Education Preparation

It seems to me….

The school is the last expenditure upon which America should be willing to economize.”  ~ Franklin D. Roosevelt[1].

The world has changed in too many ways to enumerate.  Education has become substantially more important not only for the individual but now has also become a national priority.  Though as late as the 1950s fewer than 50 percent of students graduated from high school, today a college degree is considered necessary for most positions providing more than a minimum income.  The importance of a college degree, especially in a technical or medical field, is anticipated to further increase in the future.

Over the next decade, the U.S. as a whole could face a shortage of about 765,000 needed workers with the skills that come from an associate degree or some college.  For workers needing a bachelor’s degree or higher, the figure is about 8.62 million.

Recent demographic and employment trends make understanding potential shortfalls in the labor force even more pressing.  A recent survey of employers found that about 83 percent of respondents are having difficulty finding suitable candidates to hire; about 75 percent of those respondents believed a skill shortage existed in their applicant pools.  The U.S. faces about $1.2 trillion in lost economic output if these shortages do indeed exist and are not quickly mitigated.  The lost output comes mostly from the shortage of workers with a bachelor’s degree or higher.

The demand for science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) professionals is rapidly growing as the U.S. economy transitions to one more technology-based rather than industrial-dependent.  STEM jobs are projected to increase 1.7 times faster than non-STEM jobs with top companies struggling to find professionals with the right skills to fill vacancies.

Educational institutions are unable to fulfil current demands.  Many students who begin their college studies in a science or engineering field transfer to a different major by the time they graduate.  Additionally, for every two students that U.S. colleges graduate with a STEM degree, only one remains in the field and hired into a STEM position.

Information technology (IT) workers, who make up 59 percent of the entire STEM workforce, are predominantly drawn from fields outside of computer science and mathematics – if they even have a college degree.

Current U.S. high-skill immigration policy, which includes the granting of work permits to foreign students and the issuance of a variety of nonimmigrant guestworker visas, provides employers with large numbers of STEM guestworkers, most of whom are in IT occupations.  Annual inflows of guestworkers amount to one-third to one-half of all new IT job holders and make up a large and increasing portion of the IT labor market.

Between 2020 and 2021, the number of immigrants arriving in the U.S. decreased substantially.  This is especially concerning as a recent study[2] showed that college-educated immigrants are likely to work in the innovative STEM sector.  While aiding in meeting existing demands, it is also somewhat problematic as immigration policies that facilitate large flows of guestworkers supply labor at wages insufficiently low to induce significant increases in supply from the domestic workforce.

High-skilled STEM jobs are additionally important as they create a job-multiplier effect at the local level: for each additional employed high-skilled worker, up to 2.5 additional jobs are created through local demand for goods and services.

Unfortunately, the shortage is likely to become even more acute in the future.  As an increasing number of students attempt to attend college, it is increasingly apparent that secondary schools are failing to adequately prepare students for college and that the U.S. educational system is falling behind equivalent systems in other nations.

A study conducted by the National Math and Science Initiative indicates that only 36 percent of high school graduates are adequately prepared to pursue a college-level science course.  68 percent of students starting at public 2-year institutions and 40 percent of those starting at public 4-year institutions needed to take at least one remedial course[3].  This weakness is further substantiated by U.S. student below norms preparedness in technical subject areas; the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) placed the U.S. as 17th out of 71 countries in reading, 38th in math, and 24th in science even though over $810 billion is spent annually on education.

While many attempts have been made to improve U.S. educational standards and outcome, little progress has resulted.  Two proposals advocated primarily by conservatives and lower-income families are school voucher programs and certificate programs.

The School Voucher Program is a system, typically enacted by a state statute, that allows students to credit the amount of public-school funding allocated per student toward payment of private school tuition permitting students to attend a school of their choice.

The results for school voucher programs are decidedly mixed at best.  While such programs have resulted in higher graduation rates[4], they also have resulted in lower math and reading scores.  The logic behind this premise is that competition between schools for a student’s dollars would enhance/improve the level of education being provided.

The concept was originally proposed in a 1955 essay by Milton Friedman, who was awarded the Nobel Prize for economics in 1976.  While Friedman was a very good economist, he might not deserve grades quite as high in fields not in his area of expertise.

School choice is about giving all parents the chance to be integral participants in their children’s education.  Power and choices make people feel more involved, more effective, and more satisfied as citizens.  Children whose parents can choose their best educational environment learn better and have a better chance to become productive American citizens.  It’s about improving public education and better preparing our kids for college and/or the workplace.  It’s about equality, it’s about empowerment, it’s about choices for our parents and chances for our children – ALL our children.”  ~ Milton and Rose Friedman.

While sounding persuasive, it is very likely that providing universal school choice siphons off needed funds from public schools resulting in a decline of the overall quality of U.S. public education.  In addition, such choice would likely undermine democratic values and additionally contribute to segregation and division.

The supposed economic justification for school vouchers is that increased competition among schools would lead to higher educational output but that has not been demonstrated where school voucher programs have been an option.  There always are varied conclusions from any innovative program and charter schools are not any different, especially when political ideology is involved.

Certificate programs are another proposed option for students not necessarily needing a college degree or who are unable to afford the cost of attending a college.

Certificate programs are often aimed at people who have tried to survive with just a high school diploma but have found only low-wage jobs making it impossible to support themselves[5].  Certificates typically take less time to earn than a degree and train students to be cosmetologists, truck drivers, and medical assistants, among other jobs.  For-profit schools have zeroed in on this market as each student can bring in thousands of dollars of federal grants and loans.  With millions of potential customers and a guaranteed stream of funding, it’s a business model that can pay significant dividends.

For-profit schools award nearly a third of all certificates but availability of better-paying middleclass opportunities do not often result for many of the students .  At the vast majority of for-profits that focus on certificates, most students who take on debt to attend end up earning less than the typical high school graduate according to federal data posted by the Department of Education and analyzed by The Hechinger Report[6].

Some certificate programs send students into meaningful, well-paying careers, but the for-profit sector’s outcomes are worse than those in the public sphere.  For-profit graduates are less likely to find work than comparable graduates of public certificate programs, and if they are able to get jobs, their earnings are normally less[7].

While everyone agrees as to the importance of a high-quality educational system, there is very little agreement as to what is necessary to bring it up to requisite levels.

Basically, the U.S. public education system has not kept up with the times and currently faces a number of significant structural issues[8].  The formal education system was designed to meet the changing needs of the industrial revolution but that system is no longer able to meet modern needs.  Unfortunately, both parents and teachers reject recommendations for change insisting children be taught in the same manner as they were.  Technology is slowly forcing change but not at the rate needed.

Funding is always an issue for schools but many states are still funding education at a level lower than prior to the 2009 recession.  The average salary for public elementary and secondary school teachers has dropped by nearly 5 percent between the 2009/10 school year and now.  Long-term retention is difficult as educators are under-paid relative to their earning potential in alternative career fields.  Currently, 33 percent of all beginning teachers leave the teaching profession within just three years of beginning their careers seriously contributing to the shortage in teacher availability.  About 18 percent of all teachers need to have a second job just to get by.

Educational institutions accept students rejected by other majors resulting in educational standards for teachers, in general, being lower than in most other countries where acceptance standards are higher.  Additionally, to meet the need for classroom teachers, a substantial percentage of teachers do not have any academic credentials or training.  Few teachers are academically qualified to teach STEM subjects.  Additionally, critical shortages of special education teachers and specialized instructional support personnel (SISP) exist in all regions of the country.  Schools are overcrowded even though smaller class sizes have been shown to improve student outcomes.

Teachers need to constantly upgrade their skill level.  While a touted benefit of teaching is having summers off, teachers should be required as a condition of employment to take a minimum number of continuing education classes at an accredited institution paid for by their school.  In many states, tenure is granted to public school teachers who have consistently received satisfactory evaluations guaranteeing a teacher employment even if he/she fails to remain current in their subject area or no longer is capable of contributing at an acceptable level.

One of the biggest issues constraining the U.S. public education system is a lack of teacher innovation partially due to enforcement of standardized testing and Common Core curriculum.  Unfortunately, the problem really needs to be addressed at the federal level with changes to policies that will result in transformation of the public education system.  The U.S. needs teachers who are better trained to meet the needs of their students and who are willing to advocate for and facilitate change.  Teachers are on the front lines and, without them speaking up, change is not possible.

Contrary to what many critics seem to believe, standardized testing and the Common Core curriculum are fundamentally beneficial but have suffered from poor implementation.  Neither teachers nor parents adequately understand the Common Core curriculum.  Standardized testing provides the only method for parents, educators, or legislatures to determine how different schools compare or provide a uniform basis for student selection by colleges.

The Common Core State Standards were developed by teachers, not the federal government, to specify exactly what students should know before graduating from high school.  It was developed in 2009 to promote educational equity across the country holding all students to the same minimum standardized testing requirements.

A long-standing problem is that parents are not sufficiently involved in their child’s education.  Many parents are tired at the end of their workday and fail to take an active interest in overseeing homework or class assignments.  Parents are frequently inclined to treat schools as a custodial service and hold teachers responsible for any poor grades their child might receive rather than accepting it might be them that is actually failing.

More than 50 percent of the public-school population in the U.S. consists of low-income students but low-income students tend to perform lower than affluent students and family income shows strong correlation with student achievement measured by standardized tests.  Much needs to be done to overcome financial and social inequality but any remedial action is constrained by political ideology.

While extremely difficult to require, college-level educators would highly benefit from educational certification.  Essentially none are certified and instructional quality is apparent.  Simply having attained an advanced degree does not bestow the ability to teach upon someone.

Education needs to be accepted as the national priority it has now become.  Too many students are either unable to afford the increasing costs of education or struggle beneath a heavy burden of student debt for years after leaving college.  It is time for both preschool and college to be public funded similar to elementary and secondary school.  Education is admittedly expensive but the alternative has become even more so.

That’s what I think, what about you?


[1] Franklin Delano Roosevelt was a U.S. politician and attorney who served as the 32nd President.  The only President elected to the office four times, he led the U.S. through two of the greatest crises of the 20th century: the Great Depression and World War II.

[2] Pevi, Giovanni, Kevin Shih, and Chad Sparber.  STEM Workers, H-1B Visas, and Productivity In U.S. Cities, The University of Chicago Press Journals, Shttps://www.journals.uchicago.edu/doi/abs/10.1086/679061?journalCode=jole, July 2015.

[3] Chen, Xianglei, and Sean Simone.  Remedial Coursetaking At U.S. Public 2- and 4-Year Institutions: Scope, Experiences, And Outcomes, National Center for Educational Statistics (IES), https://nces.ed.gov/pubs2016/2016405.pdf, September 2016.

[4] Tyre, Peg.  A Matter Of Choice, Scientific American, https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/trump-administration-advances-school-vouchers-despite-scant-evidence/, August 2017, pp48-53.

[5] Butrymowicz, Sarah, and Meredith Kolodner.  They Just Saw Me As A Dollar Sign: How Some Certificate Schools Profit From Vulnerable Students, The Hechinger Report, https://www.nbcnews.com/news/education/they-just-saw-me-dollar-sign-how-some-certificate-schools-n1018206?cid=eml_nbn_20190711, 11 July 2019.

[6] Yoder, Steven.  Despite Mediocre Records, For-Profit Online Charter Schools Are Selling Parents On Staying Virtual, The Hechinger Report, https://hechingerreport.org/despite-mediocre-records-for-profit-online-charter-schools-are-selling-parents-on-staying-virtual/?msclkid=b1a9dbcdbc4211ec990523deb8db2678, 24 September 2021.

[7] Cellini, Stephanie Riegg, and Kathryn J. Blanchard.  Quick College Credentials: Student Outcomes And Accountability Policy For Short-Term Programs, Brookings, https://www.brookings.edu/research/quick-college-credentials-student-outcomes-and-accountability-policy-for-short-term-programs/, 22 July 2021.

[8] Barrington, Kate.  The 15 Biggest Failures Of The American Public Education System, Public School Review, https://www.publicschoolreview.com/blog/the-15-biggest-failures-of-the-american-public-education-system#:~:text=%20The%2015%20Biggest%20Failures%20of%20the%20American,Changing%20classroom%20approaches%20like%20flipped%20learning.%0AThe…%20More%20, 6 February 2022.

About lewbornmann

Lewis J. Bornmann has his doctorate in Computer Science. He became a volunteer for the American Red Cross following his retirement from teaching Computer Science, Mathematics, and Information Systems, at Mesa State College in Grand Junction, CO. He previously was on the staff at the University of Wisconsin-Madison campus, Stanford University, and several other universities. Dr. Bornmann has provided emergency assistance in areas devastated by hurricanes, floods, and wildfires. He has responded to emergencies on local Disaster Action Teams (DAT), assisted with Services to Armed Forces (SAF), and taught Disaster Services classes and Health & Safety classes. He and his wife, Barb, are certified operators of the American Red Cross Emergency Communications Response Vehicle (ECRV), a self-contained unit capable of providing satellite-based communications and technology-related assistance at disaster sites. He served on the governing board of a large international professional organization (ACM), was chair of a committee overseeing several hundred worldwide volunteer chapters, helped organize large international conferences, served on numerous technical committees, and presented technical papers at numerous symposiums and conferences. He has numerous Who’s Who citations for his technical and professional contributions and many years of management experience with major corporations including General Electric, Boeing, and as an independent contractor. He was a principal contributor on numerous large technology-related development projects, including having written the Systems Concepts for NASA’s largest supercomputing system at the Ames Research Center in Silicon Valley. With over 40 years of experience in scientific and commercial computer systems management and development, he worked on a wide variety of computer-related systems from small single embedded microprocessor based applications to some of the largest distributed heterogeneous supercomputing systems ever planned.
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2 Responses to Education Preparation

  1. Professor, as usual, you make many strong points in this piece. I find myself stuck on one in particular, our inability to shift from the educational model that was designed to address the needs of the industrial age. I’m not an educator, so I have little insight to offer in terms of how this can be effectively done. Suffice it to say, it must be done. I would venture to say that when we finally figure out how to make the shift, we’ll be behind.

    Another issue that I often think about is the diversity of our citizenry, and how that plays out in ways that didn’t exist 125 years ago when that industrial-style education model was put in place. Lots of questions. Are the answers coming in sufficient volume to address them all?

    Like

    • lewbornmann says:

      Let’s see — where to begin? Other than for correcting those obvious problems I mentioned, I’ll have to depend on actual experts in the field for many of the answers.

      There is much that the U.S. continues to do right. The U.S. university system is world renowned and many students from throughout the world prefer to complete their education here. The top four schools in the world are in the U.S.— MIT, Stanford, Harvard, and Caltech (all of which are private schools).

      There are various college ratings but regardless of differing opinions regarding rankings, most agree that two-thirds of the top thirty research universities in the world are located here in the U.S. Even with all the economic and political headwinds they face, U.S. research universities are maintaining their collective reputation as global leaders in original scholarship and academic reputation.

      Earning a college degree can be expensive – too expensive for many wishful students to afford. In the U.S., the average cost at a public college is $77,840 for four years of tuition, fees, room, and board. The average amount U.S. colleges spend per student is $30,166. That figure aligns with the data from the College Board, which reports average costs of $19,460 per year to attend a public institution and $48,380 for a private college.

      While increasingly important, education by itself is not sufficient to meet the changing needs of a postindustrial economy.

      The global competitive environment has changed dramatically during the past decade and other countries have made significant gains in science and technology dramatically narrowing the U.S.’ historic lead. This rise of emerging economies increasingly threatens U.S. continuing prosperity.

      China has pulled ahead of the U.S. in high-technology exports and U.S. trade in advanced technology has fallen into deficit. The European Union now generates more scientific publications and graduates more PhDs in science than the U.S. China graduates nearly three times as many four-year degrees in engineering, computer science, and IT and is projected to graduate more PhDs in science and engineering by 2010.

      Continued U.S. economic growth is dependent upon improving access to higher education, increasing government investment in R&D, and lowering barriers to trade and investment. Continued U.S. competitive excellence is necessary to produce stronger economic growth, more well-paying jobs, increased public revenue, greater security, continuing global leadership, and a better place to live and grow.

      Like

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