Archive for October 23, 2009

Great Recession caused by sub-standard public education?

Thomas Friedman has a really interesting NYTimes column about education and the cause of the Great Recession this week:

Now that we are picking up the pieces, we need to understand that it is not only our financial system that needs a reboot and an upgrade, but also our public school system. Otherwise, the jobless recovery won’t be just a passing phase, but our future.“Our education failure is the largest contributing factor to the decline of the American worker’s global competitiveness, particularly at the middle and bottom ranges,” argued Martin, a former global executive with PepsiCo and Kraft Europe and now an international investor.

This theme, that we’re particularly ignoring the bottom half (2/3’s?) of our population, occurs again later in the column:

“…the bottom half of the top, those engineers and programmers working on more routine tasks and not actively engaged in developing new ideas or recombining existing technologies or thinking about what new customers want, have done poorly. They’ve been much more exposed to global competitors that make them easily substitutable.”

I have been exploring this theme, that we’re ignoring all-but-the-best students, in my recent blog posts, about how we choose exciting the top students instead of educating all, and about how the movement to on-line education tends to wipe out the bottom half of the student body.  The top students don’t need the phonics of computing education, but those lessons that help students move farther and progress faster could do a lot for the bottom half.

Friedman is also saying that what we are teaching has to change, too.  That’s probably right.  But with 30-50% failure rates in CS1, we are currently not teaching much of anything about computer science to the students in the lower half.  Maybe we should start by helping them succeed in those first classes, so we can get to the entrepeneurship and global thinking that Friedman wants, too.

October 23, 2009 at 12:58 pm 13 comments


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