February Gordon Report a new series: “You Can’t Click for Brains”

This new series explores the consequences of failing to recognize that maintaining and advancing computer technology is dependent upon raising the education and skill levels of more Americans. The widespread illusion that your electronic device provides all the data or answers you will ever need is causing many to question the value of obtaining a good education, when, in fact, it is human intelligence that produces technological innovation. If education falters, so eventually will technology.

Part I: “A Ticket to Nowhere”

Claudia Chacon’s two boys attend Fairfax High School in Los Angeles. While they get good grades in English and math on their report cards, she was chagrined to learn that neither of them met grade-level standards in these subjects on California’s state-wide achievement tests. She is worried that their report cards inflate what they actually have learned. Claudia thinks that her sons aren’t fully prepared for college or any other type of post-secondary learning.  Rather than equipping them for the future are they in fact being given a ticket to nowhere?

The Los Angeles Times compared district-wide spring 2022 grades in the city with the results of California’s Smarted Balanced test scores. These findings were reported in a December 22, 2022, article:

73% of 11th-graders received grades of A, B, or C in math; only 19% tested at grade level.
79% of 8th-graders received grades of A. B, or C in math; only 23% tested at grade level.
85% of 6th-graders received grades of A, B, or C in English; only 40% tested at grade level.
82% of 7th-graders received grades of A. B. or C in English, and only 43% tested at grade level.

It appears that report card grades are a smokescreen hiding serious gaps in student learning skills and knowledge. Los Angeles it not an outlier; grade inflation is rampant throughout the United States. Social promotion or advancing students by age rather than through achieving appropriate grade-level academic attainment has become common in U.S. elementary and secondary schools.

What does this mean for the overall state of education across America? Our public and private schools are central to developing the critical education mass need to support the skill demands of the Fourth Industrial Revolution.

A Persisting Problem

Forty years ago, President Ronald Reagan’s administration produced a report entitled “The Nation at Risk.” It warned that U.S. schooling was producing “a rising tide of mediocrity.” Has anything really changed?

Since 1990 the U.S. Department of Education has conducted the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) commonly called the Nation’s Report Card. It tests 4th, 8th, and 12th grade students in core academic subjects at 13,600 public and private schools in all 50 states. From 1990 to 2022 most student test scores have been flat or rising very slowly. In reading and math, only 33 to 37 percent of U.S. students are at or above their appropriate grade level. This means that about 66 percent of students are not meeting grade-level standards in reading and math. This was true even before COVID-19 closed most schools across the nation. The 2022 NAEP testing of 4th and 8th graders in reading and math showed scores declined in both subjects at both grade levels. A Stanford University report estimated that learning losses could lower current students’ income over their lifetime by as much as 6 percent.

All of these test results indicate that a significant proportion of U.S. students are not equipped for success in any type of post-secondary education including certificate or apprenticeship programs, and 2- or 4-year college degrees. Annually about 67 percent of high school graduates enroll in these programs However, only about 33 percent graduate.

 Higher Education Dysfunction

Our colleges and universities are facing a demographic decline in the number of students at the traditional age for beginning college studies. Therefore, the competition to enroll and retain students has become more intense especially because federal funding is linked to enrollment in credit-earning courses. For the past 40 years, most colleges and universities offered remedial reading, writing, and math programs to help poorly prepared students gain the skill levels needed for the successful completion of college-credit courses. As federal funding does not cover remedial courses, some institutions have curtailed or eliminated them which means that such students are now immediately enrolled in credit courses.

Our informal survey of college professors across the country indicates that many of these students are failing in entry-level courses. Often college administrators are pressuring professors to pass the students with a D-grade so they continue to pursue studies at that institution. Also, courses are being dumbed down due to skill deficiencies.

What We Face Today and Tomorrow

The degrading of educational standards at the K-12 and post-secondary levels is having profound consequences. Employers in many types of industries are reporting that finding people with the skills needed to fill their vacant jobs is their greatest problem. At the same time, there is a significant number of people aged 18 to 65 who are not employed or seeking employment. Often in localities where the unemployment level is high, there is an elevated level of criminal activity. Better education of students and training in the workplace is not a total solution to these issues. However, people with poor educational preparation or no opportunity to be retrained with the skills needed for new technologies often give up hope for a better future.

In his seminal book, Future Shock, Allen Toffler warned us about this problem. He predicted that the hardest part of adapting to major technological change will be a societal acceptance of the need for higher educational standards. We have now reached that crossroads.

Gordon,EdwardAbout the Author:

Edward E. Gordon is the founder and president of Imperial Consulting Corporation in Chicago. His firm’s clients have included companies of all sizes from small businesses to Fortune 500 corporations, U.S. government agencies, state governments, and professional/trade associations. He taught in higher education for 20 years and is the author of numerous books and articles. More information on his background can be found at  www.imperialcorp.com. As a professional speaker, he is available to provide customized presentations on contemporary workforce issues.


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