In my entry of September 24, I mentioned that I had written "Yo Bill Gates, If You're So Rich How Come You Ain't Smart" after his 2005 speech to the National Governors Association and that he was at it again in Parade magazine. Now, as if to say "Anything you can do I can do worser," comes wifey Melinda on the October 6 op-ed page of The Washington Post.
Her essay, which would not get a passing mark in a ninth grade writing class opens like so:
"Number of students who dropped out of high school last year: 1.1 million.
Difference between the lifetime earnings of a high school dropout and a college graduate: $1.5 million.
Of 300 questions asked in presidential candidates debates this year, number that addressed this issue: eight."
Let's start with that last statement and "this issue." What issue? She hasn't mentioned any issues. What on earth is she talking about?
She can't possibly have data on the number of dropouts from "last year." Lordy, I wish we had statistics gathering technology that grabbed the numbers that fast but we don't. According to The Condition of Education 2007, there were about 15,000,000 students enrolled in high school in 2005. A figure of 1.1 million is less than 8%. That actually seems low.
And since the whole article is about high school students, why does she compare the lifetime earnings between high school dropouts and college graduates? Answer: Because the comparisons with high school graduates ain't that dramatic.
Later she continues, "American high school students have some of the worst math skills in the developed world." Well, the last time I looked the 9th and 10th graders in the PISA were outranked by 20 of 28 OECD nations but the average score wasn't that far off, 483 vs, 500. If she's thinking of the earlier TIMSS "Final Year" study, I showed in the May 2000 Educational Researcher that that was an apples to aardvarks set of comparisons. Kids in the different countries differed vastly. When I parsed the numbers for the American students most like their peers in other countries, they were smack in the middle.
"Our country won't be able to address other major issues, such as the economy, the Iraq war, health care or immigration, if our high schools don't adequately prepare the next generation of leaders." This leap of illogic is amazing. At least this sentence indicates that she realizes the Iraq war will go on forever.
"And our schools won't improve until their problems are recognized." Takes my breath away. This sentence leads her into to her major pitch which is for the Strong American Schools campaign organized by her husband and Eli Broad to, in Broad's words, "wake up the American people" about how bad their schools are. Eli Broad is 73 years old. Where on earth has he been during the aftermath of Sputnik, the blaming of schools for the urban riots in the 60's, the putative fall of the SAT, "A Nation at Risk," and the rising tide of reform reports that followed that 1983 booklet?
Strong American Schools is just another fear-mongering device from people who want to control schools and curriculum. They should be ashamed.
But, I guess, being very rich means never having to say you're sorry. Oh, if you're wondering how such an awful piece of work could end up on the Post op-ed page, Melinda Gates is a Director of the Washington Post Co.
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