"A child's learning is the function more of the characteristics of his classmates than those of the teacher." James Coleman, 1972

Saturday, January 21, 2006

From Sobering to Bleak

It is now a little over 24 hours since AIR released findings on literacy among college students, and the media’s emotional response ranges from “sobering” to “disturbing” to “bleak.” The original AP Feller piece has worked its magic so that now the impression is cemented that colleges are going to hell in a hand basket that will, no doubt, require some remedial action or accountability plan to correct what is obviously a breakdown in civilization, itself.

Let’s take a sober look at some of the findings and see if we can get as lathered up as the media by AIR’s own self-serving emphases and by the paid spinners who helped Feller write his piece that has now been picked up worldwide as fact. And let’s start with the worst news in the study, which has to do with quantitative literacy. This is how it is presented in the study, itself:
Students in 2- and 4-year colleges struggled the most with quantitative literacy. Approximately 30 percent of students in 2-year institutions and 20 percent of students in 4-year institutions have Basic or below quantitative literacy (p. 25).
Yes, that is not good. For someone with my own issues in terms of mathematical literacy, I realize that is not good. Looking closer, however, I notice that 29 percent of students in 4-year institutions are at basic and actually only, actually, only 1 percent below basic in quantitative literacy. Likewise, 19 percent of students in 2-year institutions are at basic, with only 1 percent below basic.

Still bad, though. But does this mean that things are getting worse in the area of quantitative literacy in colleges, as the breathless bleakness in the new stories indicate? The answer is emphatically no, and this, again, is based on the finding of the study, itself. When, in fact, current college quantitative literacy rates are compared to other American adults who hold college degrees, there is no significant statistical difference—except that the percentage of “below basic” students in 4-year institutions now is at 1 percent, compared to 4 percent for other adults with college degrees at the below basic level. If there is any trend, then, in quantitative literacy, this small improvement in the below basic category is the only statistically-significant difference.

There is, in fact, more good news than bad in the study, but somehow the media has chosen, with the help of paid spinners, to disregard it entirely. I wonder why?
Stay tuned.

1 comment:

  1. Jim,

    Is it possible that the literacy issues are directly connected to the bad pedagogical strategies implemented and associated with the testing craze?

    Sharon (my friend from Australia) told me that the teachers in her daughter's elementary school hate the curriculum and don't believe it is good for the students in terms of reading, math, basic skills, etc. but they can't do anything about it.

    So, interesting observation. The very solutions they want to implement, more testing and accountability on the college level goes hand in hand with the stupid policies at K-12.

    This way college kids won't be able to think either. That's got to stop. Once they get rid of all those liberal professors - it should be a lot easier.