Monday, July 09, 2007

The war against America's public schools

I have begun reading What You Should Know About the War Against America's Public Schools by Gerald Bracey. I actually thought the points Bracey was making in the first few pages of the book were a little lame, but as I've gotten farther into it, I'm finding some interesting points. Here are some of them.

1. Bracey is very critical of corporate America's assault on public schools for not preparing our students for the workforce. He uses this as an example:

As indicative of the commercial approach to schools, consider this from Alan Wurtzel, president of the Board of Directors of Circuit City, a large Richmond, Virginia-based discount electronics retailer: "In hiring new employees for our stores, warehouses, and offices, Circuit City is looking for people who are honest, and who have a positive, enthusiastic, achievement-oriented work-ethic." Few high-school graduates show up with these attitudes, Wurtzel claimed, so they had to turn to students with some college education. After reading Wurtzel's essay on the op-ed page of the Washington Post, I called Curcuit City's personnel office to find out what kinds of reward the firm offered for all these positive traits. The answer was: minimum wage for most, and straight commission for the sales force.

2. Although it might seem like heresy to question the idea of pushing for more and more kids to attain higher and higher levels of education, Bracey does just that:

(American businesses) push schools to alter the curricula to make students better fit their needs, and they call for increases in skill levels even though most jobs do not require highly skilled workers....The call for more and more education, and higher and higher skills, may be viewed as an attempt to hold down the wages of skilled workers. While the Bureau of Labor Statistics projections clearly show an increase in the proportion of skilled jobs between now and 2020, they also show just as clearly that the overwhelming majority of jobs will require an associate's degree or less. Increasing the supply of skilled people will only make them less valuable.

3. Bracey does makes what I think is a convincing case that international test results have been twisted by critics of American schools, and that American students are actually doing much better compared to those of other countries than the media has led us to believe. Bracey is very critical of the increased emphasis on testing, and he lists the following qualities that tests don't measure:

Creativity, Critical Thinking, Resilience, Motivation, Ambition, Persistence/Perseverance, Humor, Attitude, Reliability, Politeness, Enthusiasm, Civic-Mindedness, Self-Awareness, Self-Discipline, Empathy, Leadership, Compassion, Courage, Cowardice, Endurance, Confidence, Focus, Teamwork

I do think that due, in large part, to our extra-curricular programs, American schools might do a better job of helping students to develop a number of these traits than schools in other nations. Although I'm not as opposed to testing as Bracey and many others, I wonder if he hasn't given the reason why Americans are consistently viewed as the most productive workers in the world despite the fact that we never lead the world in test scores.


Blogger the anonymous teacher said...

As my students point out to me over and over, there's a difference between book smarts and real smarts. They over-simplify it somewhat, but I think Bracey and you seem to have hit the nail on the head. While American students may or may not lack in academic testing, they, through countless extra-curricular programs, develop more than a rigorous academic curriculum can provide them. Instead of simply developing the knowledge necessary to enter the workforce, they develop the skills (or qualities) that help them to excel.

7/09/2007 1:37 PM  
Blogger Parentalcation said...

Excellent points Dennis...

I have always been uber sceptical of the whole "creativity" and "critical thinking" meme in education.

I imagine what circuit city really needs is more workers who can estimate percentages and calculate change... the basics baby, the basics.

You are absolutely on target with this post.

7/10/2007 5:17 AM  
Blogger Tracy said...

Two points
a) If education increases the supply of skilled workers, decreasing their wages, then it will decrease the supply of unskilled workers, thus increasing their wages, thus reducing wage inequality.

b) Skilled workers are more productive (on average) than unskilled workers. Therefore increasing the supply of skilled workers by improving the education schools provide should produce more, thus increasing overall incomes.

7/18/2007 2:03 AM  

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