Arnold Kling  

An Education Debate

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Feynman on Suits vs. Geeks... My Fantasy Testimony...

It starts with Charles Murray, but we already know what he thinks. And although Kevin Carey's essay will appear later, we know what he thinks, too. I'm curious how Bryan Caplan will weigh in. We know he's a big fan of the signaling model, but presumably he will give us a bit more to chew on, maybe even including some evidence. The essay I'm most looking forward to is Pedro Carneiro's. He's done some work with Heckman, and he seems to be pretty sharp.


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Cyberike writes:

There is no question that the large number of college attendees and graduates have been good for America in the years since WWII. I take issue with the focus on a college degree as the measurement of success of our schools and of our students.

We are increasingly seeing a "college prep" focus in our high schools, and this is presented as the answer to our k-12 educational malaise. But, one of the reasons we have poor educational attainment in our public schools is a focus on the learning and teaching styles that correspond to a college education, offering no alternative to a student who would do better were, say, mechanical aptitude emphasized. We assume that such a student will overcome this obstacle and go on to a career that uses this ability, but when schools fail to nurture and develop those skills we fail both the student and society.

Let me make this perfectly clear: schools are forced to focus on academics (math, science, english) as a result of NCLB, and when a student (for whatever reason) falls short of the standard, even more pressure is placed on that student to master the academics. Instead of saying, hmmmm, maybe this student would do better with a different academic focus, we expose the student to more of the same.

I think we can all agree that students do have a range of ability. What we seem to fail to understand is that there are a wide variety of abilities, and that an academic college prep regimen only focuses on one type of ability.

Do not forget that one of the biggest problems in our schools is boredom, which particularly affects the brightest students. We have not figured out how to allow all students to succeed and simultaneously challenge the brightest students. These seem mutually exclusive. The school environment in general (with its restrictions, teaching and learning methods, discipline, bullying, peer pressure, etc) turns off many students. There has to be an alternative to same old, same old.

Rick Stewart writes:

Carey's objections to Murray seem knee jerk to me. If the education establishment, public and private, believes in the educability of all, prove it with results. Until then, quit demanding more tax money to fix what you have already had 171 years of authority to do, with negative success.

Hanushek and Woessmann in September's Journal of Economic Literature (The Role of Cognitive Skills in Economic Development) find 'Years of schooling' dropping to insignificance once 'Test score' is introduced (using internationally administered tests of math, science and reading), as determinants of growth of income per capita.

In other words, it isn't your degree, it's what you learned that counts, in both low- and high-income countries.

Dan Weber writes:

We can conduct the experiment of "would you still go to college if you didn't have the degree to show for it?" by making the degrees invisible, or even non-existent, to employers.

Sure, there are ways around it -- I can think of a few easily -- but the primary benefit would be to help those who are stigmatized by the lack of a BA.

Tracy W writes:

Let me make this perfectly clear: schools are forced to focus on academics (math, science, english) as a result of NCLB, and when a student (for whatever reason) falls short of the standard, even more pressure is placed on that student to master the academics.

It is important to note that the NCLB tests kids for basic reading and arithmetic. Kids are not being tested on their ability to analyse the use of symbolism in Madame Bovary, they are being tested on their ability to read a newspaper article. Kids are not being tested on their ability to derive geometric proofs, they are being tested on their ability to calculate how much flour they need if they are baking 1 1/2 times the quantity in the recipe.

Exactly what practical careers will kids be well prepared for if they can't read at all and can't do basic arithemtic? Mechanics read and measure stuff and do arithemtic.

Also, reading and basic arithemtic are important preparations for being an informed citizen, for arguing with the tax department, for writing condolence letters.

Not everyone should go to college or even analyse Madame Bovary. But as many people as possible should be able to do the basic mechanics of reading and arithemtic.

Instead of saying, hmmmm, maybe this student would do better with a different academic focus, we expose the student to more of the same.

When in fact what we should be doing is looking at how the school teaches academics, and improving that, not putting pressure on the poor kids.

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