Archive for the 'Education' Category

Walter Williams on Education

December 23, 2009

In his column today, Black Education, Walter Williams touches on some of the same things I touched on last April in my post on how to save education.

They have parents with little interest in their education. These students not only sabotage the education process, but make schools unsafe as well. These students should not be permitted to destroy the education chances of others.

I agree for any student that is disrupting others.  Education is expensive.  We pay $10,000 – $15,000 per student per year of K-12 education.  In return for spending this money, we should expect students to be on their best behavior and problem kids need to be removed from the population so other can learn.

Another issue deemed too delicate to discuss is the overall quality of people teaching our children. Students who have chosen education as their major have the lowest SAT scores of any other major. Students who have an education degree earn lower scores than any other major on graduate school admission tests such as the GRE, MCAT or LSAT. Schools of education, either graduate or undergraduate, represent the academic slums of most any university. They are home to the least able students and professors. Schools of education should be shut down.

This goes along with my belief that we need to remove bad teachers and reward good ones.  Teachers seem to hate the idea of performance measurement.  It’s not hard to see why based on Williams’ paragraph above, they aren’t that good.  Teaching is not an entitlement.

Yet another issue is the academic fraud committed by teachers and administrators. After all, what is it when a student is granted a diploma certifying a 12th grade level of achievement when in fact he can’t perform at the sixth- or seventh-grade level?

Agreed.  In my post, I wrote that teachers need to assess accurate grades that truly reflect the students’ proficiency of the subject matter.  There should be no other criteria when giving a grade.

In summary, public education is not good because it has stifled or simply has wrong-headed ideas on several important levels of feedback.

  1. Student grades.
  2. Student behavior.
  3. Management of teacher quality.
  4. Ultimately, the most important level of feedback that is stifled is funding.  Public education receives funds no matter what.   #4 enables #1 – 3.

We Should be Ashamed of Ourselves

December 19, 2009

A few days ago, the fact came to me that we spend about $12,000 per student each year in public K-12 education.

That made me think of a couple more things.

First, I thought that the cost of health insurance for a family is about $12,000 per year and we think that’s expensive, but we don’t seem to think a cost of $12,000 per year for one student in basic education of K-12 is expensive?

Next, I used some math I learned in elementary school to figure out that by the time someone receives a high school diploma, we have invested roughly $156,000 in their education.

Then I thought about of all the excuses that are made for grown ups who do dumb things.  “It’s too hard to understand.”  “Someone took advantage of them.”  “Everybody else was doing it.”  “They just did what the experts told them to do.”

Full disclosure:  I have more than a $156,000 worth of education and I still do dumb things.

But, let me get this straight, most of us are walking around with at least $156,000 worth of education and yet we expect so very little of each other.  When we do dumb things, we make excuses rather than use our $156,000 educations to figure out how not to repeat our mistakes.  The only thing that comes to mind is the phrase my Mom would use on me and my brother when she caught us in the act of mischief, “You should be ashamed of yourselves!”  We should be.

True Measures: Education, Walter Williams Edition

May 6, 2009

In his column, Fraud in Academia, Walter Williams provides a great case on grade inflation.   Some of the telling stats:

  • From ’91 to ’07 the average GPA at public institutions increased from 2.93 to 3.11.
  • 91% of Harvard grads graduate with honors
  • At the University of Illinois, 80% of grades given are A’s or B’s.

While administrators say these trends reflect higher quality students, Williams wonders why SAT scores have declined for four decades and why a third of entering freshman need to take remedial courses in math, reading or writing.


John Stossel’s “The College Scam”

January 29, 2009

Read it here.

Stossel’s on the mark in criticizing the often quoted $1 million lifetime earnings bonus from a college degree.  It’s an example of a misleading statistic that’s taken as conventional wisdom.  Much of the difference in earnings derives from individual characteristics rather than the college degree. 

Consider the woman Stossel featured in his article, Rachele, who paid $24k/year for a human development degree based on, “I was told just to take out the loans and get the degree because when you graduate you’re going to be able to get that good job.”  Did she research the job market for someone with such a degree? I’m guessing  that’s what people who earn the million dollar lifetime bonus would do.

A college degree ain’t what it use to be – Part II

August 24, 2008

Charles Murray agrees with me and explains it much better than I here.  His column is full of examples where the feedback loops in higher education have drifted away from reality to a world where there is no wrong.

Education: The Answer is in the Feedback Loop

August 7, 2008

When something is broke, the reason why can always be traced back to a problem in the feedback loop, at least that’s my theory.

There are a lot of studies out there that pin the troubles with education on this, that or the other factors.  But, the real problems are in the feedback loops. 

Recently, my brother and I discussed a study (i.e. statistical model) that showed that individual academic results could be best “explained” by household factors such as level of education as parents, number of books in the house, etc.  I put “explained” in quotes because statistical models don’t really explain anything, but that’s another discussion.

My brother and I were raised in the same house yet had different academic outcomes.  We pondered how our story fit with the previously mentioned study.  Having lived through that story, I know the answer.  My brother and I took the feedback we received from the education process (parent expectations, grade performance, teacher feedback) differently.  One of us decided early on what he wanted to do in life and viewed formal education as a distraction to achieving that goal.  The other responded much better to the feedback and altered performance based on that feedback (e.g. studied more, seeked out help from others).

Now, we’re both doing roughly the same in terms of economic output and I’d say have roughly the same potential for future economic production, so that might bring up the question why education is important at all?  I have the answer for that too.  If the one of us who didn’t have much need for education had taken it seriously, my bets would’ve been on him for having a much greater future economic potential.

A college degree ain’t what it use to be

July 3, 2008

Last December, in my post titled “That’s Messed Up!”, I wrote about how broken feedback can explain just about any problem.  Now, I’m going put that to the test on often debated topics in our society – education and healthcare.  I’ll start with education.

I often hear “a college degree ain’t what it use to be.”  Same goes for a high school diploma.  Why?

Schools use to award diplomas to those who mastered the requirements.  The standards were high.  A diploma was a reliable sign that the person was literate, self-driven, able to complete assignments and responsible. 

That’s when grades (i.e. feedback on student performance) were awarded based on the mastery of the material.  To move to the next level you had to pass the previous level.  That isn’t the case anymore.   

While some students gain a lot from education, they share distinctions with too many who were promoted for reasons other than their true academic performance.  And it’s hard to tell these people apart, so the simplest thing to do is to assume the degree means little or nothing.  Of course there are some distinguishers like graduating with honors and winning academic awards, but the diploma itself is too easily had to be of much informational value.

There are many reasons why students receive inflated grades.  All these reasons can be traced back to more feedback problems.  For example, there may be many reasons why teachers give inflated grades (e.g. don’t want to have a tough conversation with a student or parent, believes self-esteem is more important than grades) but the root cause is that administrators allow it by not giving proper feedback either willingly, because the administrator may have the same views on inflated grades as teachers, or unwillingly, because the teachers’ union doesn’t allow behavior changing action to be taken against the teacher giving inflated grades.

Want to fix education?  Fix the feedback problems.  Get rid of grade inflation, fire ineffective teachers and pay great teachers well.  Finally, give schools more power to kick out troublemakers.  To earn the privelege of occupying a desk funded by our tax dollars, we should expect kids to behave in the classroom.  Troublemakers simply should not be tolerated.  Let the parents deal with the brats they created.  

I’ll tackle healthcare in another post.