Monday, March 27, 2006

Optimist or Pessimist? - The Future of Education

Should you be an optimist, or a pessimist, about the education a child born today will receive?

Will that education be appropriate for the mix of jobs that are likely to be available?

In the public dialogue, not many are optimistic about this. Good news doesn't make headlines. And the bad news is frightening. But consider this one statistic:

* In 1920, only 16% of children graduated from high school.
* Today, 84% of children graduate from high school.

We're doing a better and better job keeping more kids in school for longer.

On the other hand, "graduating" doesn't mean what it used to. We might be using schools to babysit our children, not educate them. In a 20-nation comparison, the U.S. ranked #3 for the highest percentage of the population getting college degrees, and ranked #1 for the highest percentage getting graduate degrees. Sounds good, right? Actually, in those same studies, the U.S. came in 18th (out of 20) on literacy, and our high school graduates' literacy rate ranked 19th (out of 20). Consider that there are 30 million Americans with "Below Basic" literacy skills, and a quarter of those have a high school diploma. So they graduated, but with a piece of paper, not a basic ability to read and write. On to college the other students go. In California, the California State University system is supposed to be taking the top third of the state's high school seniors. Yet 6 out of 10 CSU students had to take remedial classes, and 5 out of 10 were considered "not academically prepared to be in college" - and these are the Top Third!

Is an average child today better off than in the past? Are we better off sending more kids into and through the educational system, even if the school isn't transforming most of them into the brilliant masses we hope for?

How do Commmunity Colleges and Adult Education fit in?

Pessimism is the easy take here. But if you look at the numbers ten ways and sideways, what do you really see? Should you be an Optimist or a Pessimist about the future of education?


Blogger Andreia said...

I wonder sometimes if the folks that complain about education have stepped one foot in the schools they disparage! I know its very hippie to say, but you are either part of the problem or part of the solution.

My husband and I have created our own standards for determining if our kids are being educated. Our primary, over-arching goal is that each of our kids develop their own personal set of skills and a knowledge of what they are good at doing.

In this regard, you could say public schools are failing. I would argue that they can not do the job of the parents. It seems unfair to ask them to produce superlearners without the help and prodding of parents.

Being a part of the formula of success can be done by two working parents and single mothers. There are many examples of kids doing well through difficult home situations.

I have never seen any analysis of parental involvement and expectation in the countries that traditionally do better on assessments of skills. I would love to know if the parents or the system are the critical element in their kids' success.

7:05 AM  
Blogger Ashley Merryman said...

We're going to blog about parental involvement as we go along, so I'll save some of the specifics for those posts. In the meantime, parents are absolutely a critical if not the critical element in their kids' educational success. And because of their influence, I don't think it's parental vs. systemic education -- I don't think you could split it up that evenly, but if I see something that does, I'll let you know.

11:47 AM  
Blogger Andreia said...

I was not completely clear in my writing. The question that I had was about the role of parental involvement in the countries that beat the United States in standardized tests. Is it as critical in China as it is in California or are there other systemic factors at play that create higher expectations and results for learning?
Just a question I had after reading this post.

2:31 PM  
Blogger Ashley Merryman said...

Well, when it's more complicated when you get into cross-cultural analysis, because, for example, parenting as a whole may have a very different approach. But yes, I think parental involvement is a constant in terms of students' work.

7:25 AM  

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