Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Being Unhelpful About Education

Very interesting Washington Post article about a school board member who took the Florida state standardized tests for reading and math.

You can guess what happened: he flunked them both. On the reading test he did poorly, but managed to eke out a 62%. Of the math test questions he states, "I knew the answers to none of them, but managed to guess ten out of the 60 correctly." But here's where it gets interesting. You might think that this person would be embarrassed by his complete failure, in particular at (let's face it) basic math. But no. Here's what he actually said:

It seems to me something is seriously wrong. I have a bachelor of science degree, two masters degrees, and 15 credit hours toward a doctorate. I help oversee an organization with 22,000 employees and a $3 billion operations and capital budget, and am able to make sense of complex data related to those responsibilities...."

Yes, something is seriously wrong. Something is very seriously wrong when a person can obtain three university degrees and still not know a single question on a 10th grade math test, and the problem isn't with the test. I'd like to see some evidence that this gentleman actually can "make sense of complex data", because something does not compute here.

What does it mean when he says he "helps oversee an organization with 22,000 employees and a $3 billion... budget"? Well, it turns out that it means he was elected to the school board of a large district. So he's good at getting elected: fine. But that's not the same as being hired, and on the basis of what I read about his tests, I personally wouldn't hire him to oversee a $3 billion organization in a heartbeat. Would you?

It's possible that the standardized tests are too hard. Or it's possible that our schools are being run by over-educated idiots. To help you decide, consider the following: in the international PISA study, the United States finished 15th out of 30 in reading, 24th out of 29 in mathematics, and 21st out of 30 in science, while spending among the highest amount per student in the world.