ONE DOESN’T NEED to be an American Doctor Educationis to comprehend this answer to that question:
America’s massive student debt (now at $1 trillion and growing), an uncertainty about the practical value to a student of higher education, and reports that show that unskilled positions – such as receptionist – are increasingly being filled only by university graduates has stimulated yet another round of the ongoing education debate on both sides of the Atlantic.
Falling performance levels have fuelled a backlash against assertions that, over the past century or so, the education of American (and, needless to add, British) children has been “reformed” into near-irrelevancy. In America and in Britain, this has become just another divisive issue. Critics of public education have pointed to studies, including the American government’s NAEP scores, showing little correlation between education finance and outcomes, despite tweaking the scores to yield higher results. They complain that public education is designed to protect administrators and teachers, not educate students.
Apologists for the educational establishment deny these claims and call for more spending on public education as a way of improving outcomes. They have been especially irritated by the publication, on the web and elsewhere, of an 1895 examination used in Salina, Kansas, that few modern students or educators could pass. John Leo discusses that exam for the Manhattan Institute here.
The document seems to provide simple evidence that modern students may not be as well-educated as their predecessors. However, websites such as Snopes and Truth or Fiction have tried to deride the 1895 exam as “false” by pointing out that other tests might measure different things – which is of course undeniably true.
But even those students who do manage to graduate from an American university may not have much “education” to show for it. As Leo notes:
A study by the National Center for Education Statistics found that only 31 percent of college graduates could read a ”complex book and extrapolate from it.” Furthermore, the study found that far fewer college graduates are leaving school with ”the skills needed to comprehend routine data, such as reading a table about the relationship between blood pressure and physical activity.”