Education Crisis Results in Poorly Prepared Future Workers

Following is a more literary form of the business proposal that I have presented to various chamber of commerce in the Los Angeles area. It is interesting to note that unlike academic theory or bureaucratic laced government-run institutions, that which works in the real world works virtually ignoring criticism or conjecture. Yes, Mr. Forbes, capitalism may not only save us but education as well. Here’s to the innovative, problem solving, get ‘er done spirit of the entrepreneur. Peace!

Over the past 17 years, the percentage of four-year college and university students who graduate has dipped more than 10 percentage points, despite increases in enrollment, according to the Council for Aid to Education and the National Governors Association. About 42 percent of students entering four-year colleges or universities graduate (Al Branch, CBS Business Network).

But there’s more. And it gets worse.

Every 26 seconds another student drops out of public high school which translates to nearly one-third of all public high school students dropping out. It’s so bad that Colon Powell and his wife are heading a national movement in an attempt to reverse the trend. But even of those two-thirds who graduate, the picture doesn’t get any brighter. According to a 2007 survey, nearly 90% desired to attend and graduate college. Unfortunately, the majority never did. Even of the current 28% of the population with bachelor’s degrees, within five to ten years 70% will no longer be working in a job related to their major.

So what’s happening? Are our children, our future not getting the help, education, achievement they need or have been promised?

But the plot thickens. Even though learning appears to be happening, there is a disconnect somewhere in the system: “A sizable [number of remedial students entering college] are recent graduates who performed well in high school: A 2008 study by the nonprofit Strong American School found that nearly four out of five remedial students had a high school GPA of 3.0 or higher.”

So why aren’t they learning? Or is there such a large discrepancy between high school and college education that the issue is closing the gap (we have some of the best colleges and universities in the world yet some of the worst performing schools)? Or is it grade inflation or students being pushed through the system just so high schools, even community colleges, can obtain funding? Regarding grades, in college there is a similar problem to that which is occurring at the high school level. More and more is being written about students not learning, even those achieving good grades (As and Bs). So what’s going on?

What is happening is complex but there are several major factors that stand out and must be taken into consideration; in doing so, we will take a look at not only the dropouts and failures but the alleged successes. And what we will discover is that we are looking in all the wrong places and asking all the wrong questions (or no questions at all) to ensure an increased chance at success. But first, let’s look at a few more facts to add to our understanding of the overall issue.

Let’s take a look at high school kids first. Why are so many dropping out? According to a report titled The Silent Epidemic by John Bridgeland (CEO of Civic Enterprise, a publicity group that lead a 2008 national dropout summit), 80% of students surveyed said they dropped out because of a need for “classes that are more interesting and provide opportunities for real-world leaning.” Unfortunately, far too often children are taught out of context with little connection made between what’s being learned in school to that of the real world. Achievers know that without specific understanding of outcomes, what they are or why they even exist, lack of motivation and focus arises negatively affecting achievement.

But there’s more to the drop out picture. More and more households are being run by a single parent-because of divorce sometimes paying for two households-who needs help from their wage-earning children just to pay the bills. Then there’s the minimum wage issue that places wages too high for some companies (especially small business that are in the majority) who can’t afford it, so they cut jobs. This has been part of the reason students drop out of high school; they can’t find a part-time job because there are fewer of them, so they get a full-time job to help mom or dad pay the bills.

But let’s get to the deeper issue or, as I stated previously, the not asking of critical questions.

How can schools really know what the issues are at hand when they are not asking students, their customers, what they want? As previously stated, today’s high school students have complaints (uninteresting classes, not applicable to real-world), and they may even be understood by teachers and administration, but little is being done to serve them. I know that some may feel that “adults know best” and teenagers are not mature enough to know what they need, but most adults will confess, if they think about it, this is hardly the case. And students know that today a college degree does not guarantee a job or career success. It may improve one’s chances but there are no guarantees.

So what are some of the core issues?

One is that schools are third-party government run institutions that don’t cater to the needs of the individual like customers or consumers in the real-world economy or the private sector. How many surveys are sent out to high school- or college grads to see if what they are receiving or have received is what they need? Often it is the opinions of a limited few on boards and accrediting agencies– at the college level–that are informing the many what they need. Because of this, schools and colleges are out of touch with what is really needed. Education (schools and colleges) is missing so much real-world knowledge, skills, and attitudes, which I estimate to be about 80%. Consider that in today’s job market those just entering the workforce will have upwards of three to four career changes over their working lifetime; what should be taught is not just knowledge but critical skills and attitudes on how to think and self-teach, for once college is over-after a brief sixteen years of education-then what? Go back to school every five to seven years or so for another degree? But instead we dictate to our students what we think they will need whether they need it or not. And it’s not just about careers, but to be more active and engaged parents, citizens, to live a longer, more productive life; life-long learning and new-skill building should be taught, along with a good understanding of success principles, relationship skills, capitalism, democracy, and government, and much more.

Regarding current curriculum, how many students who have to learn algebra, geometry, trigonometry, biology, chemistry, literature, language, and history don’t care for much if not most of these subjects? I’ve taken many an informal survey with few respondents ‘passionately’ interested in any of the aforementioned. And it’s not partial or mild interest that creates substantial, empowered, life-long achievement. Certainly we know of the great crush for those with math and science skills. But what does that actually mean? Of the entire workforce such jobs account only for about 15%. But another thing to consider is that we are putting the cart before the horse, or dictating, “You need to be good in math and science” rather than asking, “Are you interested in math and science.” For motivation is based in autonomy and the ability to choose, especially in considering one’s career choice, and not forcing a round peg into a square hole.

Who is to say what it is that an individual needs when that individual is so unique regarding personality, disposition, influences social and familial, gifts and talents, and desires. But very few students are even asked what they would like out of an education, or whether or not what they are learning is “real world” suited to them, or if they’ve chosen a major merely based on what their parents, peers, teachers, society wants, or if they are doing it to assuage their desire for respect, money, prestige, and so forth. I can’t count the number of conversations I’ve had with people who went to school for a particular degree only to discover later that it wasn’t for them. I tell my students that if they find they are really struggling with what they have been studying and hate every moment of it looking forward to post-test time like the purging of a disgusting meal, well, it is probably not for them. Another factor is that within five to ten years 70% of college grads no longer work in a field related to their major. There is just so little prep-work done by the student to honestly and thoroughly know herself well enough so that she is working more toward a sustainable career and not one that her teachers or the president of the U.S. wants but what she wants, for only passion for a career will sustain the worker through years or decades, not that which she is barely interested in never mind hates.

But even if the student is pretty secure in knowing herself-who she is and what she wants-there is still the mis-guided notion that colleges offering a degree will give her what she needs in the real world. Hardly. Once again, I can’t count the number of times I have been told by those who obtained a bachelor’s degree, certificate, associate’s degree-some type of officially stamped and sealed piece of paper-that hardly prepared them or didn’t do so in the least. Students, after all, do little in the way of analyzing self and then matching what they’ve discovered to an education then a career.

To top this off, consider that accrediting agencies approve quality of institutions of higher learning based on standards set by the accrediting agency in collaboration with the educational institution of higher learning in question. But just the number of issues regarding accrediting agencies alone could take up pages. Does this seem to be problematic to you? It should. Is any of what is being spoken to by the college or accrediting agency based in reality? What the student or consumer needs? Has a college grad ever received a survey asking how much of the education he or she has received is of great practical use? Applicable more than not to career and life? Is there anything that needs to be change? Modified? Altered? Improved?

Rarely.

Why? Because education is predominantly not about the student but funding. At the high school, community college, state college, even university level third-party interest in getting money far often takes priority over student education and what is being taught. Consider that the majority of high school students are learning things they won’t use or ever care about should give you some clue. And schools can get more and more money, but that doesn’t solve the problem either. For money has no intrinsic value, it is the people who use it who provide or lack the value. And sometimes it might be less money that will do the trick; why not instead put teachers on commission to ensure student success in the work place. In all likelihood, not only would student success improve so would teachers incomes as they push to get real-world results not what is merely believed to be needed. What is really needed is better management and innovation.

Another issue is that schools focus on minimal intelligence types, two of the eight, actually: linguistics and logic or language and math. What if a student’s gift lies in the kinesthetic or body, or in the intra-personal or reflective, or inter-personal the social, on and on it goes. There is so much more to life than being an engineer or English lit professor.

What would truly improve education is to disconnect it from the third-party government and leave it up to the supplier and consumer to work it out. Consider that greatest retention and graduation rates are formed in private high schools and the most learning goes on in private colleges and universities where the consumer votes with his or her dollar as to whether or not the institution stays open, should help you to begin to see a solution to this education problem.

Just imagine if degrees were offered on a supply / demand basis without the slow, self-interested based bureaucracy of government. The consumer would receive the least expensive, most innovative, practical, connective education one could buy. Without a direct connection between supplier and consumer distortion and imbalances occur. As any good capitalist knows, only the trial and error process of innovation in the private sector sans any micromanagement with third-party interest can determine and sustain long-term growth and optimize effectiveness. Government managed entities ultimately serve only the whims of politicians or third-party individuals. However, the education issue will never be solved by the government in a timely fashion. Consider that welfare was enacted in the 1930s and reformed some sixty years later or that government-run airports are sixty years behind in plane-tracking technology. Because of its bureaucratic self-interest, it can only provide basic education at best, and even there it does so poorly. We have to prioritize the consumer, what he or she needs, question and listen to what is needed.

Edward L Deci, author of Why We Do What We Do, tells us that people are motivated best if they act autonomously, or freely choose what it is they desire to do sans any parental, peer, social influences, or ego-based needs (to be a doctor to simply gain respect, prestige). This is the beginning of student success. And it will certainly take some time and experimenting even changing of careers, but over the long haul, it will decrease the waste of time and money spent on “education” that is not desired. And we must get rid of the waste. As Garrett B Gunderson states in Killing Sacred Cows, “The more risk we take on, the more we expose ourselves to lost opportunity costs, and these are so often so profound that they make all the difference between wealth and mediocrity.” This same loss can be seen in regards to education. Gunderson also mentions that in order to decrease risk financially one must invest in herself: “human life value-knowledge, skills, abilities, ideas, and relationships. Human life value is the source of all money, prosperity, and progress.” Yet people “know their Soul Purpose but refuse to acknowledge it because doing so may require uncomfortable decisions. The real pain and suffering from human existence come from not making these decisions.”

To cut back on waste in time and money, confusion and mismanagement the individual consumer must put her education / career into her own hands. She can’t fix the system, nor should she desire to, but rather she should know as much as she can about herself, her talents, gifts and abilities, where she desires to apply them and what specific education and training she needs to get there sans any third-party that thinks it can dictate to individuals via a mass message what he or she needs.