After a Spring Semester study of James Joyce's Ulysses, my final senior English project was Finnegans wake.
Like nearly everyone who had been in similar shoes, I read and wrote and worked every night as my impending (and depending) graduation stalked me across the calendar. Was I in mortal fear of my Bachelor degree? No, I was systematically running out of time and my high school diploma was at stake.
I didn't attend a private preparatory school; I attended a pubic high school in central New Jersey. My grades were adequate but far from exemplary. My class-rank was somewhere around the 25% figure, though, by some fluke of standardized testing, I was in the running for a National Merit Scholar award while a National Honor Society membership was running full-tilt away from me.
Three decades past my high school experience, I still remember how to do algebra, some trigonometry and (gasp) even logarithms. Despite not attending a Chemistry class since 1972, I remember Avogadro's number, that a mole of electron charge is a coulomb, and that a coulomb of electron flow per second is an Ampere of electrical current.
I didn't need to be the brightest burning torch in my high school's cave; I just needed to have my torch properly lit. Learning was not about being smart, it was about knowing how to practice, and in order to practice, I had to know the fundamentals of learning. My K-12 experience was all about learning those fundamentals.
The contemporary mantra of learning is Education, but rarely does the mantra of education specify Learning. In one county college in New Jersey, the average enrollment for successful Associate Degree candidates is four years. In reality, the students' first 2 years of study is remedial and all of these students are high school graduates. Has there been no meaningful learning for these students during their high school years? Is the curriculum of the college they attend so poorly crafted that qualified students cannot survive the for-credit curriculum? The answer to both of these questions is, probably, yes.
Per pupil spending in the K-12 sending district referenced above has increased from $7,725 to $12,429 in the past ten years --about 38%. In 1999 the Heritage Foundation published an article: The Folly of an Education Spending Race. The article describes how education spending had become the new "third rail" of political discourse:
"education spending is the issue that every politician feels compelled to embrace. And the level of spending proposed is now the measure of a lawmaker's commitment to America's children"
"There is no evidence that simply increasing spending improves education.
If there is one lesson that should have been learned about education, it is that money does not cure the problems ailing America's schools.
The most comprehensive survey of spending and performance was conducted by Professor Eric Hanushek, chairman of the Economics Department at the University of Rochester. After reviewing close to 400 studies of student achievement, Hanushek found no strong or consistent relationship between student performance and school resources, at least after variations in family inputs are taken into account. "1
If increasing spending doesn't benefit achievement or learning in public school districts, what measures have colleges in general and community colleges, specifically, taken to improve the quality of learning for the modern college-bound high school graduate?
In 1960 about 45% of high school graduates enrolled at a higher-education institution; by 2007, that number had increased to about 68% According to a 2005 published study of community colleges in California, funding for community colleges has outpaced the rate of growth of candidate students and enrollment growth funding has outpaced the total enrollment growth. With an excess of dollars to fund the annual increase of college bound students, there is little financial incentive for community colleges to adapt their core curricula to a surplus of under-qualified student candidates. Community colleges have the money to admit the under-qualified student and enroll them in remedial pre-credit programs and keep those funded candidates until the candidates skills have risen to college standards, or until those students drop out.
The core problem may be that too many students are now automatically considered as candidates for higher education. Unless the students have mastered fundamental learning skills in lower education, there is no reason to expect them to succeed in the advanced levels. Maybe students in today's K-12 schools should be prodded and poked to study James Joyce , Avogadro and Andre' Ampere rather than prepped to study a test that purports to demonstrate the quality of their education. And maybe 35 years past their high school commencement, they will sometimes sit around and puzzle over how a Conic Section can be intercepted by a Plane in order to describe a Parabola.