score points.

On average across OECD countries, 1.3% of 15-year-olds reached Level 6 of the PISA 2006 science scale, the highest proficiency level. These students could consistently identify, explain and apply scientific knowledge, and knowledge about science, in a variety of complex life situations. In New Zealand and Finland this figure was at least 3.9%, three times the OECD average. In the United Kingdom, Australia, Japan and Canada, as well as the partner countries/economies Liechtenstein, Slovenia and Hong Kong-China, between 2 and 3% reached Level 6.

Results of the PISA 2009 survey will be released in December of this year.

Finally, the fabulous web site, “Connect a Million Minds,” (CAMM)* discusses “how attitudes and beliefs among young Americans contribute to our poor rankings” and how, to better understand such attitudes CAMM “traveled to three countries that rank significantly higher in math and science literacy – Finland, China and Australia – and interviewed young people, parents and teachers about science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) and related issues.” CAMM then compared what they heard from those nations to responses from interviews conducted here in the U.S.

Here is what they heard:

Youth from outside the U.S. take it as a given that if they want to be successful in life, they have to do well in math and science. We did not hear this from the U.S kids.

Youth from outside the U.S. are more aware that they will compete in a global marketplace and not just against kids in their own country.

Outside the U.S., there is much less of a social stigma attached to being smart and doing well in school. In fact, the smart kids are considered cool.

Please read more about CAMM** here.

* “CAMM Worldwide is a new campaign, a Time Warner Cable’s philanthropic commitment to connect youth to ideas, people and opportunities that will inspire them to become the problem solvers of tomorrow.*

In commenting on our elementary and secondary school students’ relatively poor performance, one of our readers said:

“Similarly, I think the previous ‘commenters’ are right to point out that a major source of problems for our education system aren’t actually because of our education system, but because of the environment in which it operates,” and continues to emphasize that we won’t be able to solve our education problems “simply by reforming the education system.” The commenter concludes, “I’m in favor of improving our education system, but if we want to be 1st, as the author suggests that we should, improvements to the education system likely won’t be enough.”

Another commenter attributed many of our education problems to the fact that so many children in the U.S. come from, and study in, homes without fathers. The reader points out that, for example, “71% of all high school dropouts come from fatherless homes; 9 times the national average.”

I would imagine that one of the vital factors missing in such fatherless homes is motivation.

As mentioned above, in comparing attitudes of foreign students to those of American students, CAMM concluded, among other things, that:

Youth from outside the U.S. take it as a given that if they want to be successful in life, they have to do well in math and science. We did not hear this from the U.S kids.

Youth from outside the U.S. are more aware that they will compete in a global marketplace and not just against kids in their own country.

What is written all over this is, again, motivation or lack thereof.

So the recurring themes, at least in this very small, unscientific survey are “don’t blame just the education system” and “student motivation is the problem.”

Well, our readers have hit the education nail squarely on the head. At least according to an article by Robert J. Samuelson in the latest Newsweek.

The article, “Why School ‘Reform’ Fails,” is sub-titled—you guessed it—“Student motivation is the problem.”

In the article, Samuelson blasts past and present school reform programs and initiatives: “What they really show is that few subjects inspire more intellectual dishonesty and political puffery than “school reform.”

He dismisses “standard explanations” for our failed education system: Too few teachers, inadequate teachers’ pay, the need for more preschool help, etc., and lays the larger cause of failure squarely on the “unmentionable, shrunken student motivation system.”

Commenters, you did well.

To reinforce your opinions, please read the entire article here.