Education Crisis: Professors say students unprepared

Education Crisis: Professors say students unprepared

The decline of US education is a major topic of debate and conversation among politicians, students and citizens alike. Professors say the issues come from multiple sources.
Statistics From Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) 2009 Performance of US 15-Year-Old students shows the US ranks 25th in math, 17th in science, and 14th in reading out of the 34 Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) countries.
“Today’s education system is collapsing and is the main culprit for the decline of the US as a major power and influential state in the world,” Chair/Associate Professor of Political Science at MSU Dr. Steve Garrison said. “The main problem is that society no longer values education.”
“We’re no longer number one in reading, we’re no longer number one in math, we’re no longer number one in science, as a matter of fact we’re pretty far down,” Dr. Rankin Chair English professor at MSU said. “These are areas in which we were number one 20 or 30 years ago”
The US education system has to find solutions to numerous problems occurring every day.

•Societal Issues

“There is no educational system in the world charged with what the US public education system is charged with,” Dean of the College of Education at MSU Dr. Matthew Capps said. “Educate every kid, from every background, regardless of parental influence, education, social support or any other factor. US public schools take kids of all types and move them forward, true some more than others, but that is because of another factor. Schools are reflections of society. The problem with public schools is that we look to them to solve all of our societal problems. We expect them to feed kids, change behavior that parents can’t or won’t, solve disputes between kids, solve disputes between parents, remember who is allowed to pick the kids up and who isn’t, administer medication, counsel drug addiction, counsel boyfriend/girlfriend issues, win state titles in all UIL activities, get kids to and from school, sometimes keep them after school when parents don’t pick them up… oh yeah and teach when they have time. It is a lot for teachers and schools to do”

•Focus on Grades & Standardized Tests

The constant push for students to make the highest grade rather than learning the most is causing numerous problems in our education.
“We need something to take emphasize off the grade,” Rankin said. “As soon as we have parents asking what (grade) did you make, instead of what did you learn, we have a problem.”
This year’s freshman college students are the least prepared in Garrison’s 15 years of teaching at the college he said.
High school is not succeeding in teaching students basic things to prepare them for college and work.
“(Student preparation) is pathetic, to be diplomatic. I have actually heard a student complain to the English department that it was unfair to have to write papers because they’re too hard. There is little pride in one’s work and no pride of accomplishment,” Garrison said. “It amazes me that students are not more concerned about what they get out of college because right now the economy is horrible and I don’t see it changing anytime in the near future.”
SAT reading scores have dropped to the lowest in 39 years.
“There are three reasons why this has happened. The first one is pretty simple, we have more people taking the test. We have created a culture of success that is only possible through college completion. Therefore many more students are taking the SAT than used to. Many of those students are not as strong academically as the smaller group was 39 years ago. Therefore, the average begins to do down over time,” Capps said. “Second, the academic knowledge and skill required to do well on the SAT is completely different than that required to do well on state exams. The state exams are minimal skills tests that don’t necessarily correlate well with what is required for SAT’s. A person is not going to be successful with minimal skills. However, because of the value placed on the minimal skills tests (TAKS, TAAS, STARR) again, guess what is going to get the focus. There are some skills necessary for college preparation that cannot be measured very easily. Critical thinking and complex problem solving are really important to college success, but they are extremely hard to measure and assess, so those do not get much focus, and we do not test them.
Standardized tests, a major focus of public school curriculum, don’t actually prepare students for future education according to professors.
“Since I teach in a Liberal Arts Discipline I am not a very big fan of standardized testing,” Garrison said. “I believe it is a poor measure of a student’s ability to learn. Rarely in our society do we have individuals perform tasks in this manner in the work place, so I am not sure how this helps ensure that students are prepared to enter the workforce when leaving college. In fact a number of studies have shown that these tests do not measure what we intend them to.”
The substantial pressure added to teachers because of standardized testing adds more difficulty to teaching.
“I do understand the difficulty of teaching large classes in high school and the pressure of having to produce numbers for the school,” Rankin said. “The school wants a certain number of students to score well on certain tests because they want to keep the school’s ratings up, so there is pressure from the superintendent and the principal to the teachers to get their students to score well.”
Professors say standardized testing crams curriculum into shorter amounts of time.
“You can’t make a pig gain weight by weighing it,” Capps said. “There are 45 days out of 180 days of instruction dedicated to assessment. Giving another assessment to students is not going to make them any smarter. Teachers are bright, highly educated people who know what they are doing. They know to align curriculum and teacher created assessments to end of course tests. They do not need someone in Austin supervising this, especially considering the people making the rules know less about it than your teacher does.”
The state has gone through four different tests since 1980 (TABS, TEAMS, TAAS and TAKS) every time getting similar results.
“We have been in an accountability mode since 1979. It isn’t getting the state legislature what they want,” Garrison said. “What I do not get is this: why are we going to do more of what hasn’t gotten us what we wanted? My definition of crazy this: when you keep doing the same thing, the same way and expect a different response.”
The value of written work has declined tremendously Dr. Sernoe Chair of Mass Communication at MSU.

•College Readiness Suffers

“Students are especially lacking in reading ability,” Rankin said. “It’s very difficult today to find students that will read whole books. They’re looking for quick shorter pieces of literature. We’ve noticed that if we offer a class that requires more than 60 or 70 pages of reading a week, students shy away from it. That used to be the norm 20 years ago. We’ve also noticed a tremendous decline in interest in math and science coming out of high school, so something is going on with reading, math and science in public schools because the background preparation in those areas and the interest in those areas has declined.”
Technology has had major effects on today’s education.
“It’s quite difficult to get some of our students to read in depth when they are constantly hooked up and wired. I see my own students get on their cell phones as soon as class is over,” Dr. Rankin said. “They’re out in the hallway and they’re talking on their cell phones. 25 yeas ago I used to see students head for the library to do their work for classes, but now the social networking business has changed attitudes towards learning.”

•Attitude Changes

Students’ attitudes towards school have changed dramatically over the years.
“Students want multiple chances to do the same think over again and again until they get the grade they want,” Capps said. “Those of us who worked in schools know and understand where that came from, but that is a small majority in a university. Nonetheless, college professors are dumbfounded as to why someone wouldn’t do it right in the first place. Many professors are seeing a ‘sense of entitlement’ in their students. The message we are seeing is that money was paid, and therefore I should receive an ‘A’ without reading or doing much work. For each hour of class that a college student takes, the expectation is that he/she spend 3 hours getting ready. Generally college courses are 3 hours courses, so you can see the amount of time college students are expected to put in getting ready. That isn’t happening.
“College professors expect their students to be responsible. You get a syllabus with an agenda, readings, and assignments with due dates. The professor may or may not go over the syllabus, but you are still expected to know it. The professors are seeing a great deal of ‘you didn’t tell me or remind me’. This creates frustration on both parts.”

•The Myth of College  

The cultural belief that it is unacceptable to not go to college has lead to many issues in the college level.
“This is probably a little controversial and many may not agree, but when we started selling students on the idea that the only way to be successful is to go to college, we started seeing a lot of people show up in college that a) didn’t want to be in college and/or b) shouldn’t be in college. It just isn’t that right fit,” Capps said. “Then on top of that students have started to believe that college is about job preparation and a means to make more money rather than an education. So many students come through and want their ticket punched, so to speak, so they can move on. They are missing the point of college, but that is what they have been told. I do believe people need some kind of post-secondary training/education, but to believe that college is the only option is a true mistake.”
With the declining education system of the United States the competition for jobs will increase.
“The world is a level playing field. We’re going to be increasingly competing in almost every area with people from other countries, and if their education is superior to ours, we’re not going to get the jobs,” Rankin said.