The education establishment has shown itself to be an advocate of low standards, false educational theory, poor selection and training of teachers, and it is incredibly wasteful with taxpayer dollars. Today’s teachers suffer from the inability to pass on the accumulated knowledge of civilization from one generation to the next. Teachers unions operate as political organizations while masquerading as professional groups, and now they want to eliminate one of the few objective tools we have to measure their performance.
State Assemblywoman Loni Hancock would eliminate the state exit exam requirement and leave it to school districts to decide if they want to use the test as a criterion for graduation. In the Berkeley Daily Planet article of April 18, a student asked, “What if you get straight A’s and flunk the test?” Considering the current rate of grade inflation, that possibility is not far fetched.
Proof that grade inflation is epidemic in public schools is easy to find. The SAT people at the Educational Testing Service in Princeton, N.J., collect, then correlate, students’ grades against their scores on the SAT test. The SAT is taken by 1.7 million teenagers, 70 percent of all 11th-graders. From 1988 to 1998, the number of “A” students taking the test went from 28 percent to 38 percent, yet the SAT scores dropped dramatically. Parents are often fooled by the establishment’s propaganda; they believe that because their children are getting good grades they are learning.
Even with SAT test scores declining, the average college-bound 11th-grader has a higher test score than his teacher. Teachers in the United States are self-selected from the bottom one-third of high school and university graduates. The unfortunate reality is that the teacher hopefuls had only a 964 SAT score, far below average. Another standardized test, the Graduate Record Exam (GRE), is taken by college seniors applying for graduate school in business, engineering, health science, humanities, life science, social science, physical science and education. The GRE test shows that test takers seeking to enter the field of education come in at the absolute bottom of the eight specialties.
More than two-thirds (69 percent) of all public elementary school teachers majored in “general education” and not in a specific subject as undergraduates. Education training focuses more on how to teach than on content.
A Pennsylvania study shows that ordinary math majors in that state had to complete courses in deferential equations and advanced calculus to earn a bachelor’s degree in mathematics. But would-be high school math teachers, including those who would teach advanced placement classes, could waive taking these courses and instead enroll in a “Mickey Mouse” class like the history of mathematics.
Teachers and educators are, by and large, humane and well-meaning people. Their sin is that they have discarded traditional scholarship as a major goal and have adopted the psychologist, social worker model rather than that of academic instructor.
A recent international math competition included 24,000 eighth-grade students, chosen at random from the United States, South Korea, the United Kingdom, Spain, Ireland and Canada. They were all given 63 math questions and also asked to fill out a yes or no response to the simple statement “I am good at math.” With the great emphasis on self-esteem which permeates American schools, two-thirds answered “yes.” The South Koreans were a bit less assured and only one-quarter answered “yes.”
When the test results came in, the United States was last and the South Koreans had won the contest. The math scores were in reverse ratio to the self-esteem responses.
One multiple choice question asked what the average was for the five numbers: 13, 8, 6, 4, 4. Only 40 percent of American kids got it correct. I have an eighth-grade final exam from Salinas, Kan., from 1895. One question says, “Find the interest of $512.60 for eight months and 18 days at 7 percent.” No multiple choice either. The fact is that the average Joe was better educated 100 years ago.
Proponents of the bill to eliminate exit exams, which is being sponsored by the California Teachers Association, say the exit exam unfairly punishes students for inequities in the educational system.
Perhaps the teachers union should look at their own testing and qualifying system. A 66-page report sent to congress in June of 2002 by the Education Department criticized the majority of states for lax standards. It noted that one test that California demands all teachers to pass is the California Basic Education Skills Test. That test is set at the 10th-grade level. The report said that another common test that assesses a teacher’s reading, writing and math skills set passing grades “shockingly low.”
California teachers are now the highest paid in the United States. They average about $53,000 per year. Remember that is for a nine-month year which computes to about $70,000 for a normal worker’s year.
The state of California spends more that 50 percent of the state budget on education, yet half of all freshmen entering the University of California system need either remedial math or English. The high school exit exam is the only objective measure of teacher accountability. Do not take it away.
Michael Larrick is a Berkeley resident and parent of a Berkeley High School student.