Monday, March 10, 2014

Testing The Limits Of America

Even as the patience of our neighbors was tested this weekend by our staff cheering for our favorite men's and women's college basketball teams, the Nebraska Cornhuskers, we thought about another kind of test, the SAT, and the news announced last week that the exam was changing once again.

While the test was adjusted in 2005, the adjustments made nearly a decade ago are effectively being wiped out next year, making the essay optional once again, while ending the penalty for wrong answers.

As a staff with children, and led by a former college professor, education has always been an important topic to us - and one that we think much of the media gets wrong. While the biggest unaddressed problem with education in America remains the growing disaster of the Student Loan Crisis, the lack of investment in our public schools nationwide has also become a major problem - in large part due to the age of austerity that's been imposed on America by Republicans in Congress.

Still, as Chris Hayes and other education and testing experts pointed out last Friday, the SAT test, along with its competitor, the ACT, has unfortunately become ubiquitous as a shortcut for often overburdened college admissions boards. This latest version of the SAT nominally is supposed to put the test more in line with the basic sets of skills American high school students should be graduating with, instead of the kind of obscure vocabulary lists the current SAT has focused upon for many years.

The real problem with the test, however, along with many of America's current educational standards, is that neither are currently preparing students for the world they face beyond high school. What's worse, in an American economy already suffering from the greatest economic inequality since the 1920s, the SAT has become a defacto test of a teenager's family income - not the meritocratic appraisal it claims to be.

It gets worse.

As Bloomberg Businessweek Economics Editor Peter Coy confirmed last October, the SAT and ACT tests have in fact become barriers to post-high school education for many Americans. Poor scores today keep students from receiving the ever-dwindling number of grants and scholarships. As the tests have become a massive crutch for colleges of all types, poor SAT and ACT scores now may also prevent community and junior colleges from accepting students for more skill-based post-secondary education, like the training needed for traditional blue-collar jobs like plumbers, electricians, and factory line workers.

That lack of post-high school education, teamed with the appalling lack of critical thinking skills has become standard in American K-12 education - thanks in large part to 'No Child Left Behind'. As such, the less educated American workforce has become easier to take advantage of by management, especially in standard blue-collar jobs, as Lydia Depillis confirmed over the weekend.

That less educated, less informed populace has also become easier to scare about union influence over the last twenty years, thanks to the nearly omnipresent right-wing media, and the greatest propaganda victory radical right-wing ideology ever won.

Events in the real, post-high school work world, however, may be shifting both schools and tests like the SAT and ACT back towards reflections of more applicable academic standards.

Those events include both the recent effort by Volkswagen to unionize their own manufacturing plant in Chattanooga, Tennessee, and the announcement on Friday from Ford, that they'll move truck production back to a union shop in Ohio from a non-union shop in Mexico.

Global companies want workers who can think originally and critically, and apply that knowledge to their work. If the SAT, ACT, and U.S. educational standards don't match up to that demand in the real world, there shouldn't be any confusion by American parents and students as to why those companies won't bring more jobs back to The States.

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