You ignorant capitalist prick - comment from one of our biggest fans.

"Wow. What an ignorant bastard you are. Enjoy your 8-hours-a-day of television you ignorant capitalist prick." Anonymous
Follow us at twitter @ValueOfCollege

Come explore our website at

This blog communicates in tandem with our website This blog is updated more frequently but the website is organized around different topics.

Saturday, January 29, 2011

When it comes to education we get what we measure

One of the goals I consistently hear is that we need to increase the number of college graduates produced by the United States. The most agressive of these is that the goal should be that 100% of Americans ought to be college graduates.

Today the US has more college grads (as a percentage of those over 25) than ever before - roughly 27%. In 1940, this number was about 5%. Oddly enough, as the percentage has gone up, the US has fallen from the World’s most competitive and powerful economy to one that is struggling.

As we continuously set and measure the wrong goals (for example, the percentage of high school students who go on to college), we also become more efficient at producing the wrong results. We have succesfully achieved higher college graduation numbers, but we've ineffectively instilled the knowledge and learning needed to make America more competitive.

Likewise, if we simply track the high school dropout rate, and the only goal is to reduce the number of high school dropouts, a likely unintended consequence is that schools simply dumb down the curriculum enough to allow more to graduate from high school and then declare victory. Today , nearly one third of US high school students either drop out or fail to finish high school in four years. Clearly it is far more expensive to educate kids who don’t want to learn than to educate those that do.

Testing based on the "No Child Left Behind" act is designed to reward high performing schools and penalize poor schools - but the entire emphasis has been on English and Math. English and Math are extremely important, but equally important - yet ignored and not measured - are science test scores. Since we have not acknowleged the importance of measuring science results, we have consequently invested inadequately (resources and time) in the subject. One or two US students of every 100 scored well enough to be considered advanced in science according to a recent report by the National Assessment of Education Progress in Science. This portends a bleak future for America’s ability to stay competitive in the world technology markets.

“Highlights of national (math and science test results) show that 34 percent of fourth-graders, 30 percent of eighth-graders, and 21 percent of twelfth-graders performed at or above the Proficient level, demonstrating competency over challenging subject matter.” The longer our students stay in our public school system, the farther behind they fall in science.

In President Obama’s last state of the union address, he called for a “Sputnik movement” fed by investments in research and education. Who among our growing universe of Americans who have never passed a science or math test will conduct this research? We didn’t send a man to the moon on the backs of college graduates in Sociology and Gender Studies.

There is much talk about rewarding the top teachers and dropping the rest. This sounds like a good start. But absent a system for measuring the factors that will make America competitive, we risk simply getting more efficient at teaching the wrong subjects. And of course, if our public employee unions insist on pay for seniority rather than pay for results, and if we fail to challenge and change that position, it may not make much of a difference what we measure.

Perhaps we need a radically different education system, one run by private enterprise and non-profits but requiring transparency in standardized test score results (including Science) for all to see and compare. Among competing private schools, some might rely on different combinations of online education, computer-assisted learning, frequent testing, and grandmotherly encouragement. And the government’s role in education would be restricted to providing financial support via vouchers and formulating and auditing a uniform testing system that measures learning results for English, Math and Science. Then the government would leave the management and execution of education to the private sector. We would see much more learning taking place at a far lower price.

No comments: