Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Education as a "Filter"

Because of the discussion around how expensive college is, the actual worth and ROI of a college degree has also popped up, like this one:

Why Education Spending Doesn't Lead to Economic Growth - Businessweek

The article talks about education as America vs. the rest of the world, but there's an interesting finding that is worth looking at on a national level: 

What explains the limited impact of increased education on economic growth? A possible answer is that education acts as a filter rather than an investmentrecent study (PDF) in Italy found that test scores had a significant impact on the earnings of employees—but none on the earnings of self-employed people. One interpretation of that result is that schooling signals persons with intelligence and ambition, rather than actually imparting or indicating skills that make them better at their jobs over the long term. Signaling helps as a screening tool for employers, but makes no difference to people who work for themselves. Presumably, they already know how smart and ambitious they are.  [Emphasis mine]
The value of an education, then, is not necessarily content. This reminds me of the Chinese proverb "Teachers open the door, but you must enter by yourself." Many students in my office looking for resume help need a little reminder about what employers are actually looking for in a candidate - the ability to learn, the work ethic to take on challenges, the motivation to innovate, etc. Many developmental education students find the true value in the processes that become habits during the sequence more than the refresher on fractions or commas. 



Unfortunately, teachers in post-secondary see their value as what content knowledge they can offer. To a degree, both the content and the skills are necessarily, but not at the expense of each other. 

This speaks to what teachers have been trying to get across for many testing cycles. This is why pay-for-performance isn't effective in education. This explains the disconnect between the levels of education and between college and industry. And this provides a window into a large piece of the answer that we haven't addressed yet: the STUDENT. 

It's time to start being honest about student accountability. If we're truly going to examine what it takes to build a powerful workforce, increase college completion rates, raise test scores and high school graduation rates, and generally improve education, we need to give our students some ownership in the classroom. And when a student needs support in that area, we certainly can't pass it along until that student isn't a student any more to have that conversation.

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