Thursday, December 31, 2015

When All Else Fails...

...lower your standards.

The good folks running education in neighboring South Carolina have made enormous strides in upping graduation rates, often approaching 90%. How did they do this? Did they steal a page from the APS playbook and encourage failing students to withdraw into a private school? Not at all. They just started handing out credits and diplomas.

When it comes to educators it is just as easy as turning a knob.

How were these fine educators exposed? Well, even in South Carolina you need to perform on the SAT or ACT to actually use that high school credential to get into college. On those tests these pitiable children, lied to by their teachers, by and large did not pass both the verbal and math sections of the ACT. In one school, touting an 85% graduation rate, not a single graduate passed either section.

And don't kid yourself that this is just South Carolina. The Feds are all in with Every Child Succeeds. Georgia has taken it to a new level mandating that the University System up their graduation rates. Given that in public schools, K-12 and college, there is no accountability-not in the classroom, not in the administration, not in the Boards of Education and not in the Board of Regents-Georgia is willfully creating a system of diploma mills. One feeding the other.

You probably are wondering why the government, our elected officials, would undermine our public education system. Pretty simple really-corporate relocations. Georgia is getting corporate relo-s but we're also losing some to Alabama and South Carolina. Part of the table stakes is "an educated and trained workforce." Fortunately for the state government and all our educators it doesn't have to be real--sort of like downtown crime, "we want people to FEEL safe when they come downtown." And corporate America is jiggy with it too. They started the ball rolling with "Master's in Computer Science, or FOREIGN EQUIVALENT" opening the door for less that scrupulous foreign education systems/governments to pump out credentialed, but often unqualified, holders of "Foreign Equivalents." Companies knew there was no equivalence but it WAS cheaper. The CEO of NCR had a brief encounter with reality commenting about their next relo to Tech Square when he said he really wanted access to the Tech's programming talent. NCR needs programmers from ITT, not Masters in Computer Science from Tech.

Is there anything anyone can do to prevent government and business interests from pushing a pliable education system into diploma mill status?

There is only one organization in America that can put an end to this - US News and World Report. Recently they adjusted their metrics to account for situations where grad students are filling the teaching roles of PhD wielding professors. At least one major R1 in Georgia has responded by hiring a significant number of non-tenured, PhD instructors. They are readily available because academia turns out several hundred more PhDs per year than they can otherwise absorb--they practically litter the job market. The non-tenure status (probably a good idea in general) means easy-hire-easy-fire in the event USN&WR pivots to some other criteria, say research metrics. They will, they always have.

What we need USN&WR to pivot to is remediation. Sufficient demerits for remediation will eliminate it from our R1 universities in order for them to maintain their ratings. This will  apply back pressure to the K-12 system which is, as in South Carolina, pumping out well credential, unqualified graduates incapable of embarking on an R1 calibre education. Lots of good could come from this but don't expect dramatic or even measurable improvements in Georgia's K-12 public schools. These will hew true to the internal mission of "Everything They Learned, They Learned In Kindergarten."  It is more likely that the State will establish "Acceleration Academies" for remediation and finally offer adequate support for Technical Programs throughout the state. At the end of the day that is what businesses really need and is achievable, though aspirational for the State of Georgia.