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Asking More Useful Questions About Our Educational System

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Two widely accepted goals of precollege education in the U.S. are that most students should:

  1. Stay in school until they graduate from high school.
  2. Become career and/or career and college ready via their precollege education.

This two-part agenda is being pushed hard at both the state and national level. Data indicates that the percentage of students graduating from high school (HS) is increasing, and the percentage of students entering a community or four-year college after HS graduation has substantially increased over the past half century. The percentage of students enrolling in college in the fall immediately following high school completion was 66.2 percent in 2012. Females enrolled at a higher rate (71.3 percent) than males (61.3 percent). Click here for more data.

Unfortunately, a quite high percentage of high school graduates who go on to college are not adequately prepared for college work. Quoting from (Brown & Bui, 8/21/2013):

Just more than one-quarter of students who took the ACT college entrance exam this year [2012] scored high enough in math, reading, English and science to be considered ready for college or a career, data released Wednesday showed.

Remedial Coursework in Oregon Community Colleges

I just read an article about a recent study indicating that 75 % of Community College students in Oregon need to take remedial coursework (Hammond, 5/8/2015). Quoting from the article:

A huge new study that followed 100,000 Oregon high school graduates to community college finds that 75 percent have to take non-credit remedial classes when they get there.

Poor academic readiness, not students' race or income, explained why they had to take high school- or middle school-level classes when they got to community college, according to the study, done for the national Institute of Education Sciences by Portland-based researcher Michelle Hodara.

I was shocked and saddened as I read the article. I was born and raised in Oregon. I have long believed that my state had a decent educational system and set reasonable standards for students.

I then searched for data on how Oregon compares with other states, both in terms of spending for precollege education and in the quality of its precollege education system. The references (U.S. Census Bureau, 2014) and (Education Week Research Center, 1/2/2015) provide data on spending per pupil and state overall ranking of quality of education for the 50 states and Washington, D.C. The spending data is for year 2012, and the ranking data is from a 1/2/2015 report.

Oregon ranked number 28 in spending per pupil and number 41 in Education Week’s Quality Counts 1/2/2015 report. A little below the middle in spending, and quite low in results. The references cited above provide data for your state. Check it out!

Two Frequently-asked Questions

The situation for Oregon and for the nation often leads to the following two questions:

  1.      Who or what is to blame?
  2.      What can we do about it?

Certainly there is plenty of blame to go around. And, certainly there are a great many proposed solutions. I find it interesting to note that neither finger pointing nor attempting to implement widely proposed solutions has led to much progress.

This leads me to believe that we are asking the wrong questions. What are other possible questions we might ask? Here are my thoughts for two quite different, more comprehensive questions:

  1. Is the average quality of education that students are receiving through our precollege and higher education systems adequately preparing them for responsible, personally satisfying, and productive adult lives?
  2. Is the average education that students are receiving through our precollege, higher education, and lifelong education systems changing in a manner that is keeping up with the changes going on in the world?

Note that, with just a little rewording, each question can be made to be personally applicable to each individual precollege, higher education, and lifelong adult learner. I have no idea what the answers are to these questions—do you?

You have heard the expression, “You can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make it drink.” Here is another quote, “A person convinced against their will is of the same opinion still.”

Taken together, my two questions and two quotes suggest to me that we need to provide students of all ages with good learning opportunities, but that the ultimate responsibility for getting a good education lies with each individual student.

Thus, I believe that three major student-oriented goals in education need to be:

  1. Help students learn to judge for themselves what they need and want to learn at a particular time in their lives. What doors are they opening and/or keeping open, and what doors are they closing and/or keeping closed by the educational choices they are making?
  2. Provide all students with good opportunities to gain the knowledge and skills they want to gain, and provide all students good opportunities to gain the knowledge and skills that “others” (the “powers-that-be”) believe to be quite important.
  3. Provide all students with good formative, summative, and long-term residual impact evaluation of their learning.

Educational computer technology is making steady progress in helping students to meet goals 2 and 3. Our rigid educational system and emphasis on high-stakes testing in areas deemed important by the powers-that-be is certainly a hurdle in facilitating achievement of goal 1.

What You Can Do

Consider your roles in helping to improve our educational system. What are you doing to empower each individual student and to help each student make progress toward achieving goal number 1 listed above? A good starting point is to promote and facilitate conversations and discussions, both among students and between students and adults, about empowering students.


Note added 6/7/2015. Newer data on graduation rates is available at



Brown, E., & Bui, L. (8/21/2013). Just 26 percent of ACT test-takers are prepared for college. Retrieved 5/13/2015 from

Education Week Research Center (1/2/2015). A fresh approach to ranking states on education. Education Week. Retrieved 5/11/2015 from

Hammond, B. (5/8/2015). 75% of Oregon high school grads who go straight to community college must take remedial classes. The Oregonian. Retrieved 5/11/2015 from

U.S. Census Bureau (2014). Measuring America: Spending on education. Retrieved 5/11/2015 from .

Suggested Readings from IAE

Moursund, D. (2015). Brain science. IAE-pedia. Retrieved 5/14/2015 from


Moursund, D. (2015). Self-assessment. IAE-pedia. Retrieved 5/14/2015 from


Moursund, D. (2015). Self-assessment instruments. IAE-pedia. Retrieved 5/14/2015 from


Moursund, D. (4/19/2015). Preparing students for their futures. IAE Blog. Retrieved 5/14/1015 from

Moursund, D. (3/5//2015). Education for the coming technological singularity. IAE Blog. Retrieved 5/14/2015 from

Moursund, D. & Sylwester, R. (4/10/2015). Education for students’ futures. Eugene, OR: Information Age Education. PDF File: Microsoft Word File:

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