Sat Jan 25th, 2014 at 12:08:36 AM EST
Education has become a political football in the USA. An appalling number of students emerge with high school diplomas that don't really prepare them for anything practical. Conservatives want to hold the teachers accountable. We have had a changing series of standards and criteria that have succeeded in focusing efforts on preparing students for college. But the support available for college education for those whose families cannot afford to support them has been cut in favor of loans, debt from college loans has exceeded $1 trillion and college graduates are having increasing difficulty finding jobs that will enable them to pay their loans. This situation was the subject of a recent report on the PBS Newshour.
Meanwhile manufacturers, who offer living wage jobs with benefits, are frustrated that a high school diploma is no guarantee that an applicant can adequately perform most tasks in entry level positions. What are these skills? Per Bill Hoffer of Hoffer Plastics Corporation: "They need to be able to read blueprints. They need to follow procedures, document what they're doing. And that's all very important." A high school diploma, even with good grades in math, is no guarantee that the candidate has the needed skills for the job. College prep is not job prep it seems.
Per the PBS segment employers in the Illinois-Indiana area are turning to Work Keys, a program developed by ACT, Inc. It was developed specifically to test for skills employers found necessary and consists of three components - job skills assessment, job analysis and skill training - and the assessment covers twelve areas described in the link above. Why can't high school math teachers teach these skills?
According to teacher Laurie Nehf of Elgin High School in Indianopolis:
"I'm not told to have them job-ready. I'm told to have them college-ready. I'm focusing on linear functions, quadratic functions, polynomial functions, higher-level types of questions from WorkKeys. Is it important that they know that a negative under a square root creates an imaginary number? No, that's not really that important."
But figures from Elgin High and schools throughout the USA indicate that fewer than 25% of our students are graduating proficient in math according to current standards, focused as they are on college preparation. Says Laurie Nehf:
"They just shut down. They get very frustrated. We won't accept meeting kids where they're at and helping them where they're at.
I would love to spend all my time working on percentages, fractions, all that stuff with number sense. That number sense skills is what matters in the real world.(Emphasis added.)
Some have argued that the US should have a Plan B for students not going to college. But with only 25% graduating with math proficiency the USA does not even have a Plan A, just a brutal hazing of teachers and students administered by a failed series of plans for "excellence" and programs for "accountability". It is the politicians who need to be held accountable. It is time to end the pretense that every student should be, or even can be, prepared for college, whether then want it or not.