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18 March 2010

Obama's Education Agenda

As we all know by now, the Obama administration is proposing that we change the focus of No Child Left Behind from student proficiency to graduation.
In addition, President Obama would replace the law’s requirement that every American child reach proficiency in reading and math, which administration officials have called utopian, with a new national target that could prove equally elusive: that all students should graduate from high school prepared for college and a career.
While the focus on proficiency might have been Utopian ("every child is above average"), it at least focused on what the point of education is supposed to be - learning stuff. Obama's new emphasis will now focus on what the actual point of education has instead become - acquiring credentials.

One of the nice things about credentials is that they send a signal as to your quality. So if you have a high-school degree - a real high school degree - it tells prospective employer that you at least can manage to get through high school. College does the same thing - if you graduate college, an employer knows that at a minimum you're capable of getting your shit together enough to figure out how to get yourself a degree.

But it also serves a more subtle purpose - as a bit of a safe harbor from disparate impact claims. Minorities graduate high school and college at lower rates, and so by making those degrees requirements for employment, a company can point to the lower graduation rate of minorities as a defense when the EEOC wants to know why it's not employing minorities in proportion to their share of the general population.

To Obama, then, these lower graduation rates are just an excuse for employers to hide from their responsibilities to even out the score (remember, Obama doesn't want an even playing field - he wants an even score). The result will be - and has been, really - more and more fancy credentials. Employers want to hire the best people they can, but they also don't want millions of dollars in legal expenses defending their hiring practices.

The other subtle message this new focus sends is that someone who fails to graduate is no longer a "drop-out", but a victim of a failed school. Schools will of course adapt to these new requirements, as they always do, and will most assuredly find ways to graduate more students. But then they will be judged on whether these kids get thru college, because it is also a requirement that they be college ready.

That will put more pressure on community colleges to dumb down their curricula and standards, which will then put more-and-more demands on 4-year colleges as the decent students flee the community colleges. And colleges in general will now face ever more scrutiny (read "lawsuits") regarding the poorer performance of minorities in their institutions. Obama's policy will in the end have a brutal multiplier-effect on education costs up-and-down the line. What a surprise.

2 Comments:

Blogger KingM said...

It is alarming, but the education cartel will have something to say about this as well. You're not going to get Harvard or Ohio State to capitulate so easily. Their corrupt and entrenched position is also their strength.

March 18, 2010 1:02 PM  
Blogger ziel said...

No, Harvard and that ilk have nothing to worry about, which is why our elites are so insouciant regarding a.a. Ohio State I'm not so sure.

March 18, 2010 6:10 PM  

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