Last week, it was announced that President Barack Obama would push for a new program allowing the government to pay for two years of community college for students interested. A program that would cost an already bloated government even more, it would also force those costs on states that participate. States like Louisiana, which mishandle education money to the point where there are almost regular cuts and no change, couldn’t afford this even if they wanted to do it.
However, fiscal issues aside (I touched on those Friday), there is another, just-as-important point my colleague Bill S. mentioned in the comments to that piece: Not everyone can or should go to college.
One of my favorite little factoids that gets tossed around is that the average age of a Master <Insert Trade Here> is in the middle to upper fifties or sixties. The fact is, trade work suffers as a culture is pushed more and more to go to a college or university as a means to get a job. But, not everyone is cut out for a college or university, and any push to offer “free” community college is likely to further push a society into that. Not everyone needs a degree to be successful in life, including a potential Republican presidential candidate. A lot of good jobs don’t need them, and a lot of those good jobs are suffering a lack of potential employees.
The other major difficulty here is the progressive idea that if we just add more school, then our students will just pushed through more school that they aren’t prepared for. In essence, this could (and probably would) lead to lower level schools “passing the buck” and by thinking that the next level will fix them. But, the next level has their own material to cover and therefore has no time to go and re-teach (or, in many cases, teach for the first time) things that should have been gained in the lower levels.
Adding more free school at the higher levels of education doesn’t work if the lower levels already aren’t working. Not every school is failing to do its job, but many are, and the testing scores (regardless of your view of how effective standardized testing is*) show that our students are not getting what they should be, by and large.
Should the president want an education legacy to leave behind that fixes problems and adds new levels of accountability to the education process, he could do one of two things (but he won’t):
- Remove federal
oversightinterference in education across the country.
- In lieu of that, introduce programs and initiatives that reward state-level improvement (not state vs. state, but statewide growth based on well-researched standards**) without enforcing nationwide criteria that do not translate well from state to state.
There is a No. 3, but given the president’s… ah… political philosophies, he most certainly won’t do it: Incentivize the privatization of education, which would force competition and drive public schools to do better.
So, do we need to offer free community college? No. We need to redirect many who simply aren’t cut out for college or university academics to trade schools while also improving lower-level schools to better prepare students for either skills and career training or academic study.
*I oppose it, but as an educator, I accept my fate of having to give them.
**As an aside, Common Core standards, if abolished, will just stay the same, but get a new name. The standards and practices are, in fact, well-researched. The people who write the books we complain about are either idiots or liberals or (shockingly, I know) both. They cannot take the standards and practices and write a successful curriculum around them.
Don’t think I was getting away without a Mohammed comic.