November 24, 2014
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My take on the news
What's happening to a college education?
Lonnie Barham

COLLEGES HAVE BECOME TRADE SCHOOLS: Roger Williams University just announced that it will no longer require applicants to submit SAT or ACT test scores. It will base admittance on high school grades, an essay, and letters of recommendation, without regard for whether or not an applicant has shown he or she can pass a standardized test.

Many other colleges are already traveling the same path. Their primary argument is that standardized tests are not predictive – that they don't predict a student's success or failure in college as well as other factors do. There's a good reason for this. With the exception of some of our better universities – mostly Ivy League – our colleges have become trade schools instead of colleges.

Students can fare well in college today simply because these institutions no longer offer a broad based education; they no longer imbue students with the kind of knowledge students of yesteryear took for granted – knowledge across the spectrum from classical literature to comparative philosophy to advanced mathematics. Instead, they concentrate on getting students ready for occupations. Thus, standardized tests are not predictive of college success because we now measure success differently; success in a narrow, very limited field is all that is now required.

The beauty of standardized tests is their ability to predict success in pursuit of a real college education, not simply whether or not a student can succeed in preparing for an occupation. Our "trade school" colleges are no longer producing graduates who are educated in the historical sense. It is resulting in a far less educated populace whose critical thinking skills and ability to empathize with other cultures and philosophical viewpoints are deficient. Scholars from Aristotle to Thomas Jefferson are turning in their graves. If this is the level of education our society wants, then SATs and ACTs really aren't needed.

WHO'S TO BLAME FOR ALVAREZ FAILURES? Alvarez High School in Providence, for years an under-performing school, has no qualified physics teacher. Students are rightfully upset that a history teacher is trying to teach physics. For two years, the district has been unable to hire a qualified physics teacher. With science NECAP tests coming soon, Alvarez students will almost certainly fare poorly.

So, who's to blame for this problem? The teachers' union that has foisted a "non-education" contract on the district is primarily to blame. Teacher contracts do not allow a category of hard-to-find teachers (physics, for example) to be paid more than an easily found category (history, for example). Further, teacher contracts disallow outstanding teachers to be paid more than teachers whose instructional abilities are so poor they require remedial instruction themselves.

Some of the blame also goes to the R.I Department of Education whose teacher certification requirements make it extremely difficult for engineers, physicists and other scientists to transition from the professional workplace to the classroom; and there are many who desire to do so, either upon retirement or simply due to burnout in the industrial world.

As usual, when self-interested adults – especially union officials and state bureaucrats – make decisions that affect a vulnerable population, students, it is usually the vulnerable population that suffers.

NEA NEGATIVITY HAS BEGUN FOR 2016: Robert Walsh, executive director of the National Education Association of R.I. – the state's largest teachers' union, thinking that General Treasurer Gina Raimondo will run for governor in 2016, has already begun to defame her. He claims Raimondo teamed up with millionaires and billionaires to cheat 75-year-old retirees out of their cost of living increases.

He is already planning to use such fabrications in television ads his union will run in 2016 if Raimondo runs.

A highly respected political science expert, Windy Schiller of Brown University, put Walsh's ludicrous defamation into context when she said, "To paint her [Raimondo] as someone who only cares about the rich is the exact opposite of what she has been trying to do, which is to preserve the viability of a system that gives working class people pensions. "

IN SUPPORT OF RIGHT-TO-WORK: Some statistics from the Mackinac Center for Public Policy in Michigan. In the past 30 years, total employment in right-to-work states grew by 71 percent, while employment in non-right-to-work states grew by only 32 percent. In the last decade, right-to-work states added 3.5 percent more jobs, while other states' jobs decreased by 2.6 percent. Population flight of 25- to 34-year-olds from right-to-work states, along with the loss of their taxes, has been non-existent; in fact, populations in this age group increased by 11.3 percent in right-to-work states in the last decade. During the same period, non-right-to-work states increased residents in this age group by less than 1 percent – indicative of young workers' flight to right-to-work states. Wages, adjusted for inflation and cost of living, grew 12 percent in right-to-work states but only 3 percent in the others.

Admittedly, statistics can be manipulated to suit a presenter's cause. However, in this case, it seems unlikely a responsible public policy organization could or would manipulate figures so much that an across-the-board economic outcome is wholly misrepresented. These figures say right to work is the right direction for America.

QUOTE OF THE WEEK: After President Obama issued a lame statement during an interview with Barbara Walters in which he implied the federal government would not pursue prosecution of "recreational users" in states where marijuana use is now legal but said nothing about refraining from action against those who will cultivate, sell or regulate it, Colorado State Representative Mark Waller said, "How about the president exercise some leadership here? They can either enforce the federal law or change the law." Political leaders in the 18 states that allow use of medical marijuana and now those in the two states that have legalized its use for recreational purposes are in a quandary. The people have spoken through referenda or through their legislators, but Obama and the Justice Department won't listen. Congress must take action to reclassify marijuana. If Obama won't act, then Congress must!


Comments
1 comment on this item

I contend that there are no candidates for the Physics position at Alvarez High School because individuals such as Mr. Barham have denigrated the teaching profession. Mr. Barham took health care away from professional educators while raising the salaries of he and his fellow administrators - leading to the state takeover of East Providence. He led the group that contrived to publicly insult teachers on talk radio. (We will never forgive you, Mario, and Tony for saying that teachers were 'living large' while you rode around in your government-pension funded convertible BMW.) For the first time in thirty years, I have suggested to young people that they do not become teachers because it will not be worth dealing with the likes of Lonnie Barham.

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