Sunday, June 29, 2014

Education: Best Universities

When I was a grad student at Great Desert University, one of our profs was from the then country of Yugoslavia. He had had an itinerant career, and his children had been educated in Yugoslavia and the Soviet Union. His daughter was an undergrad, and later a grad student in our physics department, but at one point I recall her sniffing "this isn't University but kindergarten."

According to Kevin Carey, writing in the NYT:

Americans have a split vision of education. Conventional wisdom has long held that our K-12 schools are mediocre or worse, while our colleges and universities are world class. While policy wonks hotly debate K-12 reform ideas like vouchers and the Common Core state standards, higher education is largely left to its own devices. Many families are worried about how to get into and pay for increasingly expensive colleges. But the stellar quality of those institutions is assumed.

Yet a recent multinational study of adult literacy and numeracy skills suggests that this view is wrong. America’s schools and colleges are actually far more alike than people believe — and not in a good way. The nation’s deep education problems, the data suggest, don’t magically disappear once students disappear behind ivy-covered walls.

Much of our higher education is deeply mediocre, despite the fact that our very best universities really are the best in the World. This is not a giant surprise to me.

At least in math skills, US college graduates are well below average, trailing much of Europe and Japan. Not a surprise yours truly, or probably to anyone else who has taught math, physics or engineering at State U, I suspect.

However, I still suspect that it's true that one can get an excellent education even at rather mediocre schools, if one chooses one's course and class appropriately.