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article imageOp-Ed: U.S. Millenials' weak job skills due to 'cover your *ss' teaching

By Calvin Wolf     Mar 11, 2015 in Politics
When it comes to comparing our low academic test scores against other wealthy nations, we typically point to the fact that we test ALL of our high school students...while other nations only test their top performers. But a new test should give us pause.
It is no longer news that America's high school students are falling behind their peers in other industrialized nations. Compared to other nations in Europe and east Asia, the U.S. has lagging standardized test scores and high school graduation rates. However, critics have long pointed out that most of these industrialized nations test only their top performers...while the United States tests all of its secondary students. In many other nations, students are moved into different "tracks" after junior high, meaning all of our high school students are compared against only the "college track" high school students of other countries, which skews the comparison.
But a recent test by Princeton University's Educational Testing Service (ETS) has turned up troubling news after individuals aged 16 to 65 in 23 industrialized nations took a test called the Program for International Assessment of Adult Competencies (PIAAC), reports Fortune. Unfortunately, in terms of critical thinking and problem-solving skills, the United States often ranked near, or at, the bottom of the pack.
Worryingly, the U.S. fared little better when adjusting for level of education. The typical American with a four-year degree lags behind the college graduates of most other industrialized nations in terms of literacy and job skills. Even when testing tech-savvy job skills, an area which many consider to be America's strength, the U.S. lagged behind its peers. Basically, our argument that we fare better "on the job" than "in the classroom" as a way to avoid worrying about international test score comparisons has been crushed.
Also, it now appears that our weaknesses in the classroom are bleeding into the workforce. Millenials in America scored worse than their parents on the PIAAC, with older Americans scoring closer to their international colleagues. We are not closing an international skills gap...instead, the skills gap is widening.
Why is this happening? We throw more money at education than ever, yet Americans lag behind their foreign peers at all levels, even post-graduate. And the wave of public school "reform," which began with the passage of No Child Left Behind in 2001, is not helping.
As a teacher, I know why this erosion of skills is happening, especially in terms of critical thinking and problem-solving. We have removed power and authority from teachers, turning public school teaching into an exercise in "cover your *ss." Fearing they will get no backup from administrators, teachers water down their teaching and weaken their academic rigor to avoid angry students and parents. States and school districts want near-universal high school graduation rates, which further pressures teachers to inflate grades and make assignments and assessments easier.
Our students lack critical thinking and problem-solving skills because teachers have made everything easy. We mandated performance figures from the top, and the only way to get it was to do some unsavory tweaking down below. We want everyone to we simply pass everyone. Did anyone in Washington not foresee the problems? Since there are few former teachers in Congress, probably not.
Even our best and brightest students often lack the drive to accept, or pursue, critical thinking and problem-solving skills. I teach Advanced Placement seniors, and most of them hate having to engage in writing, critical thinking, and problem-solving. They want to be spoon-fed information, know the exact answers ahead of time, have only multiple-choice assessments, and simply regurgitate information. With the exception of a handful of top performers, they loathe writing complete sentences, making inferences, or studying a breadth of information.
Over time, I have caved. I have crumbled under gripes, moans, angry parents, and the dreariness of abysmal grades. I now stick to multiple-choice, comprehensive test reviews, and plenty of extra credit. I am part of the problem. At the end of each grading period, I know I will be run under the microscope if more than a few students fail my class. To get along, I inflate grades and give second, third, and fourth chances. I do this to cover my *ss and guarantee that I will not have trouble with the administration.
And we wonder why our college graduates are not ready for the rigors of the competitive-market workplace.
This opinion article was written by an independent writer. The opinions and views expressed herein are those of the author and are not necessarily intended to reflect those of
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