NAEP is a reality check about college readiness

The latest results of the National Assessment of Educational Progress that were compiled before the pandemic showed that the average math score has been flat since 2015, while the average reading score dropped two points on a 500-point scale (“Even Before Pandemic, National Test Finds Most Seniors Unready for College Reading, Math,” Education Week, Oct. 28).  Is it any wonder that so many students fail to graduate?

I realize that no single test has total predictive value, but NAEP cannot be dismissed as irrelevant. Yet we persist in the fiction that college is for everyone.  The truth is that not everyone is college material.  They lack the wherewithal,  whether in the form of IQ, study habits or motivation.

It’s time to give vocational education in high school the respect it deserves.  There is nothing inferior about such a curriculum.  Our competitors abroad have long tracked students.  Only those who can pass rigorous entrance exams are admitted to universities.  We should do the same.

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No college statue is safe

Until now, most student demands to remove statues on campus were directed at those related to the Confederacy.  But a student group at Brown University aims at two Roman statues (“Brown University students want Roman statues removed because they promote ‘white supremacy,’ “the collegefix.com, Oct. 28).

It’s hard to understand why they believe the two statues represent white supremacy and colonialism. Roman Emperors Caesar Augustus and Marcus Aurelius were commissioned by the university as monuments to ancient Rome.  They were chosen for their artistic value.

The fact is that every statue reflects ideals and values that by today’s zeitgeist are controversial.  Rather than trying to topple them, college students should view them as historical figures.

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Pandemic can be blessing in disguise for colleges

The pandemic has merely intensified the precarious financial situation that colleges and universities find themselves in (“Cuts Hit Bone As Pandemic Saps Colleges,” The New York Times, Oct. 27). Even before, shrinking state support, coupled with concerns about skyrocketing tuition, meant that only the heavily endowed would be able to survive.

But the situation that is widely depicted as a catastrophe has a bright side.  For too long, the mantra has been that without a bachelor’s degree young people have a bleak future.  The alleged evidence is the wage premium attached to a degree compared with a high school diploma.

A new study by the Manhattan Institute, however, found that the lowest 25 percent of college graduates made less than the top 25 percent of high school graduates.  When debt is figured in, I question if college is worth the money and time involved. That’s particularly so when wage data are broken down by major. 

I think we’ve been wildly oversold on the value of a degree.  College is merely the most convenient place to learn how to learn.  It is not an absolute determinant.  It’s time to give vocational education in high school the respect it deserves.

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Merit is fairest way for admission to specialized schools

New York City is merely the latest venue for the debate over which students should be admitted to specialized schools (“NYC education groups hold opposing rallies over the fate of controversial admission rules,” New York Daily News, Oct. 23).  Across the country, the trend is toward placing greater emphasis on diversity than on ability.

I’ve never understood how we help students to gain admission to schools for which they are not suited.  We talk so much these days about building self-esteem in young people.  But when they realize they are over their heads and drop out, their egos are severely bruised.

I think all students are best served when they are enrolled in schools commensurate with their wherewithal.  If that does not produce the desired diverse mix of students, so be it.  Tracking is not racially-based.  It is an acknowledgement that students differ widely in their aptitude.

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California community colleges get deserved aid

At a time when the nation’s attention is focused on four-year colleges and universities, the family foundation of Hyatt Hotels will give $100 million to California’s 116 community colleges over 20 years (“California Community Colleges Get $100 Million Gift for Financial Aid,” The Wall Street Journal, Oct. 21).  That’s a step in the right direction.

For too long, community colleges have been treated as second-class citizens in this country.  Yet they remain a bargain.  In California, tuition runs $46 a credit.  Yes, books, supplies and related expenses are extra, but students of all ages can get the education and training they want.

I remain convinced that earning a certificate or associate’s degree at a community college is a better option for many students than attending a four-year college or university. Let’s not forget that student debt cannot be discharged in bankruptcy.

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The case for vocational education

The media persist in repeating the claim that a four-year degree carries with it a wage premium, even though the reality is far more nuanced (“How Apprenticeship, Reimagined, Vaults Graduates Into Middle Class,” The Wall Street Journal, Oct. 20).  I’m referring now to a new study by the Manhattan Institute showing that the lowest 25 percent of those with a bachelor’s degree earned less than the top 25 percent of those with only a high school diploma.

Moreover, I’ll bet that when salaries are broken down by the majors studied in college, the results would show that a degree is not nearly worth what most people believe it is.  This is important to bear in mind because college is so expensive.  Student debt cannot be discharged in bankruptcy, which means that graduates spend years living a hand-to-mouth existence just to survive.

Yet vocational education, coupled with an apprenticeship, still is not accorded the respect they need.  The pandemic makes the case for vocational education even stronger.  Let’s hope more young people get the message.

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Eugenics warrants a different view

Eugenics rightly deserves condemnation when it is exclusively race-based, which is the way almost all people think about the term (“We all must resist the horror of eugenics,” Los Angeles Times, Oct. 14).  Our history with admitting foreigners to our shores is evidence that our policy was indeed racist.

But there is another side of the issue that is ignored in the debate.  What if eugenics were strictly intellectually-based?  I’m referring now to the nation’s H1-B visa program that is specifically designed to admit only those foreigners who possess certain knowledge and skills deemed essential.

Once on U.S. soil, H1-B recipients can marry and start families.  Are their offspring not a product of genetic engineering, even though we refuse to say so?  As long as race is not a factor in determining who is given a visa, I say eugenics can be a positive factor.

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Don’t change NAEP

Until now, the National Assessment of Educational Progress has rightly been called the nation’s report card.  By focusing on measuring reading comprehension, NAEP provides invaluable feedback.  But a proposal threatens to undermine its value (“A Feel-Good Report Card Won’t Help Children, City Journal, Oct. 13).

The proposal argues that greater emphasis needs to be placed on the role that socioeconomic factors play in the development of reading skills.  I don’t doubt that these are important to understand, but I submit that they are overemphasized.  Charter schools that enroll almost all Black and Hispanic students produce impressive results about the ability of their students to read.  These schools do not place undue emphasis on socioeconomic factors.  Instead, they rely on tried-and-true instruction.

If the purpose of education is to prepare students to read the language they will encounter after graduation, then anything that deviates from that approach shortchanges them.  Let’s not tinker with what so far has been highly successful.

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Admission screening is necessary

In an attempt to increase racial diversity in New York City schools, reformers want to eliminate admission tests (“Especially now, public schools for all: NYC should do away with middle- and high-school admission screens,” New York Daily News, Oct. 9).  They say the use of such tests is racist because acceptance rates for white students are up to 16 times that of students of color.

But there’s another side of the story that warrants attention.  How are students of color or white students helped if they are admitted to schools where they lack the aptitude to handle the work?  I realize that such screens often reflect inequities rather than achievement, but in the final analysis students will not prosper when they lack the wherewithal to compete.

We talk so much these days about promoting the self-esteem of all students.  If so, it’s time to get real about the damaging effect that failure will have on students of any color.

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Critical race theory can backfire

On paper, critical race theory seems worthy of inclusion in the K-12 curriculum (“No, Critical Race Theory Isn’t ‘Anti-American,’” Education Week, Oct. 7). After all, students today are far more sophisticated than in the past because they have access to images and content not readily available before.

But unless great care is given to the issue, most students are going to come away with a distorted view of the history of this country.  I say that because I vividly remember how the Los Angeles Unified School District handled the controversy surrounding Rodney King and the riots that ensued.  Instead of presenting a balanced picture of race relations, the workshop left the distinct impression that all people of color are victims.

Perhaps adults can put the matter in better perspective than students.  I hope so because there is too much indoctrination taking place under the guise of education at a time when we need to come together as a nation, rather than see ourselves as victims.

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