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Defining “an education” September 3, 2007

Posted by Jeff in Education.
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There are doubtfully any among us who would say “an education” is anything less than very important in life.  This collective opinion manifests itself in myriad ways:

  • That most people in our country believe that “an education” is not only a right of the people but also a central responsibilty of the government to provide
  • That “a college education” is perceived as a way of rising above one’s societal peers but that vocational training is widely perceived (if not openly proclaimed) to be a path for a lesser class of people.
  • That, over time, society tends to introduce longer school years and earlier matriculation ages, believing that more time in school is tantamount to better education.
  • That curricula have evolved to include training in morality, life skills, and values-related topics in addition to (and indeed, instead of) core academic subjects.

These manifestations of public opinion are not necessarily healthy for the educated in the long term.  In fact, they beg the question: What, exactly, do we consider to be “an education”?  Let’s start by looking at what the State of Texas considers to be “an education” in high school.

In Texas, to graduate from high school, a student must take 16.5 credits, which are accrued during a typical four-year high school program, so they amount to just over 4 classes per year.  That means that if you were to take out “home room”, “activity period”, “teacher’s aide period”, “lunch”, and excess physical education and other non-academic classes, you could start at 8am and be finished with the necesssary requirements for a high school education by noon every day.  (And let’s face it – we don’t even need to argue here that the material in those four classes each day is, pardon the pun, elementary.  How difficult is it, really, to receive a grade of 70 or greater on a history test administered by a coach during homecoming week of football season?)

In addition to passing these courses, Texas students must also pass the “Texas Assessment of Knowledge and Skills” (TAKS) test.  This is a controversial test that supposedly tests students for the basic knowledge they need to be considered “high school graduates”.  Keeping in mind that the TAKS covers just basic knowledge, it is disconcerting to know that the Texas Education Agency’s “Student Guide to Graduation” states that students pass when they can answer:

  • 58.9% of English questions
  • 55.0% of Math questions
  • 54.5% of Science questions
  • 50.9% of Social Studies questions

Therefore, the TEA passes students that cannot answer even 60% of the questions on a test of basic knowledge.

Even more surprising, though, is that students are not even expected to get more than 60% of these basic questions correct when they are allowed to use such a resources as a dictionary and thesaurus on the English section of the test, a graphing calculator on the Math sections, and various other resources like rulers, frequently-used formulas and the Periodic Table of the Elements that are all printed in the test booklet itself.

It is difficult for me to agree with the state that this level of expectation constitutes “an education”. 

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