Wednesday, May 28, 2014

More On Education

Two thoughts on education tonight. First, more evidence why education matters. Secondly, more evidence that American schools are better than the “Our Schools Are Failing!” Industry want you to believe.

Point 1: The Populists Lose Another One

One of the tenants of populism is that education is a corrupter rather than an enhancer. Essentially, populism (as practiced by everyone from the left to the right) quickly devolves into the uneducated claiming that their ignorance gives them moral superiority over the elite. Hence, they attack the educated as alien and they revel in idiotic ideas like claiming that a high school education is all the education a “real” person needs. But statistics have blown a hole in that line of crap. And now we’ve added a new piece.

I’ve pointed out before that your income throughout life depends on your level of education. Yeah. “Surprisingly,” all those anecdotal accounts of Bill Gates and three other guys getting rich with only a high school degree turned out to be unique occurrences and in no way representative of the real world. Imagine that. So unless you just happen to invent a once-in-a-lifetime thing, your economic prospects in life are tied to your level of education. Indeed, according to the Census, the median income for people broken down by education level is:
$20,241 Michael Savage Listener
$30,627 High School Grad
$32,295 Some college
$39,771 College grad
$56,665 Bachelor’s Degree
$73,738 Master’s Degree
$103,054 Doctorate Degree
$127,803 Professional Degree
Note that one of those elitist professional types earns six times what a proud populist earns each year, and over a fifty year career will earn $5.3 million more. Even someone with just a generic college degree will earn almost a million more than the proud populist who didn’t need no education.

And it doesn’t stop there. The unemployment rate for low-skill/low-income workers in the US right now is 21%. That is about the same level as the unemployment rate at the worst parts of the Great Depression. However, the unemployment rate for high-skill/high-income workers in the US right now is 3.2%. That is below the level that economists traditionally consider “full employment”... think the Reagan years. So education is the difference between the Great Depression and the Reagan years for job searchers.

And now we add a new piece: how you do matters too. Indeed, the University of Miami has done a study which found that grades matter. Each point a student adds to their GPA during high school adds around 11% to their income compared to their peers when they are out in the real world. That is hugely significant. Indeed, consider that an A student likely makes 22% more than a C student and 33% more than a D student. That’s the difference between $100,000 a year and $67,000 a year. (The one exception to this is when you compare males to females, as females continue to make less than males. However, it does hold true when comparing females to females or males to males or students generally.)

The inescapable conclusion of all of this is that unless you are born rich or happen to invent something amazing, your level of education controls your future and how hard you try when you are going through your education adds a significant component of that. Sorry reel ‘merikans.

Point 2: Statistical Chicanery

I’ve mentioned before that all these statistics you see about American schools failing are bull. Sometimes they base their claim on numbers that are within the statistical margin of error, meaning they are based on meaningless distinctions. Other times, they rig the criteria by including things that have nothing to do with education outcomes. At other times, they don’t even compare apples to apples, like when they compare all American students against only the best overseas. And once you start digging into any of these numbers, you typically find that the US isn’t at the bottom like they claim but is typically right near the top.

Anyways, there was yet another one of these “WE’RE DOOMED!” studies a few weeks ago, which I sadly cannot find at the moment. This one claimed that America’s schools are failing. And as proof, they claimed that around 35% of American high schools don’t offer algebra or advanced science classes... classes required under the new Common Core standards. Consequently, our schools are failing!!!

Wrong. When you looked into it, this number fell apart immediately. How? Well, consider the state which the study found had the lowest rate of high schools offering algebra or advances science: Georgia. Compliance in Georgia was less than 40% according to the study. However, this was actually a misunderstanding. Georgia requires that all schools teach both classes. The reason they reported they didn’t teach these things was that they name them something else in Georgia, i.e. “algebra” is “Math One.” The study authors didn’t get this.

Errors like this account for almost all of the non-compliance. As for the rest, they are rural high schools in places like Alaska where only a handful of students are taught in a single classroom and there is no ability to teach advanced classes. Those are hardly representative of "high schools" and they don’t even teach enough students to registered within the margin of error. And by counting them as “high schools,” the study distorted how real high schools are performing.

So once again, you had a study which claimed that US schools were failing. Yet, the data they used was obviously fake. A more realistic number is probably that around 95% of American “high schools” offer these courses and the 5% that don’t are specialty schools which teach only a handful of students. In other words, there is no problem here. The scare is a lie.


tryanmax said...

I like the Savage joke. I'd like to see the real numbers for median income by audience.

Kit said...

So, get an education and America is not doomed?

Critch said...

I went to high school in a tiny Missouri Ozarks town in the late 60s and early 70s. I took world and American history every year, I took geometry, algebra 1 and 2, physics, biology, botany. I took speech 1 and 2 as well as art, drama and oral interpretation. I had English (grammar) 1 and 2, journalism and English literature. I also took psychology and sociology and Latin 1 and 2 and Spanish 1. I took PE and baseball all four years. I also had time for Beta Club, Key Club, Student Council and baseball. When I got in the USAF in 1972 I noticed that I had as good if not better education than most people I was around who went to far bigger and richer schools. We had quality teachers who gave a damn, parents that backed the teachers and school administrators who took their jobs seriously. When I got around foreigners, such as Brits, Aussies, Germans and Iranians I realized that other countries have varying quality of education systems..some of them were quite smart and worldly, others were hicks. I don't really understand why getting away from a model that works is going to make things better. Students need to know all these subjects I took. Now, I am a firm believer that any school system should be able to train the majority of students in basics by the 9th or 10th grade. They should understand basic English, match and science by those grades, 10th, 11th and 12 grades should be for the higher courses. I do have a problem that colleges are teaching remedial math and English, if you have to have remedial anything you don't need to be in college. Writing and English composition have fallen by the wayside as have so many of the literature and history courses...that's terrible. math and science are important, but so are other courses..Too many educators want to hang their view on everyone else about how things should be run with courses that waste time and money.

BevfromNYC said...

I agree to a point. What we no longer have are people who graduate from HS get hired in the mailroom and move their way up to the boardroom. And going to college was for scientists and engineers. Now, frankly, a college education is worth no more than a HS education was worth 30 years ago.

AndrewPrice said...

I'm going to be in and out today. Sorry about that, but it's unavoidable. I'll respond when I can.

tryanmax said...

I don't really understand why getting away from a model that works is going to make things better.

I don't see anyone trying to move away from a working model. Rather, I see efforts to improve on what works and naysayers who simultaneously claim that any tinkering will break it but no one needs it anyway. There are also a handful who use "America is failing" scare tactics to push through wild changes, but they are few and rarely successful, despite what some guy yelling on the radio would have you believe.

American education remains roughly the same as it was when the grade-age model was adopted in the early 1800s. The only major impact of the Progressives (early 1900s) was to increase the number of schools and make high school a standard part of education. They had other aims, sure, but didn't see them realized. The latest change, Common Core, seeks to make math and language education benchmarks uniform across the nation. That's hardly an overhaul.

Koshcat said...

I was speaking to a principal in a local middle school last weekend. His opinion is Common Core is going to be a disaster. Not because of the idea of having students meet certain knowledge levels but because of the testing. Last year my daughter had nearly 3 weeks of testing. He estimates that the extra testing for CC will double this time.

Why does it take so long? There are multiple reasons but the one most annoying is that many of the testing organizations have moved from paper to computerized. Each school may have only about 30 computers for all the students. In my daughter's school the 3rd, 4th, and 5th graders are tested. Each grade has 3 classes with about 20 kids each.

This is the kind of thing that happens when decisions are made away from the place being effected. It is problems like this why I am increasingly becoming anti-common core.

This principal has a list of the state legislatures by his phone for when parents call to complain. He instructs them to call their state representative as his hands are tied.

Critch said...

Well, all we hear from Jefferson City is how our schools need to emphasize math and science more....the students who don't want to go to college, at least right now, have a terrible getting into vo-tech school because they have to have so many math credits, and it's hard to get them by the 11th grade. I'm a big proponent of vo-tech, some of my former welding students are still making $40.00/hr or more...schools are spending too much time and energy on a college bound curriculum. I really don't know a lot about common core, but I'm generally cautious about embracing anything that comes out of Washington. I understand their aims, but examples of some math work they have approved makes me wonder if they know what they're doing. I know our schools are far better than they are painted, but I am leery of the Feds taking the place of school boards and administrators.

AndrewPrice said...

tryanmax, Always a Savage joke! :D

AndrewPrice said...

Kit, Exactly. America is not doomed. Eat your vegetables and do your best in school. It looks like all our moms were right! :D

tryanmax said...

Critch, Koshcat, I may be wrong on this, but it's my understanding that part of the testing is from Race to the Top, Obama's piggy-back program on top of the states-up Common Core. This seems pretty ironic, as the Dems faulted No Child Left Behind mainly because they felt there was too much testing.

Also, I've read that in some places, schools are administering the old tests alongside the new CC tests instead of replacing them, because fear and confusion. That would explain some of the astronomical amounts of testing I've heard about, but can't exactly be blamed on CC.

tryanmax said...

BTW, I happen to agree that vo-tech should be better promoted. For every engineer designing stuff there need technicians who can maintain them.

AndrewPrice said...

Critch, Teacher quality and parent interest are the two biggest factors successful education.

In terms of changing the system that works, that's not really the case because there wasn't a single system. Almost every district had it's own methods. So you're talking about thousands of systems. And while the systems worked in many places, lot of areas were turning out kids who can't read or write. In the 1970s and 1980s, people tried to impose a single solution from the top down. Then in the 1990s, people began trying to use market principles by letting individual charter and private schools compete directly for state students and state funds. By now, the charter system is the one that is firmly in place in most states. That means that different systems are being used on a school by school basis.

What they are doing now is passing national requirements to make sure that only systems that can hit the minimum will be allowed to continue.

AndrewPrice said...

Bev, I agree to a degree, but disagree as well. I disagree because the statistics say otherwise. The statistics show that a high school degree simply doesn't have the earning power of a college degree.

That said, I agree to this extent. In the 1950s, with the world in ash and the US the only player in the marketplace, the US needed labor. It was very easy to find a job that would let you work your way up to a middle class existence. So the power of a high school degree back then was the same as a college degree today. BUT those times are gone. The world is very competitive, the labor market is competitive, and the type of work required of Americans is more intellectual than it was when a million guys were bolting sheet metal to a 1957 Ford.

So while I agree that a high school degree was as good back then as a college degree is today, that is not true today. Today, a high school degree (even if achieved back then) is worth a high school degree today, which is not much.

Also, let me point out, the value of the high school degree had nothing to do with the education, it was about the labor market conditions.

BevfromNYC said...

Actually, one thing that you are not taking into account - it was very common to not have a HS diploma before the '60's. One did not need one to get a job that could feed your family. And many people left school before graduation to get a job and help the family out.

Now, it is almost impossible to get a job that pays above minimum wage without a HS diploma. And almost impossible NOT to graduate from HS.

But I agree that the world has gotten more competitive, so the more you know the more valuable you become...mostly. [I may be about to test this theory first-hand...]

tryanmax said...

Bev, HS graduation rates increased steadily from under 10% at the dawn of the 20th c. to about 75% in the mid-60s. From there on, they slid down slowly for about 30 years and have since crept back up again. So you're spot-on about when the change took place. I guess you could say it's been almost impossible NOT to graduate HS for the past 50 years.

It seems cynical to say that high graduation rates are a sign of lax standards, especially when we hit a plateau at 3/4, but even if we play along, it reflects a new educational baseline where before none really existed. In this environment, it makes sense for employers to seek new means to identify qualified candidates. Plus the increasingly technical nature of our economy and culture means the three Rs don't cut it for as much of the work that is available.

At the end of the day, though, we ought to celebrate the fact that success is tied to education. That was part of the goal all along (disparities influencing education notwithstanding.) When you think on it, that's preferable even to keys to success in industrial America, where much depended still on physical strength and endurance. Yes, there will still be people who are smarter than others, but a competition of minds in the workplace is more level than a competition of brawn.

AndrewPrice said...

Bev, What he said. :)

As an aside, I did mention that. I guess I should have said 1950's/1960's. That was the golden age for American businesses because there was no competition and there was a labor shortage brought on by the deaths of 100 million people (many of whom were in their primes). Add in the fact the whole world needed to be rebuilt and that our economy was very low-tech at the time, and it was easy to earn a living no matter qualifications you had. That's not true anymore though.

AndrewPrice said...

tryanmax, True. Our current education system was really built (in terms of theory and mindset) in the industrial age and it's never really been reformed. I think there are too many interest groups who benefit by not letting anything change. So all the reforms we see tend to be really minor.

Colorado is doing some interesting things I should write about at some point,.

AndrewPrice said...

Koshcat, That's really stupid on the part of the testing advocates. What a great way to shoot themselves in the foot!

AndrewPrice said...

Critch, The "problem" with vo-tech is that it flies in the face of the liberal idea of equality. They define equality as everyone gets the same outcome rather than everyone gets the same choices. Thus, they see vo-tech as a way to strand poor kids in dead end jobs, when the reality is that vo-tech is a way to reach kids who will never go to college and prepare them for a decent career.

It's a shame that ideology constantly trumps what's good for the kids.

Critch said...

We always felt that votech kept a lot of kids in school, they liked working on cars, houses, etc..and tghey could make a good living at it. We had lots of kids who weren't on the surface votech types, at least the old definition. We had a young lady in autobody repair who could do the most fabulous paint jobs on cars and motorcyles, remarkable stuff. Like she said, it would pay better than doing cartoons on street corners in Branson.
One of the things that keeps popping up is the idea of doing away with the summer vacation. Sounds good, but when are the teachers going to be able to further their education? That break is good for one or two 3-hours classes, which they have to have to keep their own licenses.

I have problems with the silliness of what teachers have to go through just to get started. There's no way to get a bachelor's degree in 4 years, no way. Many of the classes are BS stuff they never use. My brother retired from the Air Force with a master degree from Cambridge University in English Literature and Western Civilization minor. The State of Missouri did not think he was capable of teaching without their BS classes....the State of Texas sent him money to move their and start teaching, that was 20 years ago. I'm also tired of teachers getting dumped on in the media..sometimes little Johnny is just too lazy or stupid to learn, genrally something they pick up from their parents..or little Johnny is a brat and disruptive..but mommykins can't believe that her special little snowflake would do that...I once flunked a kid on a test for cheating,,,his mom showed up the next day with a damn lawyer..luckily our principal was once tough old goat who backed us. The lawyer backed down.

AndrewPrice said...

Critch, I firmly believe that they need to drop the "education degree" requirement and let anyone with experience or a degree in the subject matter teach that subject matter. There's no reason a PhD in math shouldn't be able to teach a math class.

In terms of the parents, I think schools need a stronger degree of immunity so that parents can't sue them or threaten to sue them. School administrators also need better training in what they can or cannot do legally.

At the same time, I think schools need to stop seeing students as inputs and instead see them as individual customers. They need to start tailoring education to each -- as they do with special needs kids.

Post a Comment