American Education

Here's an example of how American education works, circa 2017.

The College Board, a respectable educational organization, headlines the home page of one of its websites as follows:

- CollegeBoard CLEP Site

One of the exams you can take is English Composition:

- CLEP College Composition Page

In addition to payment, to receive credit one must pass an exam. For $10 a study guide is available with practice exam questions.

"The College Composition exam contains multiple-choice items and two mandatory, centrally scored essays. College English faculty from throughout the country convene twice a month to score the essays via an online scoring system."

Enter Alicia, a student who wants to earn credit for a fraction of the usual cost. She gets the study guide, and memorizes the handbook info and questions and answers, figuring if this is anything like the DMV's testing of new drivers, that should suffice. The essay part is a bit trickier; this calls for hired help. So she puts a request on a major tutoring service website:

"I'm planning to give CLEP English composition and need some help with the essays."

The imperfect phrasing of the request hints at her needs.

The CLEP website provides helpful detail about the essay test:

''The Essays
In addition to the multiple-choice section, the College Composition exam includes a mandatory essay section that tests skills of argumentation, analysis, and synthesis. This section of the exam consists of two essays, both of which measure a test taker's ability to write clearly and effectively. The first essay is based on the test taker's reading, observation, or experience, while the second requires test takers to synthesize and cite two sources that are provided. Test takers have 30 minutes to write the first essay and 40 minutes to read the two sources and write the second essay. The essays must be typed on the computer.

First Essay: Directions
Write an essay in which you discuss the extent to which you agree or disagree with the statement provided. Support your discussion with specific reasons and examples from your reading, experience, or observations.

Second Essay: Directions
This assignment requires you to write a coherent essay in which you synthesize the two sources provided. Synthesis refers to combining the sources and your position to form a cohesive, supported argument. You must develop a position and incorporate both sources. You must cite the sources whether you are paraphrasing or quoting. Refer to each source by the author’s last name, the title, or by any other means that adequately identifies it.

Essay Scoring Guidelines
Readers will assign scores based on the following scoring guide.

6 – A 6 essay demonstrates a high degree of competence and sustained control, although it may have a few minor errors.

A typical essay in this category

  • addresses the writing task very effectively
  • develops ideas thoroughly, using well-chosen reasons, examples, or details for support
  • is clearly-focused and well-organized
  • demonstrates superior facility with language, using effective vocabulary and sentence variety
  • demonstrates strong control of the standard conventions of grammar, usage, and mechanics, though it may contain minor errors"

Tutoring help in preparing for the test essays may produce useful improvement of writing skills. But note the lack of evidence of any interest in education, of eagerness to improve writing skills: the focus is instead on passing the test and acquiring the credits, getting credentials needed for career advancement.

The following, posted on the Midtown Palo Alto Nextdoor site, suggests how poor education may be at what is considered one of the country's best high schools.

Math Question
Hello, all. My daughter and I have a math question that we're hoping someone might be able to help us with: According to my daughter's freshman math teacher at Paly, pi divided by 4 is a rational number because it is expressed as a fraction, despite the fact that pi by itself is an irrational number. In contrast, my daughter and I believe that pi divided by 4 is irrational, because it cannot be expressed as the ratio of two integers. Any thoughts?
- John Hickey, Math Question, Midtown Palo Alto Nextdoor, September 12, 2017

Grace Stanat commented (same location and date):

I think the problem probably is the result of the teacher confusing the ability to write pi as a symbol with it being somehow rational, or rather rational when used as part of a fraction. This is incorrect, but might shine a little light on why the teacher came to his/her viewpoint.

It is hard to believe that a math teacher at a top high school does not know the definition of rational number, but it is also hard to believe this was posted as a joke, and hard to come up with any other believable explanation for its appearance. We are left to consider, as Hume advised regarding miracles, which implausible explanation is the least improbable.

In July, a Pew Research Center study found that 58 percent of Republicans and GOP-leaning independents believe colleges and universities have a negative effect “on the way things are going in the country,” up from 37 percent two years ago.
- Kevin Sullivan, Mary Jordan, Elitists, crybabies and junky degrees, Washington Post, November 25, 2017

In 2006, the Commission on the Future of Higher Education, convened by Margaret Spellings, the secretary of education at the time, issued a scathing critique of universities. “Employers report repeatedly that many new graduates they hire are not prepared to work, lacking the critical thinking, writing and problem-solving skills needed in today’s workplaces,” the commission’s report complained.
- Molly Worthen, The Misguided Drive to Measure ‘Learning Outcomes’, NYT, FEB. 23, 2018

...the benefits of college come largely from graduating, not merely attending some classes.
- David Leonhardt, The Growing College Graduation Gap, NYT, MARCH 25, 2018

Laura Pappano, in a New York Times article on students going to college in 2018, describes them as "a generation that rarely reads books".
(Laura Pappano, The iGen Shift: Colleges Are Changing to Reach the Next Generation, NYT, Aug. 2, 2018). This view is challenged by Joshua Kim:

A quick look at some Pew survey data on book reading (see below) should at least make us question any overarching claims about books and iGen students. According to these data, young people are more likely to have read a book in the past year than other ages, and are reading at least as many books.
- Joshua Kim, Is NYTimes Correct That College Students Don't Read Books?, Inside Higher Ed, September 3, 2018

Something has gone wrong in the university—especially in certain fields within the humanities. Scholarship based less upon finding truth and more upon attending to social grievances has become firmly established, if not fully dominant, within these fields, and their scholars increasingly bully students, administrators, and other departments into adhering to their worldview.
- Helen Pluckrose, James A. Lindsay and Peter Boghossian, Academic Grievance Studies and the Corruption of Scholarship, Aero, October 2, 2018

In the 2012 PISA test, the 10% most disadvantaged 15-year-olds in Shanghai showed better mathematics results than the 10% most privileged students in the United States and many other countries.
- Andreas Schleicher, World Class, OECD, p. 39 [A footnote refers to PISA 2012 Results: Excellence through Equity, OECD, 2013 — see Figure 11.2.10 on p. 51.]

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