"I know no safe depository of the ultimate powers of the society but the people themselves; and if we think them not enlightened enough to exercise their control with a wholesome discretion, the remedy is not to take it from them, but to inform their discretion by education. This is the true corrective of abuses of constitutional power." - Thomas Jefferson 1820

"There is a growing technology of testing that permits us now to do in nanoseconds things that we shouldn't be doing at all." - Dr. Gerald Bracey author of Rotten Apples in Education

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Thursday, May 26, 2011

Look for ROI in Education

For many families in the Midwest, May means graduation. As is often heard in commencements speeches, this is a time of endings and a time of beginnings. Everything that the school has, or has not prepared its students for is about to be discovered. Those leaving high school have spent a year discovering whether they have the documentation, skills and funding (more on the later) for continuing on to college. Those leaving college have either investigated the same for advanced degree programs or are discovering whether all the money spent on their degree has given them anything desirable to an employer. If education is “an investment”, then we should all be paying close attention to its Return On Investment (ROI).

Harambee Elementary school is in a metro Minneapolis district that has invested heavily in integration programs. Parents there are discovering that their children have been well “educated” on diversity, but at the expense of stronger education in core subjects like math and English. Two out of the metro area's three integration districts have failed to make the academic progress required under federal law. As was reported in the Star Tribune,

A "community cultures specialist" tours classes to make sure students are working across racial lines and learning about multiple world view perspectives. Kindergartners use crayons in numerous shades of skintone to draw accurate pictures of themselves. "We don't shy away from having conversations about race and the way we treat each other," said Harambee Principal Kristine Black.”

According to the Star Tribune, school officials reportedly said that,“[s]tudent achievement wasn't an explicit goal of the integration schools in the beginning.”

John Bennet at the American Thinker rightly questions,

“Many people with common sense would hear that and think that the school was designed to fail. If ‘student achievement,’ of all things, ‘wasn't an explicit goal,’ then where does student achievement fit in to this school's mission? As an implicit goal? As an incidental goal of proper indoctrination? The liberals don't intend schools to fail; they just have a set of priorities that predictably result in failure or mediocrity. Their obvious priority is to indoctrinate students and produce rigid multiculturalists. Reading and mathematics might be taught in the process.”

This skewed focus in our schools is readily apparent to any parent who is paying attention. Thomas Sowell, in his piece The Education Mantra said,

“If you look at the fields in which American students specialize in colleges and universities, those fields are heavily weighted toward the soft end of the spectrum…. Too many of the people coming out of even our most prestigious academic institutions graduate with neither the skills to be economically productive nor the intellectual development to make them discerning citizens and voters.”

Sowell further noted that this problem is not unique to America. In fact, it is so prevalent in third world countries, where they have many people with diplomas but no jobs, that they call them the “educated unemployed.”

Nor, he warns, is this a new problem. Its roots can be seen back as far as the early 19th century where education that did not focus on either useful skills or critical thinking produced people with just enough intelligence to promote wave after wave of cultural hatred.

“A scholarly history of 19th century Prague referred to ‘the well-educated but underemployed’ Czech young men who promoted ethnic polarization there-- a polarization that not only continued, but escalated, in the 20th century to produce bitter tragedies for both Czechs and Germans... In countries around the world, people with degrees in soft subjects have been sources of political unrest, instability and even mass violence.”

Let us turn back to our new graduates, especially those leaving high school and commencing college. Today’s student faces a college tuition that is similar in size to a mortgage. The job market is bog-like, and inflation continues to undermine real earning power. They should be loading up on courses that have the greatest ROI. Yet liberals continue to flood curriculum and credit requirements with soft subjects or those that have no real world earnings potential. The Chronicle of Higher Education had an article entitled, Master's in English: Will Mow Lawns which featured a man with that degree who has gone into the landscaping business because there is no great demand for people with Master's degrees in English. This softening was happening in our higher education decades ago but, as we see in Harambee, it is now reaching into the elementary schools. A parent, when asked what he thought his children were getting out of school said, “My children have gained a certain level of confidence and they're comfortable around all types of people." This will provide little comfort to them when they find themselves earning little or no money and facing a mortgage-like student debt. They will become slaves to their creditors.

The National Inflation Association (NIA) has produced a one hour documentary called “The College Conspiracy” The film talks about the rising cost of education and what is driving it. It also chronicles some graduates who are stuck in this perpetual credit slavery, including one woman who got her DDS degree using students loans. In her paperwork is a projected earnings chart that showed how much she was assumed to earn annually into the next two decades and how this rising salary would help her pay off her $106,000 in loans. Of particular interest was that by year 20 it was projected that she would be earning upwards of $400,000. While that might be a reasonable salary trajectory for a dentist in Manhattan, it certainly is not for someone serving a fairly rural area where she never met a single salary target on the government’s page.

Gerald Celente, of Trends Research Institute says, in this film, that a college degree is not necessary to succeed. My own informal research has found that many companies view a college degree as an indicator that a person has the drive to learn and the self discipline to succeed, but it is not a prerequisite to employment. That is radically different from what the President and education reformers say. They say schools should be providing the skills that companies are looking for, so students can get a job upon graduation. There is a vast disconnect here. And since businesses expand and grow through the development of new and proprietary intellectual properties, even they would have to admit that they don’t expect students to come to them with the exact knowledge they need to succeed in their particular business. Nor would they have any interest in colleges teaching their proprietary skills to those who could potentially go work for their competitors.

So parents, if your child does not already know about ROI, take some time before they get to school this fall and teach them about it. While they may enjoy Jewish Rock 'N' Roll History, it may not make economic sense for them to take a course on it at today’s college prices. Colleges don’t have a “Value Menu” yet for their courses, but maybe we could suggest they start one.

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