Monday, January 23, 2012

UW Admissions and Failing K-12 Education

A week ago there was an article in the Seattle Times describing a large drop in applicants to the UW this year.  Considering that other WA State schools have not seen a similar decline and all state colleges are experiencing essentially the same tuition increases, why are UW applications down? 

Could it be the incessant articles and editorials by the Seattle Times about how the UW is turning down strong applicants to let in more out of state students?  How about this Seattle Times headline last spring:

 "Why straight-A's may not get you into the UW this year"

which suggested that
"High-school seniors with top test scores didn't get in.
Students who got into more prestigious schools were wait-listed at the UW.
Valedictorians with straight-A's were denied admission, while out-of-state students with lower grades were accepted."

The truth is that this story was essentially false--I knew this since I had a long talk with the UW Dean of Admissions about it, was well as being undergrad adviser in my department for over a decade.

The truth is that the UW does not reject strong students:  those with a combination of good grades, high board scores, challenging classes, and good recommendations (honor applicants only).  Straight A students with lower board scores, easy classes, or other negatives may be rejected, but that is to be expected at the State's flagship school and one of the top 20 universities in the world according to some evaluations. In a day of extreme grade inflation, an A average does not mean what it used to be.  The average GPA of incoming UW freshman is A-.

I believe this kind of irresponsible journalism has harmed the UW unnecessarily.


(Parenthetical note:  my mentioning the problems with this ST article on KUOW is what led to me being kicked off that station.  Irony Alert: Kicked off of KUOW Weekday defending the UW on the UW radio station, because I was worried about damage to the UW that actually occurred)

Another thing the ST got wrong was the quality of the out-of-state students:  they are generally HIGHER than in-state applicants.  Better grades and board scores, for example. (Let me make it clear, many WA State students are very strong).

Now the controversial part of this blog!  Is is REALLY a bad thing if we let in more out of state students?   

Yes, they help pay the bills by helping support in-state students.  In other words, the UW can admit more in-state students if more out-of-state students are admitted.

Let me be frank, there are quite a few UW students who don't belong here.  Whose seats would be better filled with out-of-state students.  It is distressing to admit, that a good number of UW freshmen (perhaps the lower 10-15%) do not have college-level skills.   They can't do basic algebra or middle school math (many can't even do long division or fractions).  Their spelling and writing are atrocious--unable to write coherent sentences. Their student habits are deficient, including poor attendance and note taking.  They have poor research skills and have difficulty working independently.  Some have poor attitudes and clearly would rather be some place else.

Many of them have little hope of success at the UW and a significant number drop out, or shuffle their way through their college career with marginal grades and no direction.  They leave the UW little better for the experience.   For many, the problems are not of their making:  their preparation in our state's K-12 system was so poor that they had little chance.  And the problems of poor K-12 preparation is particularly acute in technological subjects that require strong math and science skills.  Several times I have had a tearful undergraduate in my room, who desperately wanted to be a meteorologist, but had to give up their dream because their math preparation in K-12 was so poor that they could not make it up in a reasonable time.

So I ask, why not accept the creme-of-the-crop of out of state students to replace the lowest tier of UW applicants?   Many will develop a liking for our state and decide to stay here, thus enriching our state's employment pool. 

Outrageous you say?  Well folks, our country is doing just this in a major way. U.S. K-12 education is weak, particularly in math and science.   Ever check out the student demographics in engineering and technical subjects in our colleges and universities?  Or the ranks of the faculty in technical areas? They are filled with the foreign born.  Why? Our country is incapable of training enough technically skilled young people to keep our 21st century nation running, so we DEPEND on foreign imports.  Without them our society would fall into 3rd world technological status.   When I go to meetings on meteorological data assimilation, probably the most mathematically intense subject in my field, I muse that they might as well have the presentations in Chinese, there are so few native Americans in the room.   Check the faculty of the UW Statistics department--how many were born in the U.S.?  Not many.  The problem is the the U.S. can't keep this approach going indefinitely:  as China and India develop, their students will not want to come here anymore.  And then we will be in real trouble! We need to be insure our own students get the best education and are capable of filling our needs for a technically trained work force.

What is happening to WA State and U.S. student is really a tragedy for them and our society. We need to turn around U.S. K-12 education, particularly in mathematics and science.  And it is quite possible to do so, perhaps even spending less money than we do now.  Groups like the Gates Foundation, League of Education Voters, and the Broad Foundation have good intentions but they are pushing ineffective, unproven and faddish approaches such as charter schools, Teach for America, micromanaging teachers, and fixation on assessments, and they don't base their approaches on empirically proven methodologies.  They are part of the problem, not the solution.

In a future blog I provide some concrete suggestions of how we can improve our state's K-12 educational system.  Some points I will make:

1.  We need strong curricula that include all important material.  Curricula must insure students have the skills and knowledge to succeed in college, if that is what they want to do.
2.  We need to reduce use of obscenely expensive textbooks and materials.
3.   We need to insure teachers know the subjects they teach and then get out of their way.
4.  We need to spend less on assessments.
5.  We need not waste 300 million dollars on new, unproven Common Core Standards.
6.  Colleges of education are generally failing institutions that need to be restructured with more training on subject matter and how to teach effectively, and less social engineering.
7.  Decisions on curricula and teaching approaches must be based on robust research using modern statistical techniques, something nearly absent in the U.S. educational community.

...and more.

53 comments:

Anna said...

Interesting post. I agree with most of your recommendations for education reform in Washington state, and in particular #3. I truly believe we'd have a stronger education system if we let teachers simply teach.

My question, though, is how #7 would work. How would you test curricula to see if it was "effective?" Personally, I believe that effective curricula is curricula that relates to the lives of students -- who in our schools, increasingly come from multicultural backgrounds. What measurements would you use to "test" curricula?

TrickyCoolJ said...

Professor Mass, your statement about the tearful undergrad rings so true. Plenty of my own tears filled up Drumheller Fountain after running from Bagley Hall with yet another midterm that would seal my fate of never getting into Engineering. Now I just make budget analysis charts for Engineers envying the cool projects they get to work on... I cannot applaud your efforts to bring awareness to our broken K-12 system enough.

Colbert for FCC said...

Cliff, four or five years ago, UW's tuition was on par with other state universities -- when I enrolled at WWU in 2005, tuition was the same for both schools. Presently, however, UW's tuition is approximately $4,000 more per year than WWU.

It's true that everyone's tuition is increasing; it's simply untrue that it is increasing at the same rates.

I suspect UW has also traditionally attracted a large number of in-state applicants from areas outside Seattle; is there any way you could check and see if the number of in-state applicants from outside the Seattle metro area has fallen more significantly than other demographics? It could be that overall applications are down for WA students, but that UW is more significantly impacted because more students are opting to stay near Bellingham and Ellensburg and Cheney. I don't have any data to back this up, but it wouldn't surprise me.

It's a good point you make about out-of-state students, though. I don't have any data on-hand for UW, but my department alumni newsletter from WWU last year indicated that the average spending per undergraduate at WWU is $14,000 or so. (Of note: The average spending per student has remained stable for the last two decades. State funding per student has declined significantly in the same period.) Non-residents at WWU are paying about $18,000 per year in tuition and fees, so there's actual profit there, which can be reinvested into in-state students.

Tim Byrne said...

I agree generally. The problem is not that UW admits too many non-residents. The problem is that the residents of WA that UW shouldn't admit don't have enough other resources. If they don't belong at UW then they belong somewhere else, and the state should shift resources away from UW and shift them towards those institutions where our residents do belong.

lhsouthern said...

my husband is a 9-12 english and he is teaching a rigorous curriculum. He and the other english teacher are bring the scores up every year. But retaining good teachers is another story: he pays 1091 for insurance and TAKES HOME 1900.00 a month after 15 years of teaching!

Speaking of the UW: Our 17 yo, who is in her 2d year of calculus, and has a 3.8 GPA, had considered the UW after a year at Centralia College, but I will not let her even apply: its WSU-Pullman all the way!!!

David J. Lund said...

Cliff, You're right about K-12 preparation, but wrong about admissions. Our son had good grades, with a full IB diploma (with good IB Math and Physics exams), very high SAT scores, championship athlete, and he was wait-listed by UW. Today he is on the President's list at a private college East of the mountains. With academic grants that makes the cost same as UW.

Yet you say there are kids admitted who are uninterested and unprepared. It makes no sense. Something is messed up with UW admissions.

Eric said...

I applaud your efforts to bring this issue to light. For too long local school districts, state legislators, and federal authorities have remained obdurate when it comes to reform and the emphasis that needs to be placed on maths and sciences in preparation for higher education. When I was living in Seattle and deciding where to take my pre-medical requisites--in preparation for a career change--I was set on attending UW given their outstanding record in science academics and research. However, I found that the school does not place post-bachelor students in priority positions (understandably so, but that is another matter) and I would have been required to wait list every class I wanted to take, potentially taking years longer than anticipated to fulfill my required sequences. This means that a sample of the 10% that you referred to as unprepared, incoming freshman would be taking a seat that I would have jumped at the opportunity to sit in. Granted, like some of these freshman we speak of, nearly ten years ago when I was a freshman in college my levels of motivation and my drive for success were less than acceptable and several state universities away I was one of these students. Several years removed from my undergraduate degree however, I tested high in the GRE and came prepared with a clear statement of purpose that underlines my tenacity to succeed in my current pursuit. Again, I feel I would have been a positive addition to the undergraduate science courses at UW, much like I am in their counterparts I now inhabit elsewhere.

I digress though. I wish to shift the conversation a bit and ask, should we place more emphasis on developing stronger junior colleges and community colleges to feed into public universities? Certainly it seems as though a portion of the lower 10% could benefit from two years in a smaller atmosphere where they could potentially "catch-up" to their peers. By doing so would we be able to free up more space for freshmen and yes, even non-trads, who have the marks while allowing the opportunity for these bottom 10% students to gain a foothold in the higher education climb? I absolutely agree with your prescriptions for an ailing K-12 system that keys up "reforms" that time and time again strike out. And you're correct, college preparation is entirely predicated on the quality of the K-12 system, one that often fails promising underprivileged students.

To say that UW admissions are pandering to budget demands is erroneous and reaching at best. Admissions aren't a perfect science, and there is something very worrying with imagining a state-school who only admits students native to the state. These "rejected" students with straight-As and valedictorian credentials will receive a good college education one way or another whether it be at UW or elsewhere. What is more concerning is whether their high school classmates will.

Scott said...

I couldn't agree more, Cliff. As a graduate of the UW's Computer Science department, with plenty of Electrical Engineering as well, it's easy to say Americans are only about 50% of the class (2004 graduation). And it doesn't bother me; I don't care where someone came from, so long as they earned their spot, which foreign students are doing a better job of.

I am now a software engineer in Seattle, and let me tell you, easily half of my colleagues and most of my management comes from India. And they absolutely are well trained for those positions.

How does it happen? I have a few ideas. My high school had amazing teachers in English, History, Spanish, and Physics. We had really, really bad math teachers. Also, in the district I graduated from (Lake Washington), you are only required to take math through your sophomore year. This is changing, but the requirement is still to only reach Algebra II. Two years of science (which includes biology) is all that is required. Compare that to 4 years of Language Arts and 3 years of Social Studies. I find all of these subjects are certainly important, but really, we need to be producing more engineers, scientists and mathematicians.

LWSD requirements:
http://www.lwsd.org/SiteCollectionDocuments/For-Parents/Graduation-Requirements-Classes-2011-2014.pdf

MaryAnn K said...

I have two thoughts about points made in your post:

(1) If the UW has such high admissions standards, how did some of these under-performing types get in in the first place?

(2)Your comments re what needs to be improved in the school system may be valid, but one point you didn't mention is that you can't control for unmotivated students!

Education and high standards begin at home. Americans expect too much for too little effort. Compared to people in most other countries, we appear lazy and self-satisfied. Not a PC attitude, but I think it's true.

Waldorf school mama said...

I am glad to see someone in your position taking a firm and honest stance on our pathetic public school system. Good teachers, and there are plenty of them in the public schools, are crippled by the testing that they are forced to do on their students. Anna asked about, "How would you test curricula to see if it was "effective?" " Any teacher worth their salt knows exactly where each child in their class stands in each academic area. If we take all the funding there is for the useless tests and earmark that for smaller classrooms and remedial work, you would start seeing vast improvements.
Check out Waldorf Education, it's been on the cover of the NY Times lately, it has a 98% rate of grads moving on to college. They graduate was strong, independent thinkers. Not as sheep.
On another note, I had a good chuckle when I read about LA calling us cry babies over last week's snow and then they got all freaked out over 1/4 to 1/3 inch of rain in the forecast. I think the sun has gone to their heads.
LOVE your blog Cliff. Thank you.

Jarv said...

It is the Nordstrom's approach which many local school systems have adapted. The consumer is always correct. They will get their A even if they didn't earn it. That approach is determined by the administrators. It makes their jobs easier.
This problem is not driven by the teacher that is dealing with over 150 students a day. Think about that number. How many people will you have transactions with today much less educate, inspire, and keep out of harm's way?

codetalker said...

Blah, Blah, Blah, We only educate the best and brightest at the college level so let us then continue doing it at the grade school level. Like two hot sweaty co-eds convinced they are the best looking things on two legs the UW is churning out row after row of the same person. Don't get me wrong. I don't want the UW handing out degrees to morons but I sure wouldn't mind the UW letting in a few. Why does the system have to be completed in 4 years or 6 or whatever. You can insert your own name here of people who wouldn't stand a chance in hell getting into the UW and yet would actually make it a better place and perhaps even benefit from the education. Oh, yeah. Novel idea benefit people with an education. Waste of time educating kids in middle school who won't go to college. We should follow the example of the UW and not education stupid people in grade school. All children who posses low intelligence should be given airfare and job with Foxconn. For us here in Washington State an education is only for special people who iron their underwear and are really good at working in a cubicle. Like dogs fixated on a bone they fit a mold. I for one want a system that allows advanced education for every resident who seeks it. I'm not advocating giving people a free pass, we already do that for the best and brightest those who fit the mold. I'm advocating given all people a chance. How about instead of letting in just the best and brightest of Washington we let in some of the other Washington.

Ron said...

Dr. Mass, one of your statements I agree with the most is "stop throwing money at the problem." I hear that all the time: "K-12 schools need more money." Really? Are non-U.S. schools rolling in dough? Is that the difference?

When I hear of declining test/performance scores of US students, I have to ask myself "what has changed?" You certainly cite great points about curricula, teaching skills, and the like. Another thing that has changed is the home life. We ask WAY too much of teachers to act as parents today. Our parents disciplined and motivated us when it came to school. Today's US society rarely does either. Meanwhile non-US cultures continue to place a high value on education. That to me is one huge difference that is rarely discussed.

Glenn said...

Slow weather day, eh Cliff?

Nice rant though; my older kids started complaining about the WA state system while in middle school. They thought too many kids weren't there to learn, and the teachers didn't have enough time for the kids that wanted to learn.

Enoch said...

I agree that the fixation on assessments is wrong. The money could be better spent in providing more quality classroon time, with perhaps fewer students per teacher.

I would like to see a return to a more classical education. Remember Marva Collins? She taught, with success, poor inner-city minority school children. She taught a classical curriculum.

Part of the problem, too, IMO, is that our young people, especially boys, tend to be fixated on playing online games, and often to the point that the online universe is far more intersting than the real world. I think that in being a bit too materialistic, we Americans don't focus on education as we should.

I think we can all remember the stories that our grandparents and great-grandparents told of having to walk to school in the snow, for a long distance, and that school was actually a nice break from chores that they had to do at home, as our society depended on children helping out back then. Not so anymore.

Also, we can look to the achievements of those who had little formal education, yet became successful anyway, such as Florence Nightingale, Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Alva Edison, George Washington, and many others. And remember that Albert Einstein was a high school dropout. But he was finally accepted to a university based on his math abilities alone.

My youngest son is student at the UW, in his junior year. However, he applied to the Foster School of Business last quarter, but didn't make it in, even though he had good test scores. The FSB is very competitive. He'll be transferring up to WWU in Bellingham next quarter to finish his business degree, which will be fine.

a progressive crank said...

Interesting to read this the night before schools are forced to close for a half-day furlough. The people's deputies in Olympia own some of this, for not finding a way to fund education consistently and reliably.

To reply to a couple of comments here from my own experience (I have been where TrickyCoolJ is, as my own lack of mathematics skill kept me out of engineering):
• How do lackluster students get through the admissions process? When that process can gauge attitude and predict how a student will do in a completely new living arrangement, it might be a reliable predictor. But for many students, the increased workload and personal responsibilities are overwhelming.

• Prof Mass is "wrong on admissions?" This means forgetting that he works at the UW. I wouldn't make a sweeping judgment about the state's flagship university on the basis of one student. There may have been other factors at play.

• The comment about engineers coming from India makes me wonder how often they change their curriculum or teaching methods. For years, we have heard that engineering grads from India, China, Russia have a solid grasp of these concepts and I suspect its because they don't experiment on their kids like we do. This country put men on the moon 40 years ago and I expect the textbooks those engineers used were more like the ones those immigrants worked from than what we use today. As I commented above, I was left behind in math at an early age as a result of curriculum experiments (we were given the New Math, where we were told to work out simple arithmetic with Set Theory, rather than simple number operations, and then we were switched back and I never got a grip on it). My kids knew more math in middle school than I ever knew as a college graduate.

On the idea of testing and assessment, we have to understand that the assessments — the WASL and MAP and the rest of it — are to grade the schools, teachers and districts. The kids grades come home on their report cards. This is why you see so many cases of districts getting caught in cheating scandals: the grades they are rigging are actually their own. The students' exam scores are a proxy for teaching effectiveness.

This is an outgrowth of a distrust of teachers and a desire to make teaching "efficient" as if it were factory work. This dates back 100 years in Washington as Bryce Nelson's book "Good Schools" explains. Penny-pinching school boards and distrustful voters combine to end the Progressive Era in public education, as his book makes clear. And we have been harassing our schools ever since.

The Raven said...

Cliff, no. The depression is probably the main reason those students aren't there. They can't afford the higher tuition, and they have to work to support their families anyway.

I think some of the excellent statisticians and demographers of the UW faculty could probably confirm or refute this hypothesis: are they already on the job?

The creepy high out-of-state tuition UW charges is not something to crow about: it means that only wealthy out-of-states can be taken in. Higher education, more and more, is only open to the upper middle class and above, an increasingly small and wealthy group. This is hugely negative. It entirely defeats one of the purposes of a public university system, which is to offer education to good students of all income levels.

"Our country is incapable of training enough technically skilled young people to keep our 21st century nation running, so we DEPEND on foreign imports."

No, that's not so and your own school's economists (if they are not hopeless) will tell you so. We depend on imports because our leaders have refused to engage import policy.

As to the collapse of K-12 education in Washington, I don't think it has ever been very good outside of Seattle and perhaps Spokane (though I would welcome statistics that support or refute that.) Funding education is not the highest priority in Olympia, and federal laws enacted in the previous administration press the states to concentrate on testing goals, to the exclusion of teaching.

So to recap:

0. "It's the economy."

1. The new depression, limits student access to higher education directly, causes the states to raise university tuition, and also makes state and local governments cut spending on primary and secondary education. These had been trends before the new depression, but they have drastically accelerated.

2. The austerity policies popular in Washington and Washington harm education and US international competitiveness.

3. Please don't push the anti-foreign arguments: it supports our bigots, and they are among those undermining US education, because they are for the most part austerity freaks, as well as, in many cases anti-science cranks.

Kate Martin said...

Thanks, Cliff.

"should we place more emphasis on developing stronger junior colleges and community colleges to feed into public universities" asked by poster Eric, interests me.

It seems like we'd cut that 6 year graduation rate down to size if we made more of the schools in our university system upper division and eliminated freshman and sophomore year in favor of transfers in junior year.

The program I transferred into as a junior in the State Univ of NY system was great. The 3 years I spend there including a requisite independent study semester abroad were on point for every student in the program as we had all done our prerequisites at various schools before transferring in.

Do those first couple of years need to happen at UW for most students? Seems that's the place to be more selective - with juniors transferring in - rather than herding a bunch of underprepared freshman and sophomores in and then having to prop them up for 2 years or more.

-Kate

Anonymous said...

Nearly everyone I've heard seems to be forgetting another vital—and critically failing—aspect of our K-12 education. How are we educating the nation’s elite minds? I’ll tell my story as an example (one I believe is fairly common).

I almost never studied for a test in high school, and I never worked on a single project for more than two days. I slept through many classes and missed more than a dozen days of school each semester. Yet I was 4th in my class and never scored below a 92%. The material came easily to me.

I was fortunate the MIT saw my potential (and not my performance or motivation) in accepting me, but I struggled mightily while there. For the first few years, I got only C’s, and rarely had time to sleep. By the time I was a senior, I’d learned a strategy—ignore the homework assignments (15% of my grade was often a zero), but attend every lecture awake and alert. Don’t take notes except the final derived equations. I didn’t know how to study, so if I wasn’t taught the material well, I wouldn’t perform well. At that point I was an A/B student.

It’s easy to see that a student who is failing classes isn’t served well by the education system, but what about an A- student whose potential is much higher? For our nation to continue as a world-leader, we need more than just the motivation of greed in a capitalist culture. We also need our nation’s brightest and best to be as sharp as they can be!

John Vidale said...

Cliff,

It's great to see you attack these central problems that the UW faces, and without the necessity to put the least exposed face on it that the administration apparently feels.

I have no idea of the answer - the trade-offs in serving the State, funding the enterprise, and harvesting the talent that is spread across the world is tough to reckon, but we need the right facts on the table, and shouldn't be working from unproven theories of education, and a need not to offend anyone.

Don Carter said...

The problem is partly political. The politicians think that the best place to cut the budget is in education. We are now suffering the results of such short-sighted thought.

It is known that for every dollar invested in education, the return will be $7. That is a 700% return on the investment. Try getting that in any other investment.

I was in middle school when Sputnik went up. As a resul, the Feds poured a lot of money into high school math and science programs. It was an exciting time for students, all the new equipment, books, and well trained teachers.

Yes, family matters in education. But so do the teachers and facilities. Find the qualified teachers, provide them with the materials they need, then get out of their way.

The Drennans said...

Cliff, can you tell us more about the empirically proven approaches for math ed., so we can check and see if our school system is using it?

Perhaps you should be lecturing to the state house, or to superintendents and principals, but would you then have enough time to study and teach meteorology?

Scrapycandy said...

I would accept out of state students as long as 'strong' in-state candidates are ALL admitted. I know a few from our H.S. that the UW rejected...I could not believe it! I know them well. Then the UW Honors program rejected my son who was then accepted at an honors program at an equally top ranked out of state school. So, something is amiss but I cannot quite figure it out. I have spoken with so many students that have lost interest in the UW. It has taken me by surprise. And many students do not want to live 3 and 4 to a dorm room or in a hallway. It really does seem like the UW is trying to discourage the top in-state students. It's just sad.

Unknown said...

Wow! You REALLY might want to get your facts straight for once. In your blog you mentioned "letters of recommendation" are used in the admissions process, but the UW website specifically states to NOT submit letters for general application. Did you REALLY speak to anyone in admissions?

Second, my son was in the 96th percentile on standardized tests, took honors and AP courses and had a 3.42 GPA, while lettering in two varsity sports, doing extensive volunteer work in New Orleans for years, and was one step away from being an Eagle scout and he didn't make the cut. Meanwhile there were athletes who from his same school that we know flunked courses and lower GPAs w/o challenging courses who were admitted to UW.

While you may feel the need to protect your job by waving the flag of the UW, please do not insult those of us who pay your salary.

Cliff Mass Weather Blog said...

Unknown,
You are right---recommendations are not required for general applicants (it was recently dropped as a requirement) but they are required for honors applicants. I have noted that in my blog. Yes, I did talk to the head of admissions and I do see the raw numbers as an undergrad adviser. And no, I am not writing this blog to save my job.
Regarding athletes, there is little doubt that it is easier to get in if you are a student athlete. This is true of most schools. Is it right? Personally, I am uncomfortable with it. Is it right that many people support their old school because of its athletic performance? The graduation rates on many teams is far lower than the rest of the school population. Why are college athletics so important? Why do folks care more about the performance of the huskies than the research output of the faculty?...lots of interesting questions...cliff

Travis said...

This is a great post, but being a non-native, I must point out that WA students get better public K-12 educations than most (any?) students I've encountered. The schools, teachers and classes are simply better. CA is sadly lacking in their public school system. Today, if parents want their children to attend college, they MUST pay for private schooling.

Having done my Undergrad work at Arizona State University, one thing that struck me was AZ has in their State Constitution that the 3 AZ universities (ASU, UA & NAU) "shall be as free as possible to Arizona residents" -- they built a university system for the primary goal of AZ residents. This is not to say they also don't suffer similar problems as Dr. Mass illustrates.

Lastly, grade inflation is just another symptom of the "everybody wins" syndrome that's pervading our society. A former college roommmate who is now an Asst. Professor back East complains (regularly & loudly!) about the hordes of students who go to the effort to schedule a time during office hours only to complain and bargain about a grade they received on a paper or test. They end up demanding that it be moved higher. If they'd put that same effort into their classwork, it might have been up there.

Kevin Atkinson said...

I read your blog both for learning more about the NW - and for your input on this subject. Many THANKS!

I would like to echo "The Drennans" in hearing what you would recommend, specifically, for math education.

I have three small children, and I would really appreciate your input.

Fat Fanny said...

Sadly, this rings very true. My son is in a low-income neighborhood renton public school and his math and science classes are taught to the lowest common denominator while his few friends in the same grade in small private schools are well beyond their years in these skill sets. If high quality math and science are only being creatively and effectively taught in small private schools unavailable to the masses due to cost and size, then we are sunk.
Recently read this interesting article about Steve Jobs and Barack Obama discussing why China builds ipads and iphones instead of the US - http://www.livemint.com/2012/01/22210520/How-US-lost-out-on-iPhone-work.html?atype=tp:so
- Jobs emphasized the lack of skilled technologists in the US, and if you can set aside the corporate profit angle and accept the fact that less privileged kids in china,taiwan, india, and even eastern europe, are kicking our butts in the engineering, science and math domains, you can believe that Jobs was making a very valid point. throw their expertise in with the fact that they will work crazy hours for less pay and with more ambition, drive and focus on getting ahead and we are losing on so many fronts, it is debatable whether we will ever truly catch up or languish as a poorly paid service economy for a very very long time.
from personal experience, i was at a morale meeting at work where discussions were had about how to bring more work life balance to a stressful environment with high attrition rates. American-born employees recommended 4-day weeks, WFH flexibility, job sharing. The foreign-born employees, many on H1-B visas, recommended creating space at work so their families could come visit them during their lengthy work hours (which often approach 12-16 in certain IT roles) so they could see their kids more. This sounded like insanity to me, but demonstrates a huge difference in the way work and commitment to one's job responsibilities are viewed and the lines appear to run culturally. From a corporate executive perspective, I can totally understand why they would go with the option of keeping employees at work and bringing their families to them, a relatively simple solution compared to the complexity and complications of having people working all different schedules and being out of the office working where they cant be directly managed or monitored, despite all the technology available to do so. In summary, it just doesnt look promising and I can probably expect to see a daycare/family center built at my work before I'll see a 4-day flexwork option or WFH opportunity come available.

Patrick said...

Cliff, I agree with your recommendations.

I am skeptical, though, that articles in the Times and other news sources are responsible for decline in applications. All the state colleges' tuition has gone up a lot, but UW's has gone up the most. Students may not see UW giving them that much more than much cheaper other schools. Or they may think that private schools are not that much more once their better financial aid is considered.

A Progressive Crank, this country sent men to the moon, but we couldn't have done it without Wernher von Braun and his team.

K-12 science and math teaching pays poorly compared to what someone with a master's degree could be making in industry. Thus, the best college science and math students don't even consider K-12 teaching as a career. Or consider college-level careers in schools of education. That lack of good science and math people in schools of education makes education as a field vulnerable to fads that are put into practice before without benefit of thorough review.

Elliott said...

"The truth is that the UW does not reject strong students: those with a combination of good grades, high board scores, challenging classes, and good recommendations (honor applicants only). Straight A students with lower board scores, easy classes, or other negatives may be rejected, but that is to be expected at the State's flagship school and one of the top 20 universities in the world according to some evaluations. In a day of extreme grade inflation, an A average does not mean what it used to be. The average GPA of incoming UW freshman is A-."

"Let me be frank, there are quite a few UW students who don't belong here. Whose seats would be better filled with out-of-state students. It is distressing to admit, that a good number of UW freshmen (perhaps the lower 10-15%) do not have college-level skills. They can't do basic algebra or middle school math (many can't even do long division or fractions). Their spelling and writing are atrocious--unable to write coherent sentences. Their student habits are deficient, including poor attendance and note taking. They have poor research skills and have difficulty working independently. Some have poor attitudes and clearly would rather be some place else."

I'm having a lot of trouble reading these two paragraphs next to each one. In one you basically assert that only the creme of the crop, the elite, get into UW, while merely "great" students may be rejected. In the next you say over ten percent of the students are unqualified to be there. Care to reconcile these two statements?

78tornado said...

My son was class President and had a 3.75 GPA and he was flat out rejected. No wait list. He went to nice private high school with tough academic standards. He took honor courses.Its a shame that those parents of deserving students, and those parents who help to "fund" this local institution are automatically locked out. They should have preference, not the other way. My older son applied too. He had a higher GPA, over 3.9. He got a B in Japanese his Freshman year. Again, same thing. He ended graduating top of his class, Magna Cum Laude from Cal-Poly. He was published as a lead author, and is getting his Doctorate now. UW couldn't even see that...maybe they should spend more money on recruiting assistant football coaches.

Estoy Listo said...

After all the assurance they got as kids that they were "special" just the way they were, after all the "participant trophies" for sports, and the care taken to celebrate-absolutely-everyone, it must be quite a shock to discover that the rest of the world doesn't spin that way.

WA parent said...

"UW does not reject strong students"

Based on first hand experience this is total BS. My son's story:
- UW rejected his application because coming from a very strong high-school his GPA was supposedly not high enough.
- His SAT score was very high.
- He's now in his junior year in an out of state engineering college, doing fine TYWM
- Starting in high-school(!) by now he's completed 4 summer internships as software developer at Boeing, Corbis, 2x Microsoft
- He already has job offers waiting for him from two of those companies when he graduates more than a year from now.
- In high-school he was also an athlete (Junior Olympics, 2nd place)

UW has weak students because the acceptance process/policy is deeply flawed.

October said...

Thank you Cliff, for bringing awareness to this issue. Some big changes need to be taking place in our country. I have heard bits and pieces about the dumbing down of America. What you are talking about here sure fits that description.

Cliff Mass Weather Blog said...

Several of you have noted that your children were rejected yet did very well at other institutions and in the work world. The UW admissions project is certainly not perfect, and I am sure there have been some errors...particularly when you are examining many thousands of applications. There are students with middling GPAs (3-3.5) in high school that become serious in college and go on to do great things. That is wonderful and depth of colleges in the U.S. allows this to happen. But the statistics on UW admissions are public knowledge and students with high GPAs and board scores are being accepted. This is all separate from the other issue of my note: that a significant number of students come here unprepared for college-level work, particularly in technical subjects.

John Vidale said...

Some day commenters might learn that few of us reading the comments believe parents are objective about their kids, primarily because parents rarely are. I know I am not.

And @ Elliot, I see no contradiction between Cliff claiming (1) that very good Washington state students are usually admitted and (2) there is a fair share of students at UW who are not ready to take advantage of the UW coursework.

The two actually argue in the same direction - perhaps in-state admissions are fair but too lenient, and more people from the rest of the country and world should be admitted rather than in-state applicants. Especially as it would lighten the tax load on the state tax payers, who seem eager to shed as much of the cost as possible, and it would bring fresh talent to the region.

JB said...

With 2 kids in SPS elementary schools, I see a fair number of kids moving up year-to-year without mastering math skills. They don't have the foundation for the next level, and each year, they get further behind, more convinced that they hate math and aren't ever going to be good at it.

With reading, a 2nd grade teacher can direct kids to "just right" books, books that are challenging but not frustrating, so that they can build skills and proficiency. But in math, they are all doing the same work, with some kids bored and not learning any good study skills b/c it is too easy, and some like those above who are only "learning" to hate math.

I'd like to see a skills-based math program, where kid are divided not by class or age, but by skill, and freely moved up as they master skills. They could get instruction and practice at their level, then move up.

A mastery of Algebra makes Calculus easy. A mastery of division, multiplication, fractions and decimals makes Algebra easy. Mastering basic arithmetic skills is the foundation for everything.

I think that mastering a skill then building on it makes so much more sense than "spiraling".

GaryP. said...

The other unspoken issue is that the crime rate around the UW has gotten totally out of hand. Armed Robbery on campus. Armed Robbery in the cafeteria along campus.. snatch and grab's of iphones, laptops etc. Why send your kid to a school where they have a good chance of seeing up close and personal the local criminal element?

Unknown said...

I am looking forward your concrete suggestions. Bring 'em on! I want to be armed with actionable steps I can take in my local school district where I am a mom/volunteer.

I have a child in 2nd grade. My undergraduate is in engineering. I feel like a "fish out of water" when it comes to the education system and educators.

I appreciate your stance and efforts on this.

WhidbeyIslandTime said...

I will leave the essay writing to the others who have more time to invest in their responses. I only have one point to make:

Teaching and education are not valued in America. K-12 teachers are the most undervalued and underpaid workers in America. Until we see the true value of educated adults teaching our youth we will have the problems you have all described.

One thing will always be true in the United States: YOU GET WHAT YOU PAY FOR.

We need higher paid salaries for teachers to attact higher quality candidates. I myself would be interested in teaching but could never leave my engineering job for a teachers salary.

JeffB said...

It is a complex problem. But the major factors are a lack of competition and merit in schools with teachers and at the student level in primary and secondary schooling in WA.

We should try vouchers while simultaneously tying teacher pay to merit and doing away with seniority, tenure, and unions. If teachers had to compete as hard as Microsoft employees and perspective Microsoft employees do, we would get a lot higher quality of education. Especially if we tied pay and continued employment to performance and rating by peers, parents and students. What's this can't be fired nonsense?

And we should get rid of curricula handed down by the NEA and their textbook cronies. Old curricula from decades ago produced many a great American engineer. Why did we have to reinvent curricula for diversity and all of the other NEA new math and other garbage when we had great results oriented curricula years ago?

We could also probably cut back on much of the administrative overhead at the large central administration buildings. We did fine in the past when schools were more decentralized and a small administrative staff handled the whole school as it is in many private schools today.

Streamline, add accountability, and remove the layers that protect and reward incompetence. It's pretty basic. But I don't expect any of our entrenched and overpaid bureaucrats to make any changes at all, nor Olympia Democrats who've grown accustomed to all of these reliable vote blocks.

WA gets the schooling it deserves given the leadership it has elected.

JeffB said...

WhidbeyIslandTime:

We do need to value education and teachers more. But higher pay must come with strings attached just as it does at Microsoft. If we did away with blanket pay scales based on seniority and instead tied pay to performance there would be a lot more pay for the good teachers and a lot less pay for the bad teachers and the bad teachers would self select out of education. And we need to devalue administration just as private corporations pay less for clerical work and other overhead positions and more to those who directly contribute to the products and services.

snapdragon said...

I didn't read ALL the comments, so forgive me if I am repeating someone else's assertions...

The problem with our inferior math teaching starts at the elementary level. Many (not all), but MANY elementary teachers are not fond of math, are not good at math, and are actually afraid of math. (I have spoken to quite a few in my district and they will openly admit to all of the above. I doubt any district in WA would differ much.) These people rely on inferior textbooks to help them get through the math part of their day. There is no love for math, nor is there a deep understanding that leads to proper modeling of the concepts for the students.

So, when I inherit the students in middle school, their skills are DISMAL at best. They barely know their multiplication facts, let alone what to do with (gasp!) FRACTIONS.

I've been doing this for 24 years. I wish that kids would not get promoted out of elementary school until they can prove they are proficient at the current Washington State Standards for elementary. (The good standards, not the crappy Common Core that will lower us even further to the level of really sad states- like Mississippi.) The problem is that their earliest teachers are not proficient. By 6th grade, there is a lot of catch-up to do...

Countries that are above us in math scores have already figured out that you can't train just anyone to be a teacher. They pick and choose carefully- even going so far as to give aptitude tests to potential teachers BEFORE they let them take teacher training courses in college.

Read this study- you will weep at the time and potential we have lost in this country because we will let just about anyone become a teacher.

http://mckinseyonsociety.com/how-the-worlds-best-performing-schools-come-out-on-top/

It's lengthy, but it hits the nail on the head.

Colleen said...

Cliff, how about a separate blog for your education-related posts, which are understandably heartfelt and manifold? Alternatively, remove the word "weather" from this blog name.

John Vidale said...

Colleen@8:28pm

Maybe as a rain-lover, UW person, ATG denizen, and father of a high-schooler, I'm not representative, but I'd prefer one Mass-ive blog with all topics.

The titles are sufficiently descriptive so I don't waste time reading material of little interest at the moment, and tracking multiple blogs would be more trouble.

Richard said...

And even a huge percentage of the Americans are of East Asian background. Look at the University of California system. When they take race out of the question, then it fills up with East Asians. That should tell you something. So stop whining.

GaryP. said...

"Vouchers"? You mean "coupons" and everybody knows what those are, a discount for something.

www.gregpalast.com/no-childs-behind-left/

Did a great analysis of this bait/switch plan.

WildernessFactory said...

I'd go to UW, in fact I tried, unfortunately Washington state residency laws are absurd and make it impossible to move from out of state and ever get in state tuition unless you work full-time with minimal credits for a year, and even then they try and f you.

goingforthegold said...

My heart breaks for the commenters who talk about doors being closed to them because of their K-12 education. My child is now a junior and I see how deficient the preparation has been in some areas, and can only hope we can make it up. Our current solution is to take summer classes at the UW...

Tony said...

Why do we educate poorly?

Because we have to cater to the lowest common denominator. We aren't allowed to leave anyone behind, and the P.C. way to accomplish that is to put all the resources on the laggards, rather than on those with higher potential.

But your solutions suggest perhaps you wouldn't do so well as a student either. You rail against "unproven" methods, but your definition is questionable. Charter Schools do work. So do parochial. But they aren't unionized, and therefore the unions will never accept any amount of evidence as "proof." Further, the unions also won't allow performance-based pay, and therefore prevent any attempts to gather evidence.

And that suggests another failing in your logic-circuits. If we can't measure and reward performance (and let's be clear - as long as the union is involved, we can't - at least not in an effective way), we will never know if we have good teachers or not. Paying more won't get us better teachers, but will reduce the turn-over of bad ones. And perhaps good ones, but if the bad aren't leaving, they can't be replaced.

To really solve the K-12 problem, you must allow failure. Reward both good students and good teachers. Penalize the poor of each. Yes, even if the penalized are disproportionately poor and/or black. But those last five words are the problem, especially on the left, and ensure we can never solve this.

Steve said...

Cliff, has it changed that much? I remember Prof. Leon Slutzky in Chem140 trying to explain pH, when he had to back-track to teach logarithms. That would have been 1971-- 40 years ago. The freshman calculus classes had about 1/3 to 1/2 drop rates.

Crazyislandmom said...

I have know people who have been at the receiving end of one of the ST's investigative journalists; I hate to say it, but I believe the ST hires out of that 10% that shouldn't be at UW. I have never been an actual bystander to such sloppy or slanted investigative journalism, and having grown up in the other Washington, that's saying something. Thank you for setting the record straight with respect to UW's admissions policies. But why do you think that 10-15% isn't filtered out?

The Raven said...

Um, folks, "It's the economy {xxx}", or at least a big part of it is.

WildernessFactory, UW used to waive out-of-state tuition for grad students. This practice has been discontinued this year, and seems likely to dramatically affect graduate enrollment. I could probably not have afforded my post-professional masters if I had had to pay out-of-state tuition.

The state lege has a lot to answer for.