Wednesday, April 27, 2016

The Nation's Report Card: F

The news from the National Assessment of Educational Progress is not good. Even though high school seniors are more likely to graduate and are more likely to go to college, they are not prepared to do college work. The Nation’s Report Card shows too many students getting a failing grade. By implication, the nation, the academic establishment and the culture are failing too. Nevertheless,, they give the children passing grades and hand the problem off to others.

Only 37% of American 12th-graders were academically prepared for college math and reading in 2015, a slight dip from two years earlier, according to test scores released Wednesday.

42% of these students will enter college. Many are unprepared and will require remedial work. In most cases, it will not be enough. 

One adds that the tests were administered to children in private and public schools. You can imagine what the score would have been if only public school students had been tested.

The Journal continues:

Educators and policy makers have long lamented that many seniors get diplomas even though they aren’t ready for college, careers or the military. Those who go to college often burn through financial aid or build debt while taking remedial classes that don’t earn credits toward a degree.

Bill Bushaw, executive director of the National Assessment Governing Board, which oversees the test, said the board was pleased that high school graduation rates were rising, but disappointed in the lack of progress in boosting students’ skills and knowledge.

“These numbers aren’t going the way we want,” he said. “We just have to redouble our efforts to prepare our students to close opportunity gaps.”

As has happened in the nation’s economic life, the best did better and the worst did worst. Students at the bottom of the socioeconomical ladder dragged down the scores for everyone.

The biggest problems came at the bottom, with growth in the share of students deemed “below basic” in their abilities. In math, 38% of students were in that group in 2015, compared with 35% two years earlier. In reading, 28% of students were “below basic,” compared with 25%.

Strange to say, part of the problem seems to be that there are fewer dropouts. If underachieving students do not drop out when they are 16 they reduce the percentages.

We are not surprised to see Asian students leading the pack in these tests:

In reading, 49% of Asian students performed at or above proficiency last year. So did 46% of white students, 25% of Hispanic students and 17% of black students.

In math, the average score of 152 out of 300 points was one point lower than in 2013. A significant drop in math scores was seen among students whose parents didn’t finish high school.

“In math, the decline is real,” Ms. Carr said. “Students at the lower end are getting worse.”

English-language learners fared better than previously, she said, mostly because of gains among Asian students.

In math, 47% of Asian students performed at or above proficiency. So did 32% of white students, 12% of Hispanic students and 7% of black students.

Of course, if you do not know what the problem is you are very unlikely to fix it. While the Age of Obama might have provided some pride to minority students, clearly this did not have any influence on their test scores. If the message of the Obama presidency was that the president was going to take care of them and that they did not need to work very hard, then this did not do anyone any good.

And one is intrigued by the correlation between the evident inequality in these test scores and the increasing economic inequality gap.

What caused the problem in minority communities? Obviously, broken homes and unstable families contributed mightily to it. But we must also add that the Asian students who did so much better than everyone else were more likely to have Tiger Moms. One suspects that they also had more stable communities.

We know that Asian culture is routinely derided because it supposedly produces more mental illness and suicide. And, these Asian children are such grinds that they are missing out on all the fun. Yet, the Tiger Moms do shield their children from the pathogens that are freely floating through American culture. It ought to give us pause.


Ignatius Acton Chesterton OCD said...

"Even though high school seniors are more likely to graduate and are more likely to go to college, they are not prepared to do college work."

This obsession with the number of people going to college is very strange. Going to college for what? Debt? My fear is that college is becoming grades 13-16. And judging by the degrading level of maturity reflected in these speech codes and micro-aggressions, I'd say we're going back to kindergarten social values. Robert Fulghum would be proud, as every Leftist's favorite book is "All I Ever Really Needed to Know I Learned in Kindergarten," and John Lennon's "Imagine" is the activist's fight song.

This "college dream" is part of my concern with "free trade" masquerading as arbitraging American labor. Many will say labor is a commodity, but it is not like other commodities. Bauxite and coal do not revolt and ask for welfare checks when their price plunges because a new, less expensive pit opens. So long as we don't have good schools, we are de facto damning a good many young people to a life of destitution and misery.

Our manufacturing jobs are good-paying jobs. And companies like Carrier and Ford are relocating manufacturing facilities just over the Mex'n border. It's not because the Mex'ns have a better educational system, is it? No. It's because the labor is cheaper there, and regulatory standards are not as stringent.

As the repetitive manual jobs go overseas or are automated, we are left with manufacturing and other industries having skilled operators manning machines. If our population does not have the STEM or vocational training to perform those jobs, they're left to the service sector... low-skill, low-wage jobs. Low barriers to entry. One does not need a college degree for this kind of employment, no matter what job descriptions say.

I am coming to believe that all high school students should be required to take vocational classes: shop, electrical, plumbing, carpentry, engineering, clerical, etc. They need exposure to these employment fields and skills. Not everyone is going to be a doctor, lawyer, teacher, nuclear engineer, or photonics virtuoso. Skilled trades pay well and perform an critical social and economic function. Shop classes disappeared with drama and art because of budget cuts. Time to bring them back... for everyone, including those taking lots of AP courses or those on track to be class valedictorian. Everyone.

I talk to businesspeople every day. I hear it again and again: I cannot find good people. Sure, "good" is relative to the application. But the universal trumpeting of this complaint leads me to believe there is more afoot than just impossible standards or micro-tailored needs.

Dennis said...


I would suggest to you that there will be so many useless degrees that those, like plumbers, carpenters et al,who know how to make things work will be the ones who make more money.

Ignatius Acton Chesterton OCD said...

Dennis @April 27, 2016 at 7:41 AM:

You can count on that.

A degree isn't "useless" if you can make something useful and gainful out of it. I was a liberal arts major, and proud of it. I went through a rigorous curriculum, and I learned how to think. It refined my cognitive approach, and going away to college allowed me to grow in an unfamiliar social environment, meeting new people with a range of experiences different than my own... I like to call it "REAL diversity." I was even in a (gasp!) greek-letter fraternity, where I learned more about how people operate in groups than at any other stage in my life. Those combined intellectual and social skills serve me in my consulting work as the majority of what I do is listen to language and how people use it, and work with them to create more effective teams and organizations. I am convinced my study of History and Political Philosophy assisted me greatly in my professional growth.

I'm not sure the same can be said for "_________ Studies" majors. It seems that the curriculum there is in non-thinking. Rather, paramount importance is placed on emoting, as an outlet for anger and rage. Its' not about a human experience as it is an ethnic, racial, gender, etc. experience. Such departments are seminaries for the grievance industry. It's about coming up with lagging correlations about how the world is out to screw you (and always has, and always will). No hope, no productive outlet or application. There's really nothing particularly creative about it other than the scrambling of words to produce such opaque, turgid prose that peers and colleagues can ummm and ahhhh -- and little more, because no one can understand it, beyond the conclusion that the writer is pissed off at the world. The entire subject matter is a reactive trap, with little relevance to the private sector. So the twenty-something comes to resent the private sector, and the student loan debt they must repay. Then repeat the experience in grad school humanities.

Skilled trades are an honorable way to earn a living, and they are definitionally constructive and useful. Given the dearth of people going into these roles, I'm confident we can expect the price of their services to rise ahead of inflation. Therefore, perhaps decades down the road, having a plumber at your home will be a "right," because it's beyond the reach of those deemed "low-income." On a serious note, this kind of skilled work is truly "recession-proof" for the contributor who is willing to run a good, clean business to deliver customers value. Just like any other business. Perhaps this is why the phony/wacky liberal arts and humanities graduates don't trust business: business doesn't need them. Alas. I can assure you a skilled tradesman has no use for someone seeking his employ after spending 4 years and $200,000 at Middlebury to write a capstone paper on "New Corners of White Europe: Lesbian Knighthood and Pagan Feminist Expression in 14th century Transylvania." But by then, perhaps there will be a new part of the Democrat Party coalition demanding 14th Amendment protection for witchcraft in private sector hiring practices nationwide. No justice, no peace!

Ares Olympus said...

Stuart: Obviously, broken homes and unstable families contributed mightily to [the problem in minority communities]. But we must also add that the Asian students who did so much better than everyone else were more likely to have Tiger Moms. One suspects that they also had more stable communities.

My family never had "Tiger moms", but I do seem to have an above average number of teachers, all mothers, between my mom, aunts, cousins and second cousins. They also say that poor families have a deficit of books compared to middle and upper class families. If kids see adults reading, they don't need to be hounded to read.

My state of Minnesota always seems to do well on averages, but we have our own minority community problems, and near worst national achievement gaps. If Lake Wobegon has all its kids "above average" it is because they abandoned the inner city schools for the broken families and new refugee immigrants are left flounder together.

And the Twin City Asian Hmong communities may not be doing better than our African Somali communities, although both groups are now starting to gain some interest in politics which is good.

Probably what's more difficult now-a-days compared to 1850s when my dad's family came from Norway, or even 50 years ago is you didn't need a college education to raise a family. Farming was the path to prosperity, and since they also came in waves and settled together, English language skills could be learned over decades for the first generation.

But with education what learning really makes a difference? I admit, even as a college Math major, and a computer programmer for a living I don't use advanced algebra very much, nor calculus, although for budgeting being able to balance a checkbook and being able to tally recursive interest calculations in a spreadsheet did allow me to project mortgage payoff plans and how much total interest I'd pay with a 10 or 15 year payoff versus 30 years. I can't imagine why other people would take on $200k of debt at any interest rate without such cautious consideration.

Anyway, I'm sure we've always had achievement gaps, and always will, but there are things society can do to help. Public schools help, but it doesn't help to punish inner city public schools for low test scores when all the well-to-do students have moved out, or transferred to private schools.

Stuart's point about fewer students dropping out lowering the test scores is interesting and important. I go back and forth on this predicament. Youth who don't compete well in school will find new freedom and choices by working as teens, and I can see if self-esteem is important, things like "work programs" that give practical skills might be more important to some teens, and they can always get their GED later when they find their wage capped by their lack of a high school diploma.

On the other hand, dropping out of school too soon, youth can find minimum wage isn't as exciting after a couple years, and then see "success" in the dropouts with the new cars by selling illegal drugs and such. So early independence also means vulnerabilities to seductions of easy street.

My adopted older brother had learning disabilities, perhaps from an alcoholic mother, and he dropped out of school when he turned 16, after being held back one year as well. He got into a job program, and slowly got connected into the drug culture, and died before he was 40. He did get married, lasted under 4 years, and later he confessed he was most happy when he was married and using the most drugs. A scary truth.

I can see why people want to have a "war on drugs". I wondered if people who use drugs knew about all the violence that was done to produce those drugs, if that knowledge would make them stop, but then I realized, it would just make them feel worse, and they'd need more drugs to feel better.

Anyway, considering all that, low test scores are only the first sign of trouble on a downward spiral.

Sam L. said...

Most of us remember reading the 1898 (roughly) 8th Grade Graduation Test. Might have been in a McGuffey's Reader. Our schools have been programmed toward the lower-percentile groups. This goes all the way into college, except for STEM courses. I note it is not Republicans who are in favor of this, nor have they any control of it.