I am intrigued by the idea of the “sustainability of education.” The quality of education will continue to decline unless steps are taken to sustain it. In my view, we see that decline in, among other things, the growth of easy degree programs, the avalanche of remedial courses, and the overemphasis on the black-white education divide which continues to foster disparity rather than diversity.
To sustain an education climate that allows for an increase in knowledge and research and an uplift of STEM curricula, we need to take some radical steps. We actually need to go “back to the future.” That is, we must bring back tracking. Tracking is the controversial practice of placing students in learning tracks that reflect their varying levels of academic ability. The brightest students are on a high track and the struggling students receive more remedial education. Some students with lower academic aptitude are placed on vocational tracks. Education in Germany uses a strong tracking system.
Tracking may seem to connote “separate but never equal,” but that need not be the case. Pride in being an IT technician or a bricklayer is possible. Students in such training programs need not be discouraged by suffering through mandated remediation to get into “real” college programs. Note that unions will always insure trades-people make a great wage, and technicians will always be employed.
Unfortunately the media will continue to tout the sexy jobs, the white-collar careers that seem to have more prestige. Few stop to consider that a virtually unskilled postal worker makes more than a schoolteacher, and a brick mason more than a high school principal.
Given this attitude of pushback against alternative career choices, schools and colleges must take the first steps:
(a) End open admissions; there is no law against discriminating against students based upon their academic preparation or lack thereof.
(b) Allow students to fail and to be dismissed; alternative training programs can be offered instead.
(c) Recruit education decision-makers who themselves have a solid foundation in the creative and rich arts and sciences, not in vapid education courses. To do otherwise allows the blind to lead the blind and in many cases brings little improvement in teaching and learning.
(d) Do not rely upon testing alone, which can be subject to cultural bias claims, etc.; require personal admission interviews by professionals, not clerks, to insure each individual is given a chance to demonstrate his or her potential.
Sustainability requires nurturing and protecting precious resources. In education, our continued practice of pandering to politically correct constituencies, looking the other way because of race, inflating grades to maintain positive student evaluations and continued faculty employment, will never allow this country to take its place in global leadership. No, we are not getting warmer, only dumber.
Bill Roden has served in higher education as professor, dean, college General Counsel, President and Chancellor. He recently returned from the United Arab Emirates (UAE) where he spearheaded a successful US accreditation effort for campuses of the UAE's Institute of Applied Technology. Bill also retired from the U.S. Army with the rank of Lieutenant-Colonel in the JAG Corps. He currently teaches online for a law school in California and consults for higher education. Email: [email protected].