Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Who are we fooling? Who are we helping? 

You need to take a little time to read Stephen Karlson's post on college ranking systems. The money graf:
It strikes me as exceedingly cumbersome to lay off on a newsmagazine what might more logically be charged to the failure of the common schools to do their work in the first place, or to the failure of the access-assessment-remediation-retention culture in the academy to say Enough to those common schools.
Stephen writes forcefully that it's time for us to deal with the problem by having academia state for itself and for its audience -- parents, employers, legislators (for Stephen's and my institutions, both public) -- what is meant by quality. When Stephen asks "what's wrong with bolstering retention by screening out individuals who are more likely a priori not to make it through?" the answer is, to whom is it wrong?

That thought comes through to me after reading a Conference Board report yesterday that says that college graduates have better job prospects not because the colleges are doing better jobs, but that the high schools are failing to provide key job skills. I was invited this morning to talk to a luncheon for Junior Achievement, which uses volunteers to get education about personal finance, economics and entrepreneurship into K-12 classrooms. As I read the Conference Board report, it occurred to me what JA is doing is to provide those skills which the Board report says are lacking in our high school graduates.
In fact, the findings indicate that applied skills on all educational levels trump basic knowledge and skills, such as Reading Comprehension and Mathematics. In other words, while the �three Rs� are still fundamental to any new workforce entrant�s ability to do the job, employers emphasize that applied skills like Teamwork/Collaboration and Critical Thinking are �very important� to success at work.
As someone said to me after lunch, what kids are missing is the fourth R: the real world. And what employers seem to be doing is hiring college graduates with hopes that they've received that fourth R. And in the real world, one thing you can't have is inflated grading. When we do this, we are kicking down the road the problem with a lack of professionalism and work ethic that's lacking in the high school graduate. While a "coreless curriculum," as Stephen puts it, is a real problem, what we really want in these students is that work ethic along with the ability to work together, to speak clearly, and to be able to solve problems and think critically.

If there's some other way to deliver that than a classical curriculum centered on the Great Books, I'm fine with that. But good luck finding one.