A college degree ain't what it use to be

Last December, in my post titled “That’s Messed Up!”, I wrote about how broken feedback can explain just about any problem.  Now, I’m going put that to the test on often debated topics in our society – education and healthcare.  I’ll start with education.

I often hear “a college degree ain’t what it use to be.”  Same goes for a high school diploma.  Why?

Schools use to award diplomas to those who mastered the requirements.  The standards were high.  A diploma was a reliable sign that the person was literate, self-driven, able to complete assignments and responsible. 

That’s when grades (i.e. feedback on student performance) were awarded based on the mastery of the material.  To move to the next level you had to pass the previous level.  That isn’t the case anymore.   

While some students gain a lot from education, they share distinctions with too many who were promoted for reasons other than their true academic performance.  And it’s hard to tell these people apart, so the simplest thing to do is to assume the degree means little or nothing.  Of course there are some distinguishers like graduating with honors and winning academic awards, but the diploma itself is too easily had to be of much informational value.

There are many reasons why students receive inflated grades.  All these reasons can be traced back to more feedback problems.  For example, there may be many reasons why teachers give inflated grades (e.g. don’t want to have a tough conversation with a student or parent, believes self-esteem is more important than grades) but the root cause is that administrators allow it by not giving proper feedback either willingly, because the administrator may have the same views on inflated grades as teachers, or unwillingly, because the teachers’ union doesn’t allow behavior changing action to be taken against the teacher giving inflated grades.

Want to fix education?  Fix the feedback problems.  Get rid of grade inflation, fire ineffective teachers and pay great teachers well.  Finally, give schools more power to kick out troublemakers.  To earn the privelege of occupying a desk funded by our tax dollars, we should expect kids to behave in the classroom.  Troublemakers simply should not be tolerated.  Let the parents deal with the brats they created.  

I’ll tackle healthcare in another post.


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