Bak to Skool


High school is not providing the education necessary for success either in college or in the workplace, according to a recent report by the Washington-based Education Trust. The report decried a "significant gap" between the requirements for high school graduation and entrance requirements for college, as well as a lack of focus on practical skills, such as "document reading," that would help ease the transition into the work force. In 1997 one-third of college students needed to take remedial courses in reading, math, or writing to make up for their deficient high school education. (See "Why Johnny Can't Fail," July.)

Such problems are compounded by the incompetent–and sometimes dishonest–behavior of educators. In December, for instance, a 17-month probe by Edward Stancik, an investigator for the New York City Public School District, found that teachers and administrators at 32 separate schools had helped students cheat on standardized tests by providing answers and, in some instances, by filling out the tests themselves. Administrators in the beleaguered district are under pressure to boost test scores, and 52 employees have been suspended pending a final investigation and evaluation by the schools chancellor.

Beyond ethical lapses, sometimes teachers just don't understand their own subjects. Ari Armstrong, a researcher with the Golden, Colorado-based Independence Institute, has faulted Colorado's school board for approving ambiguous and muddleheaded math materials and tests.

As an example, Armstrong cites a sixth-grade worksheet on probability that declares, "An outcome which can happen has a probability of one." Armstrong notes that the statement is nonsensical, since it implies that anything that can happen will happen. Fully half the problems on the worksheet are impossible to solve as a result of missing conditions, leading Armstrong to declare: "The probability that a student will end up utterly confounded and frustrated by the exercise approaches 100%."