As a former college professor, dean, provost, and vice-president, I am familiar with the problem of high school graduates being unprepared for college or the workplace. This, unfortunately, is a widespread problem that just seems to get worse and worse. In fact, America’s community colleges do a booming business providing college-preparatory courses in reading, math, and writing for high school graduates who should have developed these skills before applying for college admission but didn’t. Consequently, a recent headline in The Washington Times attracted my interest: “Data: High School Students Not Ready to Handle College.” The article by Ben Wolfgang began with this disturbing paragraph: “The vast majority of the nation’s 2012 high school graduates aren’t ready for college, and SAT reading scores have plummeted to their lowest level in four decades…”
Those familiar with this issue know there are numerous intertwined and overlapping reasons why American high school graduates are not prepared for college or the workplace. One reason is that leftwing indoctrination has supplanted teaching and learning as the overall thought unstated purpose of public education. Another reason is that liberals do not want young people to be able to read, write, compute, and think critically—it makes them harder to mislead. Yet another reason is that the development of academic discipline has been replaced by a focus on building self-esteem in students—a trend that has made hurting a student’s feelings by giving him honest feedback about sloppy, unacceptable work something akin to a capital crime.
There are many reasons for the poor state of public education in America, but in this column I will focus on one of the most disturbing of them: unqualified minority teachers who are given a “pass” in college by affirmative action advocates and, as a result, have to cheat in order to pass their teacher certification tests. Then, as teachers who lack both content mastery and fundamental teaching skills, they face the dilemma of being evaluated in part by how well their students perform on nationally-normed high school tests. This was one of the most contentious issues in the recent teacher strike in Chicago. Teachers’ unions did not want student performance to be part of teacher evaluations, for what should be obvious reasons.
What are teachers who can barely read, write, and compute themselves who were, in essence, given their college degrees by misguided liberal professors and who had to cheat to pass their teacher certification exams supposed to do when, predictably, their students perform poorly on high school tests? The answer is simple. They do what any cheater would do: cheat. More accurately, what they do is help their students cheat and the cycle of ignorance and incompetence continues. According to U.S. News & World Report, this is precisely what is happening in a surprising number of school systems across America—particularly big city school systems.
U.S. News & World Report carried a story titled “Educators Implicated in Atlanta Cheating Scandal.” The story revealed that for more than 10 years public school teachers and administrators had padded the scores of students on state-mandated assessments by reading the answers aloud during tests and even changing answers after students had submitted their tests. This was no isolated occurrence. Investigations revealed similar cheating scandals in Philadelphia, Houston, New York, Detroit, Los Angeles, and Washington, D.C.
Recently a new scandal was uncovered. It seems that teacher education majors in Arkansas, Mississippi, and Tennessee hatched an ingenious plot for passing their teacher certification exams: they hired someone to take the exam for them. For just $1,500, a teacher wannabe could send a proxy to take his or her certification exam. The “agent” who arranged the proxies has since been caught and indicted.
What makes this scandalous situation even sadder is that a well-taught sixth grader could pass the teacher certification exam used in most states.
Any individual who cannot pass a teacher certification test should not have gotten out of high school much less college and certainly should not be a teacher. I asked a public school teacher to describe the hardest math question she had to complete on her teacher certification exam. She said the toughest question required her to add two fractions: ½ plus ¼. Then she said that more than half of the teacher candidates taking the test with her could not manage this simple computation. And we wonder why high school students are not prepared for college.