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The Big Con in Education: Why must "all" high school graduates be prepared for college?

Susan Notes: The Big Con in Education is the shocking exposé that details how public schools are used as convenient scapegoats for social and economic woes—-woes perpetuated not in schoolyards, but in the halls of Congress and in the boardrooms of the Fortune 500.

Author Dennis W. Redovich debunks leading business and political interests who blame economic problems on an inadequate workforce, claiming that schools are not educating children with the life skills needed in the twenty-first century. Using the United States government’s own statistics, The Big Con in Education uncovers the lies trumpeted in the media about the serious shortage of “skilled workers” and the subsequent economic decline. It also illustrates a lack of credible rationale to claim that all students need to take higher-level courses in academic subjects to prepare to enter the workforce. Redovich contends that supply-side education and training does not produce high-paying jobs any more than does failed supply-side economics.

The Big Con in Education documents the hype, propaganda, and hypocrisy big business and political propagandists dish out in a war against public education. Redovich offers his views on the important facts concerning the reality of the job situation that faces the country.

$15.95 Format: Paperback

Pages: 174
ISBN: 0-595-35782-2
Published: Jul-2005

Foreword By Gerald W. Bracey

"It's better to know nothing than to know what ain't so," said the 19th Century American humorist, Josh Billings. In the realm of education and especially in the realm of k-12 public schools, many people know an immense number of things that ain't so. In this book, Dennis Redovich lays out a few of the things that people think they know, shows that they ain't so and reveals what there actually is to know.

Washington Post ombudsman, Richard Harwood once noted, studies indicate that 70 to 90 percent of what journalists write is what people in positions of authority tell them to write. Under pressure of deadlines, very few journalists get past the press release and read the full report on which the release is based. Often, the report puts a particular spin on statistics, a spin that favors the views of those who are putting out the report. Thus, a press release on the evaluation of Pennsylvania charter schools that issued from then-Governor Tom Ridge and then-secretary of education Eugene Hickok , both big fans of and advocates for charters, painted a glowing picture of charters that had been opened longest. The full report, though, revealed that there were only two such charters in the entire state.

Far too often, misleading or just plain wrong statistics get enshrined in our mythology. "A Nation at Risk" tightly yoked test scores to the economic health of the nation. Many subsequent reports have followed suit. A few examples of headlines of various international comparisons in math and science tests: "An 'F' in World Competition" (Newsweek, February 17, 1992); "An Economic Time Bomb (Wall Street Journal, December 7, 2004), "Math + Test = Trouble for the U. S. Economy" (Christian Science Monitor, December 7, 2004). The scare quality of such statements is enhanced if they come from someone well known. Microsoft founder, Bill Gates, addressed the governors' Education Summit in 2005 and said "When I compare our high schools to what I see when I'm, traveling, I am terrified for our workforce of tomorrow." Mr. Gates did not seem to realize that his hosts no doubt take him to exceptional schools-he does not get to see typical schools.

And yet, in its 2004-2005 Global Competitiveness Report, the World Economic Forum found the United States' economy resting in the same place it has for years: first, among the 104 ranked nations.

Redovich brings the needed skepticism to the statistical claims surrounding jobs and the economy. For years, we have been deluged with claims about how technology is revolutionizing jobs, that all of the new jobs are "high skill, high tech." "A Nation at Risk" wrung its hands over the fact that "We are raising a new generation of Americans that is scientifically and technologically illiterate." In 2000, the National Commission on Mathematics and Science Teaching for the 21st Century, headed by former astronaut and former Senator, John Glenn, carried the hysterical title, "Before It's Too Late". In the report's foreword's closing sentence "before it's too late" appeared in red ink. In 2005 Bill Gates, as noted above, acted terrified. Redovich's statistical analyses suggest that the operative word in the last sentence might be "acted."

It is true that technology is revolutionizing many jobs and, in many, perhaps most instances, it is making them easier. It is also true that many jobs that pay living wages do require advanced skills. The problem that the Bill Gates of the world refuses to acknowledge is that these jobs don't hire many people. Most jobs the economy is creating are low-skill, service sector jobs. Wal-Mart trumps Microsoft. Redovich documents this in great detail. The statistics are there for anyone to see, but the John Glenns and the Bill Gates didn't bother to look.

One of the myths that Redovich demolishes that education in and of itself produces jobs. If this were true, then why were there long lines of Indian software engineers lining up for green cards in the 1990s? Indian families had encouraged children, especially sons, to become engineers and this produced a glut. India still isn't producing the jobs for all those engineers, but today information technology has become so mobile that the Indian engineers no longer need so many green cards-many of the jobs come to them. But those jobs were not produced by Indian education. They were produced by the Great American Jobs Machine. Indeed, one wonders what the Indian government was thinking letting so many people get advanced degrees with so few jobs for them to apply their skills at. A large cadre of well-educated, unemployed people is as good a starter-batch for social unrest as any.

America has been sold on the myth that education is useful only to maintain our hegemonic economic dominance in the world. The most enthusiastic supporters of No Child Left Behind (NCLB) are the 200 members of the Business Roundtable (BRT). The BRT sees NCLB as a means of building a workforce that sees reading as information processing, not as an enjoyable experience. The BRT sees NCLB as producing the limited skills it needs in the workforce in the future. The production also includes inculcating docility to authority, but the BRT doesn't talk about that. In fact, the beneficiaries of NCLB are not children-NCLB is virulently anti-child-but the huge multinationals that produce the curricula that the schools must adopt, that produce the tests that the schools must administer, and who produce the "Supplemental Educational Services" to compensate for schools' alleged shortcomings.

The day that this was written President George W. Bush proposed large cuts in Medicare, something that benefits poor people, and large tax cuts that benefit the affluent. Redovich skewers this kind of greed and selfishness which he calls "weapons of mass destruction of education." Read this book, The Big Con in Education carefully.

Gerald W. Bracey is an independent researcher and writer in Alexandria, Virginia with a part-time affiliation with George Mason University, Fairfax, Virginia. His most recent books are Setting the Record Straight: Responses to Misconceptions About Public Education in the U. S., Second Edition, (Heinemann, 2004), and On the Death of Childhood and the Destruction of Public Schools (Heinemann, 2003). He has written a monthly column translating research into language accessible to the general public in Phi Delta Kappan since 1984.

— Dennis W. Redovich
The Big Con in Education



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