The Least Generation.

A BA may not guarantee you a job, but not having a BA will guarantee that you don’t get a job.  Since the 2008 recession, the American economy has created 11.6 million new jobs.  Of  those new jobs, 99 percent went to people with at least some college and predominantly to people with a BA.[1]  A lot of those jobs probably were as managers, supervisors, and support staff.  Between 1983 and 2014, those job titles increased in number by 90 percent, while other occupations grew by only 40 percent.[2]

Since 1981, more than half of all BAs have been earned by women, rather than men.  Thirty-odd years of that trend has shifted the balance in the population at large.  Now, 29.9 percent of all men hold BAs, while 30.2 percent of all women hold BAs.  Obviously, at this rate the gap will become ever more stark.[3]

Back in 2005, about 40 percent of the graduate students studying science and mathematics in the United States came from foreign countries; in 2015, about 50 percent of the graduate students studying engineering came from outside the United States.[4]

According to the bipartisan commentator Juan Williams, the public schools have failed minority children.[5]  In 2015, 18 percent of black and 21 percent of Hispanic fourth-graders scored as “proficient” readers.  Among those aged 25-29 years, only 15 percent of Hispanics and 20 percent of blacks had BAs.  The Dallas sniper, Micah Johnson, had a high school GPA of 1.98.[6]  In turn, 2.00 is a “C” grade or “Average.”  At the same time, the Micah Johnson, graduated 430th out of a class of 453 seniors, in the bottom 5 percent of his class.  So, 95 percent of students in his class had a GPA of 2.00 or higher.  His GPA is emblematic of things that have gone wrong with American education.  A lot of grade inflation has taken place.  It looks like grades are almost entirely meaningless as an evaluation of work-ethic, knowledge, or intelligence.  Problematic kids get passed along by teachers.

However, two-thirds (68 percent) of Americans do not have a college degree.[7]  When the “Great Recession” hit in 2008, employment slumped.  Kinfolk said “Jed, improve your skills!” So, college enrollments jumped by 25 percent, from 2.4 million in Fall 2007 to 3 million in Fall 2009.  By Fall 2015, 52.9 percent of these students had graduated with either an AS or a BS.[8]  But why didn’t the others graduate?   Over a third (38 percent) of people with college loan debt didn’t graduate.  Almost half (45 percent) of people with college loan debt think that college wasn’t worth the price.[9]  Better than three-quarters (78 percent) of those who think that the game wasn’t worth the candle earn less than $50,000 a year and better than two-thirds (68 percent) are having trouble paying their debt.

You need a BA for success.  Women do college better than men.  Whites do college better than blacks or Hispanics.  Americans don’t do math, science, or engineering.  Money shouldn’t be a barrier to talent, such as it is.  It would be easy to join the pack and throw all this on the schools and on the teachers.  However, there is a lot of parental malpractice evident.

[1] “Noted,” The Week, 15 July 2016, p. 16.

[2] “The bottom line,” The Week, 15 July 2016, p. 31.

[3] “Noted,” The Week, 30 October 2015, p. 16.

[4] “Noted,” The Week, 15 July 2015, p. 18.

[5] Juan Williams, “The scandal of our failing public schools,” The Week, 15 July 2016, p. 12.

[6] Dan Frosch and Josh Dawsey, “Dallas Shooter Bought Weapons Legally,” WSJ, 12 July 2016.

[7] “Noted,” The Week, 15 July 2016, p. 16.

[8] “The bottom line,” The Week, 4 December 2015, p. 36.

[9] “Poll Watch,” The Week, 15 July 2016, p. 17.

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The Least Generation 1.

American education seems to be a lot like American health care: we spend more per-capita (patient/pupil) than do most countries and get less for the money than do most countries.[1] American 15 year-olds rank 15th in literacy, 21st in science, 24th in problem-solving, and 25th in math. Even in high school and college graduation rates, with schools pushing every lazy moron out the door with a diploma clutched in his/her hot little hand, America has lost ground from 1st to 18th place. (Now, it could be that everyone else got their ten pounds in a five pound bag and caught up to the US. I don’t know what the test scores show on this matter.) Still, American parents appear to believe that their own local schools are a happy island of excellence in a sea of national mediocrity.

The supposed crisis in American education actually seems to come down to what we do about the low performing schools, which are mostly in low-income areas.

Teachers make a difference in the lives of young people—and not always for the better. If you have three successive years of having a poor teacher, you’ll never catch up with the students in the same school who had a competent teacher.   The buzz surrounding the movie “Waiting for Superman” has focused attention on teachers and especially on teachers’ unions. The unions seem bent on frustrating every effort at reform out of a selfish interest in protecting even their least-competent members at the expense of the children.

What makes a teacher “good”? According to Teach for America: setting high goals for your students, seeking to engage them by whatever means necessary, and involving the parents in the education of their children. Teachers have to be persevering and hard-working. In another view, it isn’t so much the individual teachers as the culture of the school: instill good habits and ambition, create an expectation that everyone will strive to be excellent, and put in immense amounts of time.

The Obama administration is trying to measure the effectiveness of teachers by means of a new scheme called “value-added modeling.” In theory, this allows schools to assess the contribution of individual teachers by tracking student test scores from grade to grade.   The Department of Education’s $4.35 billion in “Race for the Top” awards gives the federal government a lot of leverage.

However, the current debate is missing an important part of the equation. Parents play a powerful role in shaping the educational achievement of their children. Teachers argue that homes where the parents read very little, have limited vocabularies, and don’t value education or see much chance for their kids to improve plays a major role in individual success or failure. Some of the most striking elements of successful schools in low-income areas seek to address this problem. The Knowledge Is Power Program (KIPP) charter schools operate from 7:30 AM to 5:00 PM, and the teachers must be available to answer questions until 9:00 PM. The provision of counseling and medical services by the Harlem Children’s Zone charter school goes in the same direction. Successful charter schools take over the responsibilities that many parents cannot meet. The problem is that no one actually wants to say out loud that the chief source of under-achievement is failed parents, not failed students or failed teachers or failed schools. The decline—relative or absolute—in the performance of American schools or of American students began about 1980. That would suggest that it began among children born between 1962 and 1974. That would suggest that a lot of Baby Boomers turned out to be lousy parents. The “Least Generation.”

[1] “Targeting teachers,” The Week, 15 October 2010, p. 15.