Archive for the ‘EDUCATION’ Tag

JOHN CHUCKMAN COMMENT: ARE COLLEGE DEGREES BECOMING USELESS?   Leave a comment

John Chuckman

COMMENT POSTED TO AN ARTICLE IN INVESTMENTWATCH

 

“Why College Degrees Are Becoming Useless”

 

It just ain’t so.

Some college degrees are useless for sure, but not degrees in general.

The useless ones, for the most part, are obvious, such as most BAs in English or journalism or history or education. They are useless simply because there are ten of them for every possible job, and the institutions use virtually no discretion in continuing to admit people to such programs.

Then there is that whole class of “created” subjects for which there is virtually no job market: women’s studies, black studies, aboriginal studies, film studies, etc. Perhaps, the first people “out of the gate” got jobs as some other institutions started up or experimented with such programs, but after that it is pretty much a dead end.

There is an old bit of economic analysis in education that is often forgotten. Education has both an investment component and a consumption component. Some courses and degrees are serious investments for the future (in what economists call human capital) while others are consumption, much the same as a watching a television show or reading a mystery. Perhaps enjoyable, but bringing no future returns.

American education has created an entire industry in manufacturing degrees to please young people’s egos and to fill their own coffers. The consumption component of education has been given a major role.

Grade inflation in public schools, vague parental dreams and expectations, over-generalized talk about the value of an education, truly second- and third-rate institutions created by state and local governments as political measures, and a kind of artificial democratization of the whole idea of higher education – these all contribute to the situation.

Hard-nosed academic studies have never been democratic. They are, if you will, just naturally the domain of the more able, although even our highest-quality institutions have always admitted and graduated some who do not belong,

George Bush being a perfect example. Such people are called “legacy” admissions because the whole cynical intention of admitting them is to earn the institution a nice pot of money in gratitude from a rich family. Of course, once you admit a George Bush, you must graduate him regardless of what he does. Ditto for the Royals in Britain at places like Cambridge.

Of course, the American tradition of sports being used as a financing tool by colleges is very corrupting to education. Young men with sports talent are given free places regardless of their academic ability because their contribution to the team will bring in alumni donations.

But that is a totally cynical practice. These young men should be paid money for their effort, not given admission. It is the pathetic “Hoop Dreams” phenomenon.The American military, too, plays a role with its education benefit there to entice a flow of recruits, who, in many, or even most, cases are not truly college or university material. It is a kind of force-feeding of colleges in order to fill uniforms.

Higher education today has a great deal of cynicism and corruption built into it, but it remains the responsibility of each potential student to exercise the old caution, “Buyer beware.”

Failure to do so yields a lot of debt, little or no prospects you could not have had otherwise, and a sense of frustration.

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 Response to another reader’s comment:

Some good points.

Trades for now remain good opportunities.

Yes, the trades are going to fade – some far quicker than others – but then so are many of the professions and higher-end careers.

Every career from financial advisor to engineer and even to doctor and lawyer is slowly on its way out with AI.

JOHN CHUCKMAN COMMENT: IN A FLUFF PIECE, TORONTO SCHOOL BOARD’S DIRECTOR CHRIS SPENCE LOOKS BACK ON A ROUGH YEAR AND HOPES FOR BETTER – THE VERY DEFINITION OF A DYSFUNCTIONAL BOARD   Leave a comment

 

 

 

JOHN CHUCKMAN

POSTED RESPONSE TO A COLUMN IN TORONTO’S GLOBE AND MAIL

What do you expect when you hire an ex-football player to run a school board?

The Director had a record of absolutely no genuine achievement at the Hamilton Board from which he was hired.

In addition, he has always been a rather pathetic publicity hound, running around to schools and meetings with a cameraman in tow to record all the put-on smiles.

He was also known as a guy who couldn’t look you directly in the eye.

His international travel was self-promoting and costly, some of it done quite surreptitiously, serving again no purpose but his own advancement.

The Toronto Board was long dysfunctional when they took him on, hoping against hope to get some results with disadvantaged kids or at least to gain a long breathing space as people patiently wait for something new or good to happen at the Board.

But that hope is delusional.

Starting an Afro-centric high school with six students?

Hiring your close relative as a school principal?

Failing to deal with any of the problems which are endemic to this Board?

JOHN CHUCKMAN COMMENT: ONTARIO TEACHERS’ UNION TAKES THE PROVINCIAL GOVERNMENT TO COURT WITH THE IDEA THAT CONSTITUTIONAL RIGHTS HAVE BEEN VIOLATED – A HUMBUG CLAIM   Leave a comment

JOHN CHUCKMAN

POSTED RESPONSE TO A COLUMN IN TORONTO’S GLOBE AND MAIL

I can’t see this claim at all.

Constitutional rights are fundamental and apply to all and in all circumstances, no matter what the situation.

Being able to form a union and bargain is not of quite the same nature.

It is a right in law, but not in Constitutional law which takes precedence over other laws.

The teachers’ union is making a bigger fool of itself in this than it already is.

From those to whom so very much has been given, comparatively little is being asked now.

To try making that a Constitutional issue the same as free speech or freedom of religion demonstrates a complete lack of reality and invites scorn from the public.

The fact is teachers are free to have their union still (free association), but the government, owing to financial exigencies, could not accommodate their demands.

This is not tyranny in any possible sense of the word, but represents only the realities of governing at times.

When I hear representatives of the union say babyish things like the financial mess is the government’s own problem, I want to puke. The government is us, not some third party out there in space. That fact too is an essential part of democratic values.

The teachers’ union of course is a form of monopoly, a monopoly in the supply of labor to a large and important institution in society, and we all know monopolies do not think like competitive firms.

Monopolies in the economic realm themselves share some of the very characteristics of tyrannies in the political realm.

In all of this, the public would do well to remember that the union basically refused to come to the table when the government asked them.

And why was that?

It was a cheap trick to buy time so that the automatic salary increases could go into effect before the government could act. Hardly heroic or brave or having to do with any right.

JOHN CHUCKMAN COMMENT: MERIT PAY FOR TEACHERS AGAIN – A WASTE OF BREATH TO DISCUSS – EDUCATION IMPROVEMENT NEEDS GREAT CHANGES   Leave a comment


 

JOHN CHUCKMAN

POSTED RESPONSE TO AN EDITORIAL IN TORONTO’S GLOBE AND MAIL

Merit pay for teachers is a totally unworkable idea, and it is that for many reasons.

If you genuinely embrace the concept of merit pay – that is, better-than-average pay for excellent performance – you must, for logical and economic consistency, also embrace less-than-average pay for under-performing teachers.

Only in that way is there a genuine incentive for improved performance at all levels, and only in that way is there a genuine appraisal of performance at all levels.

Yet that part of the merit-pay idea is never discussed: we hear only about extra pay for superior performance. In effect, such a one-sided system would be bribery for favored teachers.

Extra pay for supposedly superior teachers is guaranteed under current arrangements to be nothing but a giveaway of billions to no genuine effect.

And try selling the idea of full-range merit pay to the teachers’ union, the same organization which works day and night protecting the jobs of incompetent teachers almost the way the Catholic Church has protected its abusive priests.

And which of our generally spineless politicians would show the courage and tenacity for a fight with that monopoly organization? Imagine Dalton McGuinty standing up the teachers, a man who has done nothing but shovel money at them to keep his political peace?

And what is average performance? The way our public education is organized, it would be impossible to establish because teachers, once they are hired permanently, are never assessed. There are no meaningful measurements or standards.

You cannot use only student performance because some teachers are assigned to schools where families are successful and expect performance, providing encouragement and resources, while some teachers are assigned to schools where families are broken or unsuccessful, sometimes barely feeding their children and having no high expectations.

You cannot use the official curriculum as a standard against which to measure because it is pretty much a poor pile of generalities and frantic efforts to appear comprehensive rather than a specific set of measurable requirements.

Further, there is no qualified, experienced body of people to do the assessing. Once Ontario did have such people, but the concept of regular assessment died decades ago.

Moreover, our entire public education system is essentially run by teachers – perhaps its greatest source of weakness. Principals are generally just teachers who wanted out of the classroom. Superintendents and directors are just teachers again who’ve piled up lots of puff education courses – and truly there are few other kind at our colleges of education where academic standards are low.

There is no perspective in any of these officials beyond a kind of generalized public-school teacher perspective, and that gets us nowhere.

One assumes that the whole idea of merit pay is to increase the effectiveness of our schools. The only way to do that is to compete with world standards of performance, and we don’t do that with our present system. It will take far more than merit pay.

JOHN CHUCKMAN COMMENT: LEONARD SAX AND MORE ON SEGREGATED EDUCATION AND THE ENTIRE MISDIRECTION OF “PROFESSIONAL EDUCATORS”   Leave a comment

JOHN CHUCKMAN
 
RESPONSE TO A CBC RADIO ONE PROGRAM ON THE CURRENTYour guest, Leonard Sax, only proved how little genuine scholarship and hard thinking often go into discussions of education.

First he told us of research showing the differences in brain development between boys and girls at a young age – actually pretty fatuous research since the difference is a practical reality that any person of moderate observational powers, having passed through public education at any time over the last century or so, took for granted.

When your interviewer remarked that such research would seem to say that segregated classes might then be necessary in general, we got a cotton-mouth response typical of the education establishment, “No, I wouldn’t go that far in making a generalization.”

Of course, the sad truth is much of what passes for scholarship in education is extremely feeble stuff.

I remember when I was an undergraduate at the University of Toronto reading announcements of PhD theses at the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education. There was always some genuinely comical stuff, virtual parodies of serious scholarship, Monty Python does educational research. Many professors then at U of T actually objected to the University’s granting degrees for OISE because of its poor standards of scholarship.

And I’m afraid this is a general condition. Even at a world-class institution like Harvard, a prominent member of the education faculty expounds a notion of multiple intelligences, a notion having absolutely no science to it. Many public schools in the U.S. actually have posters in classrooms proclaiming the notion of multiple intelligences as though it were education’s equivalent to Maxwell’s Laws on Electromagnetism.

Of course, for years, education faculties quoted the University of Chicago’s Bruno Bettelheim as though he were an authority – that is, until we discovered the famous child psychologist was a fraud and an abuser of children.

There are endless examples of this sort of thing in education, all tending to point to the fundamental truth that teaching is neither a profession, in the sense that there is a basic body of knowledge and standards, nor a science. It is a skill, and the way to hone a skill is to get on with it, not to talk about it.

Ontario’s public education establishment has done nothing but flip-flop decade after decade, going from one half-considered notion to another.

First, tests were important, then they were not so important. First, plenty of homework was vital, then it was not so vital. First, there was zero tolerance for violence, then not really. First, report cards were important means of summing progress, then they were reduced to bland phrases from a computer. First, failure was an important tool, then everyone passed. First, teachers were authority figures, then they were mere facilitators. One could actually write an embarrassingly long list of such complete nonsense.

Any other institution which behaved in such a wildly erratic manner would become the butt of jokes and would fail utterly.

The only difference for our schools is that no one is allowed to say they are failing, but they are, because Canadians are not genuinely competitive in international comparisons, and, in a globilized world, there really is only a world standard for our children’s future opportunities.

One suspects that all this meaningless arm-flapping represents an ongoing effort by “professional educators” to avoid true responsibilities and the hard realities of education, regularly announcing a new notion as a solution, much like still another new elixir from yet another quick-money quack rolling his travelling road show into town.

Fill the classrooms with competent teachers – there are many, but there are also many incompetents protected by their union.

Give them a reasonable curriculum – the current one in Ontario is also right out of Monty Python – and the resources they require, especially libraries and computers.

Then give them the authority they need – authority against the many politically-correct principals and, importantly, against whining, overly-interfering parents.

Stream kids according to their proven abilities, kids having no talent for academics only clog the classrooms and themselves miss alternate forms of education – e.g., shop – that might excite them and give them something of value for their futures.

Open teaching up to all talented and interested people – retired professionals, artists, musicians, businessmen, and others wishing to teach full or part-time – without the need for that most discreditable of all academic documents, a degree from an education faculty which is a guarantees of no hard knowledge or skill or even affection for teaching kids.

Those and a small number of other measures would increase the effectiveness of our schools immensely. As trite as it sounds, we really do need to emphasize basics.

JOHN CHUCKMAN COMMENT: TORONTO SCHOOL BOARD OPENS ITS NEW AFRO-CENTRIC SCHOOL   Leave a comment

JOHN CHUCKMAN
 
POSTED RESPONSE TO A COLUMN IN TORONTO’S GLOBE AND MAIL

What an absurd, regressive step this is.

There is no sound case for this, none at all.

Are we to divide up into separate schools for the scores of ethnic identities that now constitute our society?

No, no one is asking for that.

So how are children of African descent so different?

If you cannot succeed in our schools as others do, how can you expect to succeed in our society at large?

One is tempted to suggest that any grade improvement seen here will be the self-fulfilling efforts of teachers and administrators needing to prove they were right.

Extra Afro-centric grade inflation on top of the already inflated grades of our public schools?

Are we then to have Afro-centric high schools, colleges, and universities ready to accept the inflated-grade graduates?

Will they train students for Afro-centric corporations and Afro-centric professional careers?

Or for diplomatic careers in an Afro-centric world?

__________________

“It’s amazing to me that none of you seem to grasp the concept that it isnt a BLACKS ONLY school… ANYONE is welcome to enroll.”

Oh, please, this tired point has been made a thousand times, and still it is meaningless.

Of course, the school could not be funded otherwise.

But no one else is going to enroll.

Indeed almost no black children have enrolled. It is a group about the size of two or three normal classrooms.

JOHN CHUCKMAN COMMENT: TORONTO PUBLIC SCHOOLS’ QUALITY OF EDUCATION AND RATINGS   Leave a comment

JOHN CHUCKMAN
 
POSTED RESPONSE TO AN EDITORIOAL IN TORONTO’S GLOBE AND MAIL

The Board should be required to post on an Internet site detailed stats of performance in each school for which it is responsible.

This is something we are slowly approaching in parts of medical care, but it is an essential tool for the future of all publicly supported institutions. The people being served and paying the bills have a right to know.

We do not need a study to tell us our public schools are a mess. There is all kind of evidence, easily discovered.

The basic problem is a system in which no one is responsible for anything. Literally no one.

Once a teacher is hired, no one ever examines his/her work.

And the principals of our schools are just teachers, in many cases people tired of teaching.

And the Board Superintendents are generally, too, just old teachers.

Teacher education is almost a joke: the details of classes at our teachers’ colleges would not stand public scrutiny. It is that intellectually poor.

Students today are subjected to a ridiculously complicated curriculum while important skills are ignored. The schools are full of kids in grade five who do not know their times tables. And we have kids in grade eight who cannot read. School libraries are, many of them, a mess and outdated.

We have ongoing frauds like the “literacy test,” something with which I am quite familiar having served as the “home-stay” for a very bright Chinese student now studying a branch of applied mathematics at University College.

That test tests nothing, and those failing it only have to attend a bird course with a bored teacher next term to get a pass. The teachers write and mark the silly thing, and may easily make results rise, giving an empty blowhard like McGuinty something to talk about in speeches.

We seriously need new blood and new ways of doing things if our schools are to improve.

JOHN CHUCKMAN COMMENT: THE FANTASY OF FIXING WHAT IS WRONG IN EDUCATION BEFORE IMPLEMENTING ONTARIO’S DAY CARE-KINDERGARTEN PROPOSAL   Leave a comment

JOHN CHUCKMAN
 
POSTED RESPONSE TO A COLUMN BY ANNE KOTHAWALA IN TORONTO’S GLOBE AND MAIL

Government pretty much is incapable of correcting the serious problems of our public schools.

Only a dedicated, tough, and highly intelligent premier – an Obama type – could make anything real happen, and I sure do not see any prospect of such a politician coming to power.

The right wing tried reform and utterly failed: Mike Harris and the boys made a series of totally ineffectual changes, including that bad joke we call the literacy test, something McGuinty has kept only because it is a useful political tool manufacturing statistics that seem to show progress.

McGuinty has done nothing but literally throw money at the teachers’ union to buy peace for his government while we pay the bills. He has asked and received nothing in return, and he is too weak a character to demand anything real.

The teachers’ union is responsible for the extremely high cost of running our schools, costs which mean there are few resources for improved facilities and expanded services.

Just one tiny example of many I could cite: substitute teachers in Ontario are paid the same rates as regular teachers, a totally excessive and unnecessary cost. Further our teachers in many places are entitled to nearly a month of sick days – this on a 9-month work year – and it is a common attitude to routinely take them, leaving taxpayers paying two salaries for one poorly-taught classroom.

Even McGuinty’s weak minister has commented on the huge costs of sick days in Ontario.

The only way to improve public schools is to make teachers accountable. Accountability is a basic principle we accept in almost all our institutions except public education.

We have some wonderful, dedicated teachers, but we have a great many poor, unmotivated, even unintelligent ones, and the entire structure of administration in education, from vice-principals to superintendents, pretty well comes from these ranks.

Most have never had serious management experience, and most have no concept of accountability. That is why we have a mess.

The kindergarten/day care proposal is a sound one – the first meaningful thing McGuinty has come up with for education, but it won’t happen. The teachers’ union is already attacking it, and if it gets its way, the program will be costly and ineffectual.