Currently, 43 of the 50 states have filed for waivers to the requirements of NCLB. In other words, by law, at least 86% of our states’ public education systems have failed to meet the requirement that ALL students will read and write on grade level. Yes, this seems to be a lofty goal, and in a utopian world we would expect that it was possible. But we, unlike politicians, live in the real world where things don’t always work they we want them to. The problem is that we have been lied to for a long time (and it is not just about Santa Claus); we are all NOT created equal! We have varying heights, weights, eye color, hair color, …, and intellectual abilities.
To say that a person with an IQ of 50 is going to read and write with the same ability as a person with an IQ of 100 is as preposterous as saying a person with a body mass of 50 kg will have the same strength as a person of 100 kg. Why do we have such difficulty understanding and acknowledging this concept when it comes to intellectual ability? We see two men standing side-by-side and we will readily acknowledge that one is stronger than the other without even having a “test” to verify it. But when we actually test people’s intellectual abilities, we decry the instrument and blame the system instead of accepting differences that natural selection has provided.
Based on our understanding of developmental psychology and the natural distributions of our species, we roughly expect about 95% (notice that this not 100% as the law requires) could master basic arithmetic and reading skills – that is, we should expect 95 out of 100 people to make it through Grade 5. From there, the number of people who can master higher levels of thinking drops dramatically. As an overall average, we expect about 60% of the population would have the intellectual ability to master a college preparatory curriculum, the current high school curriculum. Unfortunately through legislative actions, states have learned to game the system and increase their high school graduation rates to near 80%.
Consider further that of those who are part of the 20% of high school dropouts, there are some (present company included) who had the intellectual ability but lacked the discipline and desire. A corollary to that statement is that when we consider other factors (e.g., motivation, maturity, etc.) there are probably less than 55% of the population who should earn a high school credential – under the current curriculum. Doing the simple arithmetic, that means that more than one-in-four of people with high school diplomas don’t deserve them. Unfortunately, business and colleges have learned that the high school diploma is no longer an effective gauge of a person’s ability.
The college degree is now the mark of somebody who is ready for the work place, but because of legislative agendas on the state level, how long will that last? Historically about 40% of the population ever earns a college degree. We have already discussed that the pool of those capable is 60% based on intellectual ability and that other factors will limit that number even further, so there isn’t a lot of room for improvement in the percent of degrees awarded. For example, there is a fairly large number of people who started college and then decided it wasn’t for them but still became successful (e.g., Bill Gates). There are also those who never attempted college but obviously had the potential. So the questions becomes, are there that many people who have the ability AND the need, motivation, resources, etcetera still remaining in the potential pool to make a significant difference in the percentage of Americans earning college degrees?
Probably not, but rest assured the percentage of people earning college credentials will go up because of the outside pressures put on the system, the same way that high school graduation rates surpassed the number of people who had the ability to earn that credential. What’s next? Will business require master degrees as the credential of choice and then doctoral degrees? Will that mean that we will have to add more degrees on the top end to accommodate the ever increasing pressure to award degrees to people who don’t deserve them?
The obvious solution is to follow a model like countries in Europe, where the best and brightest students attend a college preparatory system, and the majority of students spend their last years of public education being trained for an entry level job. Many argue this system harsh, for the decision to enroll a student in the trades or prepare them for college is made as early as age 12, but combining that system with our community college system makes it a fair and reasonable practice. For example, when I was in high school I had neither the maturity nor desire to succeed. I completed a course of study in auto mechanics (unfortunately these programs are no longer available in most high schools) that would have prepared me for an entry level position in a repair shop had I not chosen to go to the community college to learn to weld. Ten years later with desire and maturity on my side, I returned to the same community college and started on a path of college level work. Thus, there is a second chance for those who need and want to pursue a college education.
With the pressure off of educating all students to levels that they are intellectually unable to attain, we could see close to 95% of our students depart the public education system with either entry level skills or prepared for further study at the college level. With a system like this, we would also see college degree completion rates skyrocket, without the total percentage of those earning college degrees going too much higher and inflating their worth. In other words, an educational system that pairs people with their abilities, while maintaining a backup plan for over-achievers and late-bloomers, will increase percentage of successful completion of certificates without decreasing the value of said certificates.