Solving the U.S. education crisis

College Graduation Caps


Bill Radke: President Obama sat down this week with Federal Reserve chair Ben Bernanke to talk about the many headwinds facing this economy. There's plenty to talk about -- unemployment, deficits, debt in Europe. Marketplace's economics editor Chris Farrell says there is another challenge to our economy that is not getting as much attention as it should. Good morning, Chris.

Chris Farrell: Good morning, Bill.

Radke: You think we ought to be talking about an economic crisis in education.

Farrell: Yes. As bad as unemployment is for the country as a whole, it is terrible if you hadn't gone to college. I mean the unemployment rate for people with a high school degree only is double the rate of people who have at least a college degree. And by the way, if you don't have a high school diploma, it's even worse.

Radke: Well I get that that is scary for the uneducated worker. How is this, though, a threat to our entire economy?

Farrell: Bill, this is what's happening. You know, the U.S. economy increasingly emphasizes college-educated workers. And business is creating jobs -- there are job openings in this economy, but most requir esome kind of post-secondary education to even apply. So it's become something . . . it's a vicious cycle. Business looks for educated workers, job openings go begging, incomes stay low, unemployment stays high, the rebound is subdued and so on.

Radke: Well here's a problem, Chris: What can we do? Because if it's a government solution, not only is our government in debt, but you know, throwing money at education hasn't necessarily improved it.

Farrell: No you're right, but you know that the alarm bells have been going off, you know, about the failing education system -- especially in the inner city. But now, we can see taht it's economically damaging, so whether it's charter schools, vouchers, smaller high schools, early childhood education, it's not more money, it's a focus on reforming education.

Radke: Reforming education to focus on 21st century-type jobs?

Farrell: It's the focus on 21st century-type jobs, but here's the most important thing: It is to end the crisis with high school dropouts. In some inner cities, the high school dropout rate is 40, 50 percent. This is unacceptable. And these people who drop out then can't take the jobs and can't climb into the middle class. And that's what our society is about -- that our children will live a better life than you and I.

Radke: Marketplace's economics correspondent, Chris Farrell. Thank you, Chris.

Farrell: Thanks, Bill.

About the author

Chris Farrell is the economics editor of Marketplace Money.
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Our education system could use lots of improvement, but we also need to acknowledge that not every person is capable of succeeding in college. People who are intellectually capable of it should be able to attend college and not be held back by high tuition costs, but we need to make sure that those who are unable to handle college are also able to find good jobs and take care of themselves and their families. College isn't the answer for everyone and we shouldn't just assume that great teachers and school systems will make every single student able to succeed in college.

The report about high school dropouts and education was infuriating in its vacuity. Where was any reference to the fact that state education budgets are being cut throughout the country? Where was any comment about the price of college, the rise in fees at public colleges and the reality that higher education is reacquiring its class stratification (that has always been an American tradition, except in the last decades). High school graduates face absurdly high college costs, and correspondingly huge loan rates that leave many students upon graduation with a mortgage, and still no jobs. Where was there any mention of decades of unequitable tax policy, of public policies that devalue education, of the impotence of unions. How about decisions that strip education of the arts, of extracurricular activities? What about the outsourcing of manufacturing jobs to other countries, so that now industries that used to employ high school graduates and, yes, even dropouts, don't exist. Where was any reference to gender; why do women somehow perceive the value of education while men don't, so that the ratio of women to men in undergraduate, and especially graduate school, keeps rising? Any mention of the rise of single family households? What about the anti-intellectualism of the Tea Party movement, and the mockery of Obama's rationalism? Is Farrell totally blind to social darwinism, or to Texas text book policies that are an insult to academic integrity? Does he even notice the corporatization of higher education? How many more factors did your reporter just ignore in saying that high school dropouts are in for a tough time? Is this just a fait accompli is the government going to do something about it? A report today noted that Germany and China were the only two nations to emerge from the recession well because they still had an industrial base. How many workers in German and Chinese factories are college graduates?

I think problems with inner city education is that kids are not well manured in school, especially middle school. I remembered when I was in inner city school, the teachers spent most of the class time trying to control the kids and no time at all teaching. Middle school is most crucial because by the time kids reach high school to know the importance of education, they will have already fallen behind by 2 years of education. By then it is impossible to catch up, so they naturally give up. Discipline is key when kids are at the age when they don't know the value of education. This is where guidance is most needed. School officials should realize this and discipline rowdy kids so that they don't take control of the entire class. But I realized that they don't do enough concerning this topic because society is only blaming teachers instead of parents who are most responsible for controlling their kids. I don't see standardized tests for parents teaching their kids manors! Do you see Lebron and Coby arguing and being rowdy on the court? No, because they know what is expected of them on the court. Sometimes, kids don't know what's expected of them in school. There should be a strong campaign to make kids realize and understand what is expected of them in school. Imagine what they can do when their minds are more focused! Do you think Coby and Lebron are focused on the court?

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