Saturday, August 13, 2016

America desperately needs to redefine ‘college and career ready’. From

Well-intentioned national K-12 education goals are jeopardizing the futures of millions of kids. Our stated goal is making all kids “college and career ready.” The reality, though, is that we’ve turned schools into college prep factories, leaving the vast majority of kids ill-prepared for career or life.


  1. In the midst of an article that argues that English class should focus—amongst other things—on good critical thinking skills for life rather than literary analysis. We get this blurb:

    > Female execs have this surprising thing in common

    What do female execs have in common? According to one study, 94% played a sport in high school and 61% said sports helped them succeed. Tennis star Serena Williams and Olympic gold medalist Missy Franklin talk about the importance of sports.

    It doesn't seem to be part of the article (and therefore probably comes from some editor rather than the author), but this blurb bothers me.

    Leaving aside the fact that it reads like click-bait, it's a post-hoc, correlation-identified-with-causation, fallicious train-wreck. Moving on, taking people word that something they spend a lot of time and effort on was worth it has it's own problem, so the survey evidence should be taking with caution. But the worst part is putting forward a couple of people who succeeded in sport as examples of how sport helps people to succeed. Really? Every heard of survivor bias?

    I hope (oh, how I hope!) that the author is livid about that.

  2. Now. To the subject of the article.

    My places is a direction state school, promoted to "University" on the strength of our first grad programs less than two decades ago. We draw mostly students from the immediate region.

    A lot of those students are exactly the demographic that would have been better served by a strong practical high-school program. They are reasonable smart, but not exceptionally so. They are able to learn, but don't enjoy it enough to seek out learning for its own sake. Most don't read for fun, and consequently don't read fast enough to keep up with a full load in college. Most took only the required amount of math in high-school. Most are, thankfully, fairly diligent and willing to work.

    These are people who would have succeeded (really succeeded) in blue-collar or "work your way up in the company" industries in the middle of the twentieth century. And in this partially industrialized, rural corner of the country, that door is still open to some of them. But not enough.

    I feel guilty at times, looking at the faces in my service classes, and knowing that only the top ten percent or so will transition into the "American Dream" when they leave. Oh, another significant traunch will do well enough out of it to come out ahead of their loans. But in every class there are some that are getting royally screwed by the system, and I am part of that system. At least I'm not the one giving them advice.

    But the in-major students are in a similar boat. People in my discipline like to pat each other on the back and crow about getting the cream of the quantitative thinkers, and we do something like that from the pool of students that come to this dingy ivory tower. But maybe half of them could keep up with the pack at a recognized program, and only after they spent a couple of semesters getting up to speed on their math. Still, the industrial concerns around here need some trained technical people, and we are able to place a goodly percentage of our students. If they were wise about their loans they'll be OK.

  3. This article sounds like something Bill Gates or Peter Thiel would write, thinking they're experts on education because they spent some time in a classroom, but never teaching. Fortunately, the Ivies won't be abandoning general-ed courses anytime soon, and so the quasi-Ivies won't be doing it, either. With any luck, the ripple effect will propagate down even to the U. of Wisconsin satellite campuses.

    Of course higher ed has been allowed to become far too expensive, but that has little to do with the curriculum. If the authors of this article didn't like the general-ed courses they took in college, they ought to have taken better general-ed courses.

    I did. As an astronomy and physics major, to burn off a social-science requirement, I took cartography from the geography department. It was hard, but I learned a lot that I use in my career as an astronomer. I also took macroeconomics, and it helps me understand much of what's in the news, and vote accordingly. History has been similarly useful. I now wish I'd had the time to take microeconomics and accounting: everything I know about them I've had to pick up on the street.

    English I've found useful for writing clearly, something particularly important in my work in astronomy and physics. Comp lit I've found similarly useful, since "to read" and "to write" are transitive verbs. One can't just "read" or "write": one needs to read something, and write about something. I tried to sign up for basic drawing, but it was always full, so I had to figure out how to illustrate my astronomy textbook myself.

    All of this is why I try to put as much of all of this into my general-ed astronomy course for non-majors. It's not just a course for majors with the math removed: it's a completely redesigned course that emphasizes reading, writing, and thinking. We even have an exercise on spotting logical fallacies, and even an upside-down drawing exercise.

    All students can therefore use what I'm pushing: my general-ed course is designed to be an education-in-one-course, since whether I may or may not be able to rely on faculty in other departments to do their jobs well.I suppose I'll have to push these things, since my students can't do 8th-grade math to save their lives.


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