Undernews is the online report of the Progressive Review, edited by Sam Smith, who has covered Washington during all or part of one quarter of America's presidencies and edited alternative journals since 1964. The Review has been on the web since 1995. See main page for full contents

March 2, 2009


Gerald Bracey, Huffington Post - Obama said [in his speech to Congress], "Right now, three quarters of the fastest-growing occupations require more than a high school diploma, and yet just over half of our citizens have that level of education." Scary, huh? Not really. This statistic was a favorite of ex secretary of education of education Margaret Spellings. . .

There are two hugely compromising factors that make this statistic much less fearsome that it first appears:

1. The definition of "more than a high school diploma" is a weasel phrase, an incredibly slippery statistic. It does not mean a B. A., an Associates Degree, nor even a year of on- the-job training. The BLS projects that the overwhelming majority of jobs to be created between now and 2016 will require "short term on the job training." That's one week to three months.

2. The "fastest-growing occupations" account for very few jobs. For every systems engineer, we need about 15 sales people on the floor at Wal-Mart (and we have three newly minted scientists and engineers for every new job in those fields). The huge job numbers in this country are accounted for by retail sales, janitors, maids, food workers, waiters, truck drivers, home care assistants (low paid folk who come to take care those of us who are getting up in years), and similar low-trained, low-paid occupations. . .

Because test scores no longer work to prove American school failure, the statistic of choice to prove what a lousy job we're doing is the graduation rate. . . The dropout rates across nations are, so far as I can tell, incomparable, since secondary school programs in other nations range from two to five years. In other nations, once students finish the equivalent of 8th grade, they are tracked into vocational, technical or pre-college programs whereas American students go to comprehensive high schools (although, as we all know, there is plenty of informal tracking within those). . .

The World Economic Forum, and the Institute for Management Development, two Swiss think tanks, rate the U. S. as the most globally competitive nation in the world, IMD using 50+ nations, WEF, 135. What things will look like when their new rankings emerge from the current catastrophe this fall is hard to say. But looking at tests, high-scoring Iceland is an economic basket case. High-scoring France is on strike. And even higher-scoring Japan, the idol that "A Nation At Risk" prostrated itself to in 1983 because its test scores surely ensured economic prosperity, endured a "lost decade" of recession starting around 1990 and, in 2007 was in recession once again. Japan's students still ace tests. When will we ever learn?


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