Monday, January 27, 2020

Some of Our Graduates Don't Even Know How to Tighten a Nut

Are schools neglecting practical knowledge and skills?
Many of our students are graduating from high school with extremely limited practical knowledge essential to success in most jobs and everyday life. A good example is demonstrated by one large Louisiana company, which asks the following question to its job applicants: "In what direction would you turn an ordinary screw or nut to tighten it (clockwise or counterclockwise)?" Amazingly, a rather large proportion of applicants don't know that the correct answer is "clockwise". This begs the question: With all our emphasis on college prep for all students, are we neglecting practical knowledge needed for students to function effectively in all careers and in everyday life?

Before the shift to college prep for all, students in Louisiana in grades as early as 7 and 8 were required to take courses often labeled as "industrial arts" and "home economics". Such courses provided introduction to basic tools used in homes and work, budgeting, cooking, and introduction to various crafts and trades. All students, whether destined for college or careers were taught practical life skills. Our education reformers seem to have forgotten that young adults need practical knowledge as well as preparation for college.

Vocational/technical training along with practical math skills could really help to close the wealth gap.
We are now trying to teach students the solution of quadratic equations that most of them will never use, not even once in their lifetimes. The new college prep curriculum requires a technique called  "close reading" of various texts without reference to background knowledge. Many experts in reading question this requirement for elementary students.  But we are not teaching students how to avoid the entrapment of payday loan sharks that are now gobbling up much of the income of many young workers. Almost none of our students today are taught the power of compound interest for example, in utilizing a Roth IRA for retirement planning.  Such practical knowledge for all students could help close the wealth gap.

Reformist minded charitable foundation managers who contribute millions to the current school reforms have pushed college prep for all as the way to close the achievement gap.  But it's not working!  Nationwide, indications are that fewer students are now prepared for college, nor can they afford college. The most recent statistics from our Board of Regents show that Louisiana is leading the downward spiral. Less than 40% of our students who start college actually get a degree of any kind. Our Department of Education keeps pumping out propaganda about improvements in our high school graduation rate and the higher number of students registering for college. But the Board of Regents report shows that the key factor should be the percentage who actually get a college degree. Another major problem in pushing college for all is that students who drop out still have to pay off their college loans, often putting a debt burden on them for several decades.

The education reformers would have done better by supporting a broad modern curriculum that could actually teach kids how to overcome the wealth gap using practical knowledge and training for a variety of careers. We wonder why the curriculum in our schools today, despite the valiant efforts of our teachers, does not motivate most of our students to learn more and improve their state test scores. The answer is simple: there is very little in our current curriculum that will be useful to the majority of our students' lives and careers, and they have figured this out!

Some academic skills requiring college are a cheap commodity.
Here's the core of my argument: The assumption that training most of our students for academic jobs requiring college degrees is highly questionable. For example, it is extremely likely that the jobs of writing code and software for U. S. companies and providing technical support will more often be farmed out to cheap workers in India than to our college graduates. Just call up tech support for one of your electronic gadgets and see who answers the phone.

A critical job that cannot be farmed out is under our feet. 
So let's look at just one of the many  real jobs of the future. The job of a skilled plumber will require workers who must be here, not in India, to do this vital job.  The plumbing infrastructure of most of our cities is extremely old and deteriorating. Fresh water, sewerage, and natural gas are now leaking out of city utilities in intolerable quantities. The rebuilding of our municipal  infrastructure for the entire nation is an urgent need,  particularly in the area of replacing worn out plumbing. Modern plumbing work is highly sophisticated work requiring extensive training, mostly using apprenticeship methods, which don't leave a young worker with debt. That one job will employ thousands of well paid workers for many years to come. A job that must be done on the ground or more specifically "in the ground" here in America cannot be farmed out to low wage foreign workers. As a bonus, the new cadre of young plumbers who do that work could be taught in our schools to achieve early retirement with the wise investment of their earnings. Very little of this is being taught in our schools today!

What would Einstein say about our school reforms?
State law requires that our students be exposed to career exploration starting in middle school. But this requirement has been neglected as our education leaders have pushed teachers to do mostly preparation for the Common Core tests. Even though the career diploma law has been in effect since 2009, our LDOE forces students to remain in a college prep mode until their junior year. The problem is that our highly touted Core 4 college prep curriculum is simply not working! In Einstein's famous words: "The definition of insanity is to continue doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result".

Standards are not high if someone secretly lowers cut scores
The lack of success of the new so called "higher standards" has been purposely covered up by secretly setting the cut scores for a passing grade on the tests to extremely low levels.
 For several mandatory high school courses, the cut scores on the end-of-course tests have been set so low that a third grader could possibly pass the EOC test by just random guessing at the multiple choice questions. So now all students get much less preparation for college than when the standards for those courses were reasonable.  We are not preparing students for college and we are not preparing them for careers. That's why we need to reintroduce modern, relevant, vocational courses early, beginning with career exploration starting in middle school and not make students wait until their junior year to start career courses.

The way Core 4 was sold to BESE was by insisting that all students, even those not choosing college, would greatly benefit from the more rigorous courses. That has not happened. The so called rigorous courses have been watered down so education reformers can falsely claim success. We could make a much better case that a modern, well designed home economics course would be more valuable to all our students than advanced math.