Why do you go to school?
At age 26, most people have spent half of their lifetimes in school. That is long-term confinement that doesn't even include post-secondary education. What is the point? Originally, education was provided at public expense because the idea was that a democracy needed an educated electorate. That idea has long since gone by the wayside. Just over 30% of eligible voters vote and the majority of citizens can’t pass the knowledge test about government that new citizens are expected to pass. So what is the point?
It is certainly high quality, if expensive, babysitting. But what do the taxpayers expect to get out of the significant investment in the child’s time and the citizen’s money.
There has been a great deal of talk recently about improving standards, although what that means depends a great deal on whom you ask. Some very forward thinking local superintendents from around the country are asking and answering that question in very different ways. In Maryland raising standards seems to relate to how many students go on to college. Few people bother to look at how many of those who start college actually finish with a degree and if they do, can they earn a living with that degree.
In Hamilton County Tennessee, the new superintendent is asking a different question. He wants to know who is hiring in the area, what kinds of skills are employers looking to hire, and how many of those skills can kids garner while still in high school. He calls his program “future ready institutes”. These are schools within schools. He is working on future readiness and determining what jobs require skill sets that can be achieved in high school or with just short term training and which need an associate or bachelor’s degree. He is matching those skill sets to what is needed in his geographic area so that graduates will be job ready or post-secondary ready when they graduate. The attentiveness here is that kids are trained not just for jobs that are available but also that pay well. It is also noteworthy that programs are individualized for kids so that not all college bound students take the same academic coursework. Whether they take advanced mathematics, foreign language or more science depends on their career goals and talents not on some “expert” deciding what needs to happen to raise standards.
At the local level in Maryland, the Kirwan Commission report is suggesting that there needs to be a career component in public school education. The Commission is right about that. What they are wrong about is pre-determining that these career training programs are only going to be for students who are academically competent. There are lots of ways people can be competent and they aren’t all in the academic areas. Someone needs to rethink exactly why it is we go to school today.