Sunday, September 07, 2014

College is a ludicrous waste of money

Robert Reich

This week, millions of young people head to college and universities, aiming for a four-year liberal arts degree. They assume that degree is the only gateway to the American middle class. 

It shouldn’t be. For one thing, a four-year liberal arts degree is hugely expensive. Too many young people graduate laden with debts that take years if not decades to pay off.

And too many of them can’t find good jobs when they graduate, in any event. So they have to settle for jobs that don’t require four years of college. They end up overqualified for the work they do, and underwhelmed by it.

Others drop out of college because they’re either unprepared or unsuited for a four-year liberal arts curriculum. When they leave, they feel like failures.

We need to open other gateways to the middle class.  Consider, for example, technician jobs. They don’t require a four-year degree. But they do require mastery over a domain of technical knowledge, which can usually be obtained in two years.

Technician jobs are growing in importance. As digital equipment replaces the jobs of routine workers and lower-level professionals, technicians are needed to install, monitor, repair, test, and upgrade all the equipment.

Hospital technicians are needed to monitor ever more complex equipment that now fills medical centers; office technicians, to fix the hardware and software responsible for much of the work that used to be done by secretaries and clerks.

Automobile technicians are in demand to repair the software that now powers our cars; manufacturing technicians, to upgrade the numerically controlled machines and 3-D printers that have replaced assembly lines; laboratory technicians, to install and test complex equipment for measuring results; telecommunications technicians, to install, upgrade, and repair the digital systems linking us to one another.

Technology is changing so fast that knowledge about specifics can quickly become obsolete. That’s why so much of what technicians learn is on the job.

But to be an effective on-the-job learner, technicians need basic knowledge of software and engineering, along the domain where the technology is applied – hospitals, offices, automobiles, manufacturing, laboratories, telecommunications, and so forth.

Yet America isn’t educating the technicians we need. As our aspirations increasingly focus on four-year college degrees, we’ve allowed vocational and technical education to be downgraded and denigrated.

Still, we have a foundation to build on. Community colleges offering two-year degree programs today enroll more than half of all college and university undergraduates. Many students are in full-time jobs, taking courses at night and on weekends. Many are adults.

Community colleges are great bargains. They avoid the fancy amenities four-year liberal arts colleges need in order to lure the children of the middle class.

Even so, community colleges are being systematically starved of funds. On a per-student basis, state legislatures direct most higher-education funding to four-year colleges and universities because that’s what their middle-class constituents want for their kids.

American businesses, for their part, aren’t sufficiently involved in designing community college curricula and hiring their graduates, because their executives are usually the products of four-year liberal arts institutions and don’t know the value of community colleges.

By contrast, Germany provides its students the alternative of a world-class technical education that’s kept the German economy at the forefront of precision manufacturing and applied technology.

The skills taught are based on industry standards, and courses are designed by businesses that need the graduates. So when young Germans get their degrees, jobs are waiting for them.

We shouldn’t replicate the German system in full. It usually requires students and their families to choose a technical track by age 14. “Late bloomers” can’t get back on an academic track.

But we can do far better than we’re doing now. One option: Combine the last year of high school with the first year of community college into a curriculum to train technicians for the new economy.

Affected industries would help design the courses and promise jobs to students who finish successfully. Late bloomers can go on to get their associate degrees and even transfer to four-year liberal arts universities.

This way we’d provide many young people who cannot or don’t want to pursue a four-year degree with the fundamentals they need to succeed, creating another gateway to the middle class.

Too often in modern America, we equate “equal opportunity” with an opportunity to get a four-year liberal arts degree. It should mean an opportunity to learn what’s necessary to get a good job.


Why Does the College Board Hate George Washington and MLK?

What does the College Board have against George Washington and Martin Luther King Jr? Although these men are two of America’s greatest heroes, the College Board’s “redesigned” Advanced Placement U. S. History (APUSH) Framework shoves them aside. Washington’s contribution is limited to a sentence fragment referencing his Farewell Address. King fares even worse—the Framework completely omits the nation’s greatest civil rights leader.

The College Board has offered a variety of excuses to explain these omissions in its course for half a million of the country’s brightest high school students. Apologists claim teachers are of course free to teach Washington, King, and any other American heroes the Framework has. That is true. But the Framework also categorically states, “Beginning with the May 2015 AP U.S. History Exam, no AP U.S. History Exam questions will require students to know historical content that falls outside this concept outline”. The conclusion is obvious: what isn’t tested won’t be taught.

So why did the College Board reduce Washington’s contribution to a single speech and entirely omit King? The real answers to this question go directly to the heart of the College Board’s true agenda and why it must be stopped.

Farewell, George Washington

George Washington was truly America’s indispensable patriot and statesman. He commanded the Continental Army, presided over the Constitutional Convention, and launched our ship of state by serving as America’s first president. Washington’s contemporaries recognized his signal contributions. For one, Virginia Gov. Henry Lee spoke for a grateful nation by eulogizing Washington as “first in war, first in peace, and first in the hearts of his countrymen.”

Unfortunately, Washington was not first in the minds of the College Board authors who wrote the Framework. They relegated the father of our country to this single sentence: “Although George Washington’s Farewell Address warned about the dangers of diverse political parties and permanent foreign alliances, European conflict and tensions with Britain and France fueled increasingly bitter partisan debates throughout the 1790’s.” (To put this treatment of Washington into perspective, imagine how South Africans would respond if an unelected agency issued a history of their country containing just one reference to Nelson Mandela.)

Why did the Framework authors ignore Washington’s enormous contributions to our country and instead focus upon his Farewell Address? The answer is suggested in a recent article by Stanley Kurtz, who establishes a clear link between the Framework’s authors and radical history professor Thomas Bender. Bender considers American exceptionalism a “gross oversimplification” and calls for a new international or global perspective on American history.

From Bender’s global perspective, Washington’s Farewell Address unfortunately influenced America to act according to its own interests, shunning foreign alliances such as the League of Nations. This point of view is evident from the College Board’s sample APUSH exam, which can grant high-scorers college credit. It uses an excerpt from Washington’s Farewell Address as a “stimulus” to launch four multiple-choice questions. Question 31 asks students to conclude that Washington’s Farewell Address “strongly influenced” America’s “refusal to join the League of Nations in 1919.” Question 33 asks students to complete this open-ended statement: “Most historians would argue that the recommendations of Washington’s address ceased to have a significant influence on United States foreign policy as a result of…” The answer is “involvement in the Second World War.”

It appears the Framework authors and exam writers did not select the Farewell Address to highlight one of Washington’s achievements. Instead, they chose it to illustrate the dangers of a foreign policy based solely on national interests. From the authors’ global perspective, the Farewell Address led to America’s disastrous refusal to join the League of Nations and was finally disavowed by America’s involvement in the Second World War and new commitment to a role in global affairs.

Dreaming Away Martin Luther King Jr

The Civil Rights movement dominated American domestic events during most of the time period covered by the Framework’s 1945-to-1980 unit. Inspired by King, black and white activists formed a “coalition of conscience” to press for an end to Jim Crow segregation laws. Astonishingly, the Framework fails to mention Rosa Parks and the Montgomery bus boycott, President Eisenhower and the Little Rock school crisis, and President Kennedy and the Birmingham demonstrations. Even more astonishingly, the Framework authors omit King and his role in these historic events.

Why did they omit King? Perhaps because his famous “Dream” was, as he eloquently explained, “deeply rooted in the American dream,” which is in turn firmly anchored in the inspiring set of ideals embodied in American exceptionalism.

The College Board disclaims political intent, insisting the Framework provides a “balanced” guide that merely helps streamline its U.S. History course. In reality, its authors have embraced a “transnational” perspective antithetical to the idea of American exceptionalism. The omission of King and his “I Have a Dream” speech fits into a broader pattern of scrubbing out any trace of American exceptionalism.

Revoke the Framework

The APUSH Framework has ignited a storm of protests. Outraged citizens, bloggers, commentators, and historians have all criticized the Framework’s biased treatment of American history. The Republican National Committee has unanimously passed a resolution demanding the College Board rescind the new Framework and restore its previous Topic Outline.

The College Board has thus far refused to meaningfully address these concerns. It cannot be allowed to force a politicized course into American classrooms. If the College Board is permitted to remain above the will of the people, it will become the de facto central authority of American education.


Private school cadet forces 'facing closure' in funding shift

Dozens of private school cadet forces are facing closure because of a “disastrous” cut in funding aimed at boosting representation in the state system, headmasters have warned.

New rules that would see pupils forced to pay £150 a year to join could spell the end of large numbers of Combined Cadet Force (CCF) units in independent schools, it was claimed.

One private school head told the Times Educational Supplement how the reforms – to be phased in from next year – would result in the cost of running his unit soaring from £60,000 to £100,000.

At present, 260 schools run cadet forces and receive more than £26 million a year to cover staff training, uniforms, rifles, facilities and volunteer expenses. Around 200 units are in private schools, often being seen as vital preparation for a career in the Armed Forces.

But the government has pledged to introduce 100 new cadet units in state schools by the end of 2015.

Earlier this year, it emerged that ministers had agreed to help fulfil the promise by sharing the funding enjoyed by existing CCFs with the new state school units.

It has now also emerged that an additional fee of £150 per cadet will be charged to existing pupils to help pay for the scheme from September 2018. Direct grants would be removed over a four-year period from 2015 in preparation for the change.

In a letter to head teachers, Major General John Crackett, Assistant Chief of the Defence Staff, said new units would have to pay a contribution towards their own costs, adding: “This has thrown into sharp relief the disparity between new units, which contribute to the public costs of their CCF, and existing units, which do not.

“My aim is to achieve a funding and charging regime for the CCF that is both equitable and sustainable.”

But heads of private schools insisted the changes could spell the end of their own units, some of which have been running for more than a century. Concerns have been raised that CCF units in the state system can apply for support grants that are not available to their peers in the fee-paying sector.

Thomas Garnier, head of the independent Pangbourne College, Reading, who represents the CCF for the Headmasters’ and Headmistresses’ Conference, said some schools would find it “difficult to justify” running a unit.

“There will be a net loss of cadets; schools will close units and do leadership and character training instead,” he said. It’s a disaster for the cadet movement.”

Simon Davies, the head of Eastbourne College, which runs a 335-strong unit formed in 1895, told how the reduction of a direct grant combined with the introduction of fees would almost double the costs of the CCF from £60,000 to £100,000 a year.

“It is very clear to me that these proposals and the admirable ambition to extend the CCF to all schools show a complete lack of comprehension of the real costs of running a CCF,” he said.

The Military of Defence insisted details of funding had not been finalised, with a consultation with heads currently ongoing.

“We want to expand the number of Combined Cadet Forces units across all schools so that more young people can develop important life skills such as leadership and confidence," a spokesman said. "To help do this we want to establish an improved, more sustainable funding structure which is fairer for schools and so many more children can benefit from the skills cadetship brings. We are working closely with schools to establish the best way forward.”


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