Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Some Perspective on all those Education Comparison Reports

Somehow, no matter how strong my resolve to look at education from within 'The Box' so that I can better relate to my fellow educators, whenever I'm assaulted with the usual educational achievement statistics and Ed-speak comparison data my eyes glaze over and my mind simply refuses to be a good boy. It revolts and looks beyond the parameters of accepted frames of understanding, looking for hints of greater meaning beyond it. I had this experience AGAIN recently when I opened my email in-box to read the PILOTed newsletter an item I generally value and look forward to receiving. Following is one of its recent "important" in-the-box reports and my reactions to it from some other place...

"US education compared to other developed nations - Education at a Glance 2007
This newsletter summarizes the US briefing paper for the OECD (Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development) Education 2007 at a Glance report. The briefing paper for the US is available at the OECD website.
Quick summary

The data shows that the US education system substantially favors those who can afford the best schools and who can afford to go to college. Then, the US economy holds the largest rewards for those who have graduated from college, and the biggest penalties for those who do not complete high school, providing few outlets or second chances to cross that gap upon leaving school. Other developed nations appear to be rapidly expanding their university-educated, but without the university spending and income disparities of the US.

Well, NO surprise in any of this...BUT it reminded me of something shared with my cohort of fellows by professor Yasuda (Economist) when I was participating in the *Keizei Koho Center fellowship program for educators, an invition to Japan to experience that country and its schools first hand.

At our first briefing, held in our hotel before venturing out, Professor Yasuda explained that the economic sector of Japanese Society is a highly ordered structure in which the individual's rank and earning status is part of a traditional pecking order, something they simply can't function without. For that reason he explained school rankings were essential. How one did in school dictated how one would be hired, paid, and likely predict the course one's career would take over a lifetime. He also explained that while it was a given that all Japanese would expend tremendous effort in getting in to the best schools they could, and would earn the very highest grades they were capable of, and despite Japan's international reputation for high quality and highly successful schools, school had nothing much to do with acquiring the knowledge needed to do one's job. It WAS, however, an absolutley essential element of Japanese society because they HAD to have some mechanism with which to determine which rung 'on the escalator' individuals would occupy. In other words how they would sort themselves out in the hierarchy. Looking at the report PILOTed is discussing here, I wonder if the same dynamic is not really at work in American socity, even though we continue to speak about learning the curriculum as school's exclusive purpose.

While educational ranking is a great determinant of future earning power, I wonder "is it the sybolic value of the education or is it the actual, functional value that determines that rank in our socieity?" I think this question is a crucial one to ask ourselves and to answer truthfully as we continue to try to make sense of education and improve it. Furthermore, as the emerging paradigm of education demands more and more AUTHENTICY in learning, those in sync with this paradigm will have much greater perspective on the torrent of data that keeps washing over us.

Read the rest of the newsletter and the report @ http://academicbiz.typepad.com/piloted/2007/10/us-education-co.html

A brief sample to get you started...

Data from the briefing paper
37% of the US population ages 55-64 have some higher education, which is substantially over the average of other developed countries, and is first out of the 30 countries surveyed. This figure is pretty stable in the US; the number of college graduates as a percentage of the population is basically flat, while most of the rest of the world is rapidly increasing their supply of college grads. Thus, if you look at 25-34 year-olds, the US is 10th.

In the US, people with college degrees earned 75% more than those with high school degrees. Ten years ago, this differential was 68%. There are only three countries with disparities that wide. The rate of return on a college degree is about 13.5%, slightly more for males and slightly lower for females. College graduates also have lower unemployment rates.

In 2005, the probability that a young person will enter higher ed at some point in his or her life was 64%, as opposed to 57% in 2000; it is 71% for women and 56% for men. This compares with 54% as an average in other developed countries. On the other hand, only 54% of entrants to higher education in the US obtain degrees, which is last...."

* Keizai Koho Center Teacher Fellowship

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