05 September 2011 by Published in: rants No comments yet

From the chart below, 78% of what specific group agree that their school does a good job of encouraging
parental involvement in educational areas?

If you’re a regular reader of this blog, you can presumably answer this question without any difficulty.  It may surprise you to learn that answering this question correctly puts you in the top 36% of brightest American adults, because 64% of U.S. adults are unable to answer this question.  No, seriously.  Most of the country cannot read a chart.

In fact, according to NCES, less than 15% of U.S. adult have “proficient” English literacy, where “proficient” includes such advanced tasks as: “comparing viewpoints in two editorials”, “interpreting a table about blood pressure, age, and physical activity”, and “computing and comparing the cost per ounce of food items.”  I didn’t hand-pick those examples, that’s the complete list.  Forget understanding the political process, most Americans can’t even shop for groceries or read the newspaper.

Not scared yet?  Less than 31% of college graduates are proficient, and less than 41% of those who have done postgraduate work are proficient.

In other words, our educational system is not blighted.  It’s not troubled.  It’s totally worthless.  You pay $36k at the cheapest[1] to go to college and you graduate with a <31% chance of being able to shop for groceries.  But forget higher education for just a moment.  Washington DC pumps $300k into a child’s K-12 education for a 6% shot at that child being proficient.  In other words, it takes $5 million dollars to produce a proficient high school graduate.  For the same cost to produce a proficient high school graduate, you could buy 10,000 iPads.  Creating 3500 proficient high school graduates is as much money as funding NASA for one year.  The comparison is more than incidental; for the cost to educate one highschooler to proficiency, we could send seven children into low-earth orbit. [2]

And nobody’s talking about it.  We talk about “troubled” inner-city schools and the higher education “bubble”.  We talk about whether or not No Child Left Behind was a bad idea, whether teachers are union fat cats or not.  Maybe the Khan Academy will save us all.  Maybe we can have long, drawn-out editorial wars about whether or not a 5% spending cut on education is in order, whether we need to do a couple of things to get kids excited about math and science again so we can “compete with China”.  At no point in this “discussion” does anyone point out that 85% of Americans are functionally illiterate, that none of this is going to cut it, and that the building’s on fire.

And I do mean “at no point.”  Google News gives us nothing.  A Google search period turns up some 1,300 pages which cite the study, most of which are other studies.  The matter is completely absent from our discourse.  But I guess it wouldn’t do much good; even if there were an editorial about it, only 15% of the population would be able to read it.

Although the entire question set is fascinating reading, let me leave you with just one more.  Try to guess the spoiler text.

Suppose that you want to carpet your living room which is 9 feet by 12 feet, and you purchase DuPont Stainmaster carpet at the sale price. Using the calculator, compute the total cost, excluding tax and labor, of exactly enough carpet to cover your living room floor.

Less than 18 percent of Americans answered this question correctly.

In other news, I have finally figured out why there are so many ridiculous iPhone ad postings on Craigslist.  The answer has something to do with the thesis of this blog post.  Can you work out what it is?  If so, congratulations, you are not part of the problem.  If you have no idea what I’m talking about, well, I’m sure if you write a few more ads you’ll eventually be a millionaire.  Worked for that Zuckerberg guy.


[1] 4544 * 8 semesters, http://nces.ed.gov/fastfacts/display.asp?id=372

[2] Assuming a Western-origin medium-sized rocket (http://www.futron.com/upload/wysiwyg/Resources/Whitepapers/Space_Transportation_Costs_Trends_0902.pdf), we can afford about 1000 lbs on our $5 million budget, and according to this the average 18-year-old is about 145 pounds. If we are a little careless with the safety rates, we could send them up on cheap rockets for 40% of the cost.

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