Are American Kids Getting Dumber?
Tom Elia rounds up several recent studies with alarming statistics about the state of our education system in a post entitled, “Is We Educating Our Children Good?” Callimachus summarizes some of the more worrisome thusly:
A survey by ACT college testing service found “only 51 percent of students showed they were ready to handle the reading requirements of a typical first-year college course.” Some students thought “the right to drive and the right to have pets” are listed in the Constitution. Another survey showed that “more than 50 percent of students at four-year schools and more than 75 percent at two-year colleges lacked the skills to perform complex literacy tasks.” The results, the study found, “cut across three types of literacy: analyzing news stories and other prose, understanding documents and having math skills needed for checkbooks or restaurant tips.” AP reported that “almost 20 percent of students pursuing four-year [college] degrees had only basic quantitative skills. For example, the students could not estimate if their car had enough gas to get to the service station.” “Most Chicago Public Schools alumni must take remedial classes at the Chicago City Colleges; 74 percent must take remedial English; 94 percent must take remedial math.”
He concludes, “Stupid kids become stupid adults. We live in a nation now where 20% of those surveyed believe that the sun revolves around the earth and only 55% can name all three branches of the federal government.” Elia agrees, “That these stories could be told should be intolerable to every single American. Yet, they are just the tip of the iceberg.”
Jeff Goldstein sees a ready solution to all this: “Call me a reactionary (hell, a few of you do, anyway), but I’d like to see a curriculum that consists exclusively of reading/writing (literature, history/geography, philosophy); math; and science. And history should be far more generally comprehensive than ‘inclusive,’ and should feature a good deal of civics (and a lot less identity narratives).”
Teacher Adrianne Truett says,
I’m doing my best to combat its effects — having students read real newspaper articles and explain them, encouraging them to look at the bigger picture, trying to cultivate practical, real-world skills… but it’s difficult (especially when the parents, however well-intentioned, themselves lack the education to back it up, or when you have to spend half your time undoing the misdeeds of previous teachers).
But, is it really all that bad?
Frankly, having spent several years as a frustrated college professor, none of this surprises me. Further, many of the expectations implied by these statistics are unreasonable.
College courses should be a substantial leap from high school, not merely the 13th, 14th, 15th, and 16th grades. Do we really expect that every high school graduate, especially true in an age where essentially everyone graduates high school should be ready to succeed in college?
Nor is it surprising that half the students at four year colleges don’t have the skills expected of college graduates. After all, more than half of the students at a four year college are freshmen and sophomores, some substantial portion of whom will not graduate. (In related news, two thirds of law students do not have the legal knowledge necessary to pass the bar exam.) And the fact that a quarter of students at junior colleges, which typically comprise the least prepared of all college students, have those skills should be heartening, indeed.
As to AP’s report that “almost 20 percent of students pursuing four-year [college] degrees had only basic quantitative skills. For example, the students could not estimate if their car had enough gas to get to the service station,” one must remember that it is an AP report. Think about that one for a minute. How many of you drive cars or are otherwise out on the highway on a regular basis? What percentage of the cars you pass have run out of gas?
This is not to say that there are not substantial problems in our schools, especially in the urban centers and impoverished areas. Tthat, “Most Chicago Public Schools alumni must take remedial classes at the Chicago City Colleges; 74 percent must take remedial English; 94 percent must take remedial math” is depressing. That’s something we need to address.
More accountability (teacher testing, ending social promotion), more choices (vouchers, magnet schools), better incentives for the best teachers, and decoupling education funding and local wealth are worth exploring. But we also need to get over the idea that every boy and girl must grow up to get a college degree.