When I recently delved into the problem of productivity, i.e., producing more with fewer
people, the Erstwhile Conservative, Duane Graham, produced a survey of the literature in a remarkably short period of time, one which indicates that many smart people recognize the problem, which is basically this: the education system is not producing the kinds of educated people for whom there are jobs.This led to a lively online exchange relative to how formal education bears on the issue. I argued that the quality of an education in America has declined. Duane is more sanguine and feels that higher teaching salaries would lead to better quality of education and hence, better jobs. I am not convinced.
On Monday, Washington Post columnist Esther Cepeda wrote on one aspect of the decline of education, that of reading. She said of the most recent “report card” for the schools,
Only one-third of all students demonstrated proficient, or higher, levels in reading.
Cepeda also states,
It’s not much of an exaggeration to say that there are thousands of different ways that reading is taught in schools across this country. In any given school building, there are a number of different teaching philosophies and methods used to teach reading, usually in addition to a packaged schoolwide literacy program.
Although nearly every state has adopted the Common Core State Standards for English, language arts and literacy, there are no best-practice benchmarks for teaching them.
Then, she said this, (emphasis supplied)
Hopefully this disorganized approach to teaching reading will soon gain some focus. During a news conference to discuss these just-released scores, officials from the National Center for Education Statistics said that because there is no substantive body of evidence on what actually increases reading scores, they took on the research project. It is under way and expected to be completed in 2015.
Here’s what I make of this. Johannes Gutenberg invented the printing press over 600 years ago, thus making the printed word available to the common man for the first time. Now, here we are in the twenty-first century still trying to figure out how to teach reading and writing! We have PhD’s in Education – thousands of them. If there were a best way to do it, wouldn’t they have figured this out some time ago?
Cepeda, despite recognizing that there are myriad ways to teach and learn English, sees the solution in uniformity. I submit that she, and the general public, just don’t get it. Teachers are born, not made, and all the extra teaching classes in the world, I submit, will not turn a poor teacher into a good one. But give a good one the basic tools and opportunity, and she will get the job done. Now, that said, I am absolutely in favor of higher salaries for gifted teachers. The challenge is how to identify that talent – that’s what they should be looking for, in my opinion.
Fellow blogger Anson Burlingame also commented on the subject recently and extolled the virtues of a local private school, the Thomas Jefferson. He opined that the difference in the quality of its product was its demanding standards. That may well be part of it, but I couldn’t help but consider that the students in that school come mainly from stable, upper-income families where the parents represent a gene pool of established success. That is no small part of education success for most institutions that I have encountered or read about. The Ivy League schools, for example, notoriously exploit the student selection process. When you start with the cream you are much less likely to produce a sour product.
I see Education and the Economy as similar problems. They are complex, depending on factors going back generations. Each involves the complex variability of the human mind, human culture, and physical factors like nutrition. There are no simple solutions. Whatever fix we find for teaching language or for creating jobs, I am convinced that we will find it not in uniformity, but in the construction of systems which identify inherent talents, and provide basic tools and competitive opportunities.