As I wrote in my previous post about America's misplaced faith in education:
Americans worship education. Perhaps more so the left than the right, but a great many people of all persuasions believe that the best solution to any problem is education. War? Education. Drug abuse? Education. Poverty? Education. Crime? Education. Racism? Education. Terrorism? Education. Don't get me wrong, education can be quite effective in treating some of these problems, but education alone isn't the cure-all that many people make it out to be.
Joanne Jacobs runs a great education blog and has a column up on FoxNews today that reviews some of the problems with the modern American education pipeline.
If you talk to a class of ninth graders, nearly all will say they want to go to college. But nationwide, only 18 percent will earn a two-year college degree within three years of leaving high school, or a four-year degree within six years. Only 68 percent of students who start high school earn a diploma, says a study of K-16 success rates by the National Center for Public Policy and Higher Education. About 59 percent of graduates -- 40 percent of the original ninth grade class -- go directly from high school to college. By sophomore year, one third have dropped out, leaving 27 percent of the original ninth graders still enrolled.
Massachusetts, Pennsylvania and Iowa have the highest K-16 graduation rates at 28 to 29 percent, while Nevada and New Mexico rank at the bottom with a 10 percent college completion rate.
Of course, the assumption of all this is that the ideal is to send every student straight from high school to college to a degree. That's not the best path for everyone. And the National Center doesn't consider that if everyone gets a college diploma, the value of a diploma will decline even more than it already has.
However, I think we need to look seriously at the huge gap between students' ambitions and reality. In New York, 43 percent of students who start high school leave without a diploma. What's a realistic path for these kids? And let's explain to students that there's no point going to college if you don't have the skills or the drive to pass classes once you get there.
I agree with her completely. As I've said before, many kids are pushed into a college education that does them absolutely no good and is simply a waste of time and money. In the "old days" there was a realistic path for these kids: apprenticing at a job and learning a trade. Nowadays, honest hard work is so despised that a high schooler who doesn't claim to want to go to college is a rarity. (And a high schooler who excels at the skills needed to succeed at college is mocked and derided.) A letter-writer writes:
Unfortunately, I suspect that the nerd stigma associated with achieving math and science skills is a significant factor in the low performance of American high school students. I remember an old "Far Side" cartoon with two mathematician/scientist guys on a beach and the one with bigger formulas on his blackboard has attracted all the girls. I wonder if people in India or China would get the joke?
The sad fact is that in the United States, getting thrown into the nerd category hurts one's chances of scoring with the opposite sex, and essential math skills are taught at an age when hormones start kicking in.
I've got friends from India and China, and they assure me that the thirst for knowledge in their old countries is insatiable and even cut-throat.
Finally, another writer makes this point:
In general, I think Americans are better educated than Indians, but if we want salaries 10 times what our competitors make, we need to be 10 times as productive. So it's a combination of education and work ethic.
We don't need to be 10 times as productive (a Ferrari isn't 10 times as fast as a Honda Civic), but we certainly need to organize our education system a little better if we want to maintain the edge that's put us on top.