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Ask Slashdot: Is the Bar Being Lowered At Universities? 605

An anonymous reader writes "I am in my late 20s, live in the U.S., work in the IT industry, and am going to school to upgrade from an associate's degree to a bachelor's degree. One of my classes is a web-based course that requires students to write blogs. I am not attending one of those questionable for-profit schools. This is a large, state-funded, public university. In this course I have noticed poor writing skills are the norm rather than the exception. It is a 3rd year course, so students should have successfully completed some sort of writing course prior to this one. Blog posts, which students are graded on, tend to be very poorly written. They are not organized into paragraphs, have multiple run-on sentences, and sometimes don't make sense. I do not know what grades they are receiving for these posts. Slashdot, is what I am seeing the exception, or the norm? Is the bar being lowered for university students, or am I just expecting too much?"
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Ask Slashdot: Is the Bar Being Lowered At Universities?

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  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday February 15, 2013 @01:34PM (#42912329)

    Yes... the bar is being lowered, yes it is!

    • Re: (Score:2, Offtopic)

      by cffrost ( 885375 )

      Yes... the bar is being lowered, yes it is!

      It's a limbo bar.

    • by Anonymous Coward on Friday February 15, 2013 @02:57PM (#42913649)

      Sort of. The bar is being lowered in high school and middle school. Then they give the bar to universities. Universities have to keep it roughly where it is because it's never been their mission to teach students basic skills and they are still ill prepared to do so. Please see this bit of writing: a href= []
      This is what happens when standardized tests are the focus of education. There are much more effective ways to measure student performance and increase it, but we don't want to pay for them. Cutting costs in the short term will bankrupt our country.
      Also see the article quoted in the previous link: []
      Universities are forced to hold students to a low standard, and professors are typically subject specialists--not the teachers students require to help them learn how to write, read, and think critically.
      You can attribute a lot of this to the mindset that schools should be run like businesses. It inevitably leads to lowering standards when success is defined as passing students who can do the bare minimum (high school) or graduation rates (college & university). Schools are much more important than businesses. Students are the product, and you can't cancel a product line that doesn't perform well or market it into relevance.

      • by uncqual ( 836337 ) on Friday February 15, 2013 @04:40PM (#42915331)

        This is what happens when standardized tests are the focus of education.

        It seems that the standardized tests were not the cause of a decline, rather that the cause of the standardized tests was a decline.

        In the United States, the introduction of widespread standardized testing that elementary and middle school level teachers cared about was mostly in response to concerns about the decline in the education of our young adults.

        IIRC, math at the elementary school and middle school levels is the area that the US does the worst WRT other leading nations (and which is probably the best indicator subject for if we are going to be turning out engineers and scientists or dishwashers and retail clerks). In standardized math tests used within the US at these levels I've seen small problems but they seem to fairly accurately gauge what the student knows about math and certainly reflect what was expected (and less) of similar "educated" students 40 years ago.

        Teaching math "to the test" is the hard way to do it. Teach math - the tests test that. Of all subjects at the elementary and middle school levels, I think this is most true of math.

        For some reason, the elementary school education institution in the US in the past few decades has chosen to teach math more as if it were a "soft" subject. For example, there's lots of "group work" in math now - WTF? The net result of group work is that the kids who "get it" in the group do the work and the rest don't even try (to fail in a group is embarrassing and, besides, the group "achieved their goal" without your help, so why work?). By the end of third grade, the die is usually cast for the kids who were not forced to work their own problems (and, receive incremental help along the way as it became obvious they were struggling with one or more specific concepts) - they will almost never catch up and will fall only further and further behind feeling like idiots and, in self defense, finding other pursuits (such as gangs). For another example, there's to much emphasis on "creative" thinking - it's important to explain the "why's" to the students (several times), but it's also important to do the work (sometimes derisively called "drill and kill") - and in that process the why's begin to sink in or be reinforced. Teach WHY and HOW to "adjust" decimal points during multiplication and long division - some will remember the why and reconstruct the how as needed, some will only remember the how, many will remember only some of both and still do well.

        As well, the elimination of "tracking" in many schools has been a mistake. Apparently tracking would "hurt the feeling" of any child not in the top group, so it' s better to toss them into the common pool and feel good while they drown quietly. This forces the teacher to "teach to the middle". This is a disservice to all groups. The kids who are not getting it find the explanations increasingly over their heads. The true "middle" group isn't challenged as much as they could be because the teacher is trying, albeit unsuccessfully, to help the less successful students rather than trying to step up the tempo to advance the students in the middle. The students who are advanced are bored -- unfortunately, this turns some off to education and leads them astray outside of school and most of the rest are grossly unchallenged wasting a lot of valuable opportunity that will almost never be fully reclaimed (time, especially during the period where children are more "plastic", is a precious commodity that simply can't be reclaimed or fully compensated for once wasted wantonly)

        It's not just the school's fault of course.

        Parents are the biggest part of the problem On the one hand, a shockingly large percentage of recent immigrants come from cultures where education is not important - enough education to earn a bit more than minimum wage is fine (and, in some cases it seems, is preferable because if the kid

        • by plover ( 150551 ) on Friday February 15, 2013 @06:28PM (#42916837) Homepage Journal

          Parents are the biggest part of the problem On the one hand, a shockingly large percentage of recent immigrants come from cultures where education is not important - enough education to earn a bit more than minimum wage is fine (and, in some cases it seems, is preferable because if the kid does better than the father, the father feels inadequate).

          That's not new, and is not limited to recent immigrants. A few years ago my son became the first member of my wife's side of the family to graduate from college. They've been in America since the 1800s, and were mostly farmers, laborers, and the occasional missionary. The most education of any of his antecedents on that side had was a trade school degree. Many had dropped out from primary school at an early age in order to work the family farms. College educations were not encouraged - my mother-in-law was valedictorian, yet her formal education ended at high school. Even my wife's desire to go to a technical college was not encouraged. Her family even chided me when we were dating her because I was a "college boy". Sadly, I don't think their situation is all that unusual in rural America.

          I never noticed an "inadequacy" issue with the men in her family. The son being able to out-earn the father was a measure of success, and a point of pride, every time I saw it happen. (I'm hoping mine kicks my butt in that respect, too.)

          On another hand, far too many parents in the more "traditional Americanized" (i.e., assimilated) strata are convinced that "little junior is perfect" and that any failing must be the school's, teachers' or someone else's fault rather than considering the possibility that their perfect genetic offspring from their perfect loins might, maybe, not be working as hard as they could.

          This is a real problem with the Entitlement Generation, and came from the twisted idea that it's demoralizing to tell Junior he's failing. It's good to be demoralizing - that's the feedback that causes improvements!

          Regarding standardized tests, they grew out of a known inequity between schools, not from an overall decline in education. People looked at students who came from certain public schools and wondered why some kids were doing great while kids from other schools were struggling. Standardized testing allowed schools to measure the differences, highlighted the gaps, and got people looking for solutions. If this school that performs well has a lot of kids in early childhood education programs, does that mean that EC programs fix problems? Try it out. If this school that performs poorly has a lot of kids from impoverished neighborhoods, do free lunches help? What about free community education classes for the parents? Do after school programs help? The tests help school administrators see the results.

          Without the tests, we're flying blind as to what actions actually make an improvement, and which are a useless waste of money. Standardized tests are designed to measure school efficacy, not students' intelligence. Politicians who have alternate agendas, and others with a poor understanding of the process, often don't understand (or otherwise misuse) the distinction.

          Does that mean we shouldn't use those tests as a measure of an individual student? It means that if you do, you might interpret results of things they were not designed to measure. The tests are NOT trying to ascertain the limits of the individual mind. They're looking for a broad picture of education.

        • I agree about the creative thinking comment. I think of a young kid who wants to be a writer and asks how they can become one. The answer is to READ a lot of fucking books. Only after you learn that which requires effort can one really be creative. There are a lot of factors at play in our decimated education system. One is that young people are not prepared at home for the tremendous amount of effort required to produce something worthwhile and therefore gain success. Another is that the administrati

    • by ShanghaiBill ( 739463 ) * on Friday February 15, 2013 @03:53PM (#42914637)

      Yes... the bar is being lowered, yes it is!

      Don't be so sure. Every generation believes that their kids are dumber than they were "back in the good old days". They are nearly always wrong []. The classic work about the decline of American education was "Why Johnny Can't Read". It was published in 1955. If you go back and look at random papers written by students in the past, I think you would find their writing to be just as bad as what you see today, and probably worse. Don't let false nostalgia cloud your judgement.

      • by KernelMuncher ( 989766 ) on Friday February 15, 2013 @04:12PM (#42914919)
        While there's got to be some truth to this statement, I think the tremendous explosion of texting and Twitter must have contributed at least somewhat to the perceived decline in writing skills among young people.
        • by ShanghaiBill ( 739463 ) * on Friday February 15, 2013 @04:42PM (#42915357)

          I think the tremendous explosion of texting and Twitter must have contributed at least somewhat to the perceived decline in writing skills among young people.

          I recently read an article that said financial companies have found a strong correlation between using bad grammar on social media, and high probability of defaulting on loans. There was an especially strong correlation with typing in either ALL CAPS, or all lower case. They also found a second order effect: if your friends, especially those you communicate with frequently, use bad grammar, you are likely to be a credit risk as well. There are now companies that can provide lenders with a "social media score" to help evaluate applicants. The article said that some prospective employers were also considering these scores in their hiring decisions. I guess this is one more reason to write well.

          I apologize for not linking to the article, but I am unable to find it.

  • its normal (Score:5, Funny)

    by Anonymous Coward on Friday February 15, 2013 @01:34PM (#42912331)

    dont you no most people dont rite good

    • Re:its normal (Score:5, Interesting)

      by PatentMagus ( 1083289 ) on Friday February 15, 2013 @02:03PM (#42912829)
      What ages are most of the people in the class?

      Someone in their late 20's should notice lots of qualitative differences between themselves and most relatively fresh high school graduates. That is especially true for someone who has been working for a living.

      The smart move, if you're having such an easy time with the course work and acing the class, is to pick up on those youngsters. This is probably the height of their physical attractiveness (and the waning of yours). You'll never be so well positioned again either.
      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by vlueboy ( 1799360 )

        What ages are most of the people in the class?

        I have taken classes in a few settings, so I hope this helps. I started out at a small but well known and selective private college in a small town. Out of a couple thousand registered students, my 500-something class year had ~30 non-traditional students in my freshman year's facebook. Non-traditional means that they were not fresh out of highschool; most seemed to be in their 30s, with one or two gray haired candidates. The rest of us, including seniors, were between 17 and 21 years old. I never saw bad w

  • Wrong site (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Friday February 15, 2013 @01:36PM (#42912357)

    Slashdot readership (if it can really be called that, judging by how little is actually read by its posting users []) is an older crowd; they are not college students. Chances are they will lament how times have changed, and then tell you to get off their lawn. Seriously, very few people here are going to be able to answer your question because they are not in college anymore. On top of that there are tons of trolls who will just say they have to start up arguments.

    • Re:Wrong site (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Jstlook ( 1193309 ) on Friday February 15, 2013 @01:49PM (#42912567)
      The content generation team hasn't realized that yet.
      This sounds like (judging from the tenor of the well-written "ask slashdot") another shill article along the lines of the "how to get the job interview" crap they're posting nowadays.
    • by mspohr ( 589790 )

      I'm a geezer.
      Get off my lawn!

    • Re:Wrong site (Score:5, Informative)

      by N0Man74 ( 1620447 ) on Friday February 15, 2013 @02:19PM (#42913097)

      Slashdot readership (if it can really be called that, judging by how little is actually read by its posting users []) is an older crowd; they are not college students. Chances are they will lament how times have changed, and then tell you to get off their lawn. Seriously, very few people here are going to be able to answer your question because they are not in college anymore. On top of that there are tons of trolls who will just say they have to start up arguments.

      And does that also explain why educators with decades of experience also feel there is a decline? I have an acquaintance who is a professor at a local college, and he frequently laments at the declining performance of students today. He has shared that he has seen a remarkable decline in critical thinking, and an increase in textspeak in formal essays for his classes.

      • Re:Wrong site (Score:5, Interesting)

        by MNNorske ( 2651341 ) on Friday February 15, 2013 @02:33PM (#42913265)
        Some of it might be attributable to the "participation award" mentality that has become quite pervasive over the past few decades. I can't recall where I read it, but sometime in the past few months there was an article which was pointing out that the kids currently in college were more likely to believe themselves to be exceptional at whatever they were doing. If they all believe themselves to be exceptional they have very little reason to try and do better. A lifetime of reinforcing that everyone is a winner, and everyone is exceptional can only result in bar being lowered.

        There's definitely value in teaching kids that it's good to try, and it's ok to not succeed at some things. But, it may have been taken a bit too far. People need to fall down if only to learn how to stand. And, that's not really happening right now in our schools.
      • Re:Wrong site (Score:5, Interesting)

        by Luyseyal ( 3154 ) <> on Friday February 15, 2013 @02:45PM (#42913445) Homepage

        Bah, the problem is that more and more kids are going to college who would otherwise have had non-university careers. Kids are not smarter or dumber. It's just that more, in general, are attending college which dilutes the pool.

        The trend will reverse as high schools narrow the university track and expand vocational options (already happening here in Austin, TX).

        Many colleges will shut down as a result.

        Many people say that online degrees (Coursera, Khan, etc.) will poach from the university. That's probably true to a certain extent, but I think the weightier blow is from high school vocational training (which I fully support). You don't need a university degree to wipe grandma's butt at $15/hr. And there will be a lot of Boomer butts to wipe.


      • by MitchDev ( 2526834 ) on Friday February 15, 2013 @03:22PM (#42914069)

        Critical thinking would cause the masses to rise up in arms against the mess we have called "The Government" and "Big Business", can't have that, so let's distract them with lower standards and gadgets that draw their attention away from how bad things have gotten...

    • Re:Wrong site (Score:5, Informative)

      by Antipater ( 2053064 ) on Friday February 15, 2013 @02:21PM (#42913127)

      I'm only two years out of university, so I hope I can provide a less "get off my lawn" perspective. I think what you're seeing is more a result of your specific field of study than a general decline. You're in IT, and techies don't give two shits about their writing. In my time at school, I graded assignments for both the Mechanical Engineering and English departments, so I got to see both sides of this coin. Papers for the English department were well-structured, grammatically sound, and generally easy to read, even if what they were writing about was absolute trash. Engineering reports conformed to basic sentence structure, but that was about it. They cared about the data and the equations, and the rest was filler. A comma splice was something that was mentioned in a blow-off class their freshman year and had absolutely no relevance to the Young's Modulus of aluminum. We checked the writing for plagiarism, but as long as the sentences actually made sense, the grammar was of no consequence.

      So I don't think it's a "lowering of the bar" so much as it is a splitting of disciplines - the Humanities-oriented folks slept through math class, and the STEM folks slept through writing class. Whether that's OK or not is a judgment call. Lord knows there are already enough op-eds out there playing tug-of-war over the amount of hard vs. soft education.

      The exceptions to the above were the Asian kids. Since they had studied English as their second language, with diligence and care enough to be fluent in something so different from their native tongue, they put a lot of time into their writing. There were very common grammatical mistakes (native Mandarin speakers have a lot of trouble with verb tense and subject-verb agreement, for example), but they approached anything they wrote with the care that you would put into a doctoral thesis.

      • (aka "Speak and Spell") was a required course for my engineering degree, and I believe it still is. My prof marked it (un)fairly harshly...I was getting 90s in my English classes and got 50s in the Engineering course.

        That said, a depressing number of my co-workers with 10+ years of experience can't write a clear and coherent email or design document.

    • by CrimsonAvenger ( 580665 ) on Friday February 15, 2013 @03:08PM (#42913823)

      Slashdot readership (if it can really be called that, judging by how little is actually read by its posting users []) is an older crowd; they are not college students. Chances are they will lament how times have changed, and then tell you to get off their lawn. Seriously, very few people here are going to be able to answer your question because they are not in college anymore.

      Given the number of /.'ers who don't know the difference between "your" and "you're", or "there", "their" and "they're", or "rogue" and "rouge", I suspect that most /.'ers would consider the current levels of literacy in colleges/universities acceptably high.

    • As a long-time reader of /. and a current Teaching Assistant at my local university, I can absolutely confirm that student writing at the college level has plummeted.

      I read 70+ papers a week written for a 300 level course in film critique. The content is weirdly polarized. Some students have laser-sharp content and style. Others smash dense blocks of words together with no coherence or structure. There are practically no in-betweeners; the bell curve is inverted on quality.

  • by Vinegar Joe ( 998110 ) on Friday February 15, 2013 @01:38PM (#42912375)

    I saw it start in the 60s when profs started inflating grades to keep students from losing their student draft deferments. More and more unqualified graduates entered the workforce and many went into education. It's been in a downward spiral ever since.

    • by stewsters ( 1406737 ) on Friday February 15, 2013 @02:01PM (#42912803)
      I sincerely doubt that. I bet many collage graduates back then didn't even know how to write a blog post, let alone post videos of them doing keg stands on Vine.
    • by SQLGuru ( 980662 ) on Friday February 15, 2013 @02:20PM (#42913107) Journal

      No Kid Left Behind! Everyone gets a trophy!

      The Wussification of America has been going on for a while. People never learn how to fail and how to deal with failure. And then, kids learn that there is no incentive for them to get any better at anything because there are no consequences.....someone will come along and change their grades, declare them a winner, or whatever even if they don't deserve it.

    • by PRMan ( 959735 ) on Friday February 15, 2013 @02:24PM (#42913171)

      If you would like to see just how far it has fallen, here is an 1899 entrance exam from Harvard:

      • It's mainly difficult because it requires much greater familiarity with Greek, Latin, and Euclid than most high school graduates possess these days.

        I do wonder what percentage of students studying Greek and Latin back then ever achieved the ability to read long works in either language with good comprehension and with little enough effort that it wasn't a chore, i.e. how many practiced it enough in school to use it through the rest of their lives, rather than just getting by well-enough not to look like dum

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        If you would like to see just how far it has fallen, here is an 1899 entrance exam from Harvard:

        Back in 1899, about 5% of students went on to higher education. Today more than 60% do. It is silly to compare someone at the 95th percentile to someone at the 40th.

        When people claim that SAT scores have fallen since the 1950's, they are doing something similar. Back then fewer than 20% of high school students took the SAT, today over 60% do. The high school dropout rate was also much higher in the 1950's, so that skews the results further. So the comparison is meaningless. When you correct for these f

      • by ranton ( 36917 ) on Friday February 15, 2013 @03:06PM (#42913789)

        If you would like to see just how far it has fallen, here is an 1899 entrance exam from Harvard:

        The only thing that exam might show is how much colleges have progressed since 1899. A third of that test is just translating Latin and Greek, which has very limited value. The history is very focused on ancient greece and rome. While they are difficult questions, IMHO, if secondary education of the time focued on those time periods I am sure they aren't too difficult. The math on the exam is pretty easy with no calculus to be found. The plane geometry section would be hard for me, but only because my schooling never covered it. If Harvard thought it was important enough back then to put on their exam then I am confident secondary education covered it at the time.

        About the only good a test like this would do today is to help make sure no one outside of the upper class and who didn't go to a high-priced private school could ever make it into the Ivy League. It looks like teaching to the test was a problem even back then, except back then top schools mostly asked questions on material they knew only children of equally pretentious parents who know the answers to.

      • The vast majority of the math on that exam I learned to do before high school with the single exception of polynomial long division(which was 10th grade). The greek and latin are both elementary, and I'd expect anyone who'd had 2 semesters of each to be able to handle it. While not trivial, you're talking about an entrance exam for what was unambiguously the greatest university of its era.

        If you compare the difficulty of that exam to the SAT in underlying difficulty, I'd guess the SAT would be harder.

  • not new (Score:5, Informative)

    by bananaquackmoo ( 1204116 ) on Friday February 15, 2013 @01:38PM (#42912379)
    This is nothing new. Universities have a BROAD set of admissions standards. In any college you will frequently find people who you wonder how they got there. Even if they didn't someone could get in via money, lying, legacy, getting lucky, socio-economics, knowing a guy in the admissions office, you name it...
    • Or not. Most of our Universities are publicly funded. Engineering and Sciences (and maybe other schools? not sure) have enrollment limits, in other words only the top X applicants get in.This is as opposed to when I attended (very long ago), where they had a standard and any one who made the standard was admitted. For example to get into 1st year Science I needed to get a 65% in all my 12th grade science courses and a 75% in math (not too hard). But now, since universities only take the top X% the bar for 1
    • I went to a land grant public university. In my humble proletariat opinion, there shouldn't be restrictive admissions policies as anything else is elitism by other names. We shouldn't pre-judge people - especially 19-year olds. Hell, once in a while, even a lowly patent clerk makes good.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday February 15, 2013 @01:39PM (#42912397)

    20 years ago as a first year UK student, I spent a semester at a decent US university. I participated in Masters level courses and aced them all. I was shocked at the astonishingly basic level of teaching and understanding; grading for much of the course was via multiple choice quizzes which made it ridiculously easy to achieve high marks, without proper validation of a student's understanding of the subject. At that time, UK university courses were effectively free.

    You are paying handsomely for the lamentable education you are receiving. Complain. Vociferously!

    • by dkleinsc ( 563838 ) on Friday February 15, 2013 @01:49PM (#42912587) Homepage

      I'm sorry, most of us dumb Americans don't understand the words "lamentable" and "vociferously". Please limit yourself to monosyllables if you intend to get your point across.

      • by Anonymous Coward on Friday February 15, 2013 @01:56PM (#42912711)

        Please limit yourself to monosyllables if you intend to get your point across.

        I don't know that big word you just used. please use short words.

    • by xevioso ( 598654 )

      Vociferously? Just stop with the sesqupedalian jobbernowlery!

  • Ummm (Score:5, Funny)

    by Tx ( 96709 ) on Friday February 15, 2013 @01:39PM (#42912403) Journal

    You come to Slashdot to complain about badly written blog posts? Have you even been here before? That's like going into a gay bar to bitch about homosexuality.

  • I believe your question could be phrased "are people getting dumber?" You can either believe what you hear (that they're supposedly not) or you can believe what you see with your own eyes, in which case the answer would likely be a resounding "Yes!"

  • You did say IT, didn't you??
  • by chemicaldave ( 1776600 ) on Friday February 15, 2013 @01:41PM (#42912435)
    I think writing a blog implies much less formality than a traditional paper. I graduated with a BS in 2010 and never did I write a paper with improper grammar that did not receive deductions, no matter the course or the assignment. It could also be that the students are not writing this in Word, and thus can't rely on the spelling and grammar checking functions.
  • by RobertJ1729 ( 2640799 ) on Friday February 15, 2013 @01:41PM (#42912441)
    I am a university professor. What you are witnessing is the disintegration of American secondary education. We have seen a dramatic decline in the preparation of incoming freshman. Even strong students who are very prepared on paper have major and substantial gaps in their education. Professors are struggling to manage this situation. Do you teach to the students in a way that will maximize their learning? Or do you teach the course content at a level consistent with your own notion of academic integrity and what the course catalog lists as the content of the course? Do you somehow split the difference, or if so, how? These are the questions we are trying to answer.
    • by funnyguy ( 28876 ) on Friday February 15, 2013 @01:48PM (#42912555)

      As an adult student who has gone back to school, I want to say something as well.

      We have seen a dramatic decline in the knowledge retention of students because professors are not trained on teaching methods. Even strong professors who are very prepared on paper have major and substantial gaps in their ability to communicate. Students are struggling to manage this situation. Do you let them teach to the students in a way that just forces memorization? Or do you only learn the course content at a level consistent with the professor's ability to communicate? Do you somehow split the difference, or if so, how? These are the questions we are trying to answer.

      • by langelgjm ( 860756 ) on Friday February 15, 2013 @01:57PM (#42912737) Journal
        The problem with your argument is that professors have pretty much never been trained in pedagogy. I think most people in secondary education, including the professors themselves, would agree that learning about how to teach effectively is not high on the list of priorities for most professors. There are a lot of reasons for this, some of which are problematic and should be changed. But the thing is, this has been the situation for decades. Most professors aren't good teachers. That's true today, and it was true in the past. So how do you explain declining performance of students when the quality of professor has remained constant?
    • by CohibaVancouver ( 864662 ) on Friday February 15, 2013 @01:50PM (#42912599)

      What you are witnessing is the disintegration of American secondary education.

      My (Canadian) brother married an American. Once their (American-born) kids were of a 'certain' age, they moved back to Canada, for exactly this reason. They were appalled at the degradation of American public education, and they saw their options as being 1) paying gazillions they didn't have for private school, 2) home schooling with the loss of all the resultant good stuff that comes from going to school or 3) putting their kids in public school and having them wind up with an inferior education.

      So now the kids are enrolled in public school here in Vancouver.

      • by PRMan ( 959735 ) on Friday February 15, 2013 @02:40PM (#42913375)
        You forgot 4) Move to a better neighborhood. Public school quality in America is VERY dependent on the neighborhood and parental involvement. If you run a bad school in a good neighborhood, the district superintendent can get run out of town very quickly. It happened in my hometown (we were all happy to see him go since he was moving all the money from the schools to making the district office nicer and his salary higher).
    • by Anonymous Coward on Friday February 15, 2013 @01:58PM (#42912763)

      I am a full professor at the University of California. Our promotions are tied to our course evaluations, and our course evaluations improve as we make the classes easier. Why would we slit our financial throats for you?

      • I can't say I blame you, if this is true. The State of CA would be at fault for implementing such a predictably bad incentive system.

      • by sycodon ( 149926 )

        Just out of curiosity, what drove this particular methodology to be implemented?

        Answer that and you will find the cause to all your problems.

        • by supercrisp ( 936036 ) on Friday February 15, 2013 @03:09PM (#42913837)
          That's easy. Declining public funding of public education has driven universities to rely more and more on tuition dollars. So we increase enrollments, and we have to keep students happy. We measure our success at making students happy by administering evaluations. Basically higher education is becoming more and more about customer service. Hell, my university insists on calling students customers and forces me to attend several customer service workshops or training sessions each semester. I really enjoy being told how to do my job by a person who has a BA in business! I really enjoy serving my students! (These statements will be revised after I am fully tenured and promoted.)
  • Sounds like a course for easy credits, so insert your own assumptions here and please be nice.

    I finished my post-grad about a year ago at a highly ranked public university for my specific scientific field. The third/fourth year courses I taught had exceptionally bright students, where said courses were not easy credits. I would disagree with the premise of your statement based on experience, but I'm also distanced from public high schools. You may be seeing the effect of poor preparation at that level.
  • ...Back in the day (Score:5, Insightful)

    by bigsexyjoe ( 581721 ) on Friday February 15, 2013 @01:44PM (#42912497)

    Back in the day they had high standards...

    Wait, did they? Do you have metrics to show it?

    Eighteen year olds aren't great writers, they never have been. Maybe at Harvard or an advanced English class, you'd have to write really well. But this is a Blogging class at State school. This is clearly writing for engineers, I'm not surprised the writing is bad.

    Welcome to the real world. Universities are neither miracle factories that turn out great thinkers, nor are they particularly strong filters of the caliber of people. They take in average 18 year olds and turn out average 22 year olds.

    What is the point of college? Well, it's kind of arbitrary. We have more people than jobs, so we need some sort of filter to select the people for the jobs. On the other hand, the professors know Blogging 301 is just a ticket to clerical work, so they don't act harshly on tuition-paying students who just want to move on to average jobs. They can't write well, but do they really need to? Does the world really need that from them?

    • Wait, did they [write well]? Do you have metrics to show it?

      I can't generalize, but I believe that my own writing was better in high school and early college than it is now. Whenever I stumble across one of my old essays I am amazed.

      After nine years of engineering school, those skills rust over.

      I am also frequently amazed by books from a generation or two ago. Compared to the stream of articles I typically read, they're a breath of fresh air.

      On the other hand, when I pick up old video games that I remember being hard, I beat them easily, even though I haven't touc

  • It's not just writing, it's also in mathematics. The the worst part is that many students who do poorly in mathematics do so because of their poor writing (and hence poor reading comprehension). The main issue today is that many people feel that a higher education is essential to a "better future", and that it should be available to everyone -- and I agree with both sentiments. However, not very many people are willing to admit to the fact that many folks entering college are simply not well prepared. Almos
  • by pngwen ( 72492 ) on Friday February 15, 2013 @01:47PM (#42912543) Journal

    I am a college instructor, and I have been for about 7 years now. I'll be upgrading to professor soon, so I can tell you first hand that your observations are quite correct. The undergraduate education system of the USA is considered to be the laughing stock of the academic world. However, our graduate schools are perceived as the best in the world. The reason for this is the utter failure of our public primary schools.

    Think of it this way. The average high school graduate in the US can only read on a 6th grade reading level. They come to me, a scholar in the field of Computer Science, and I have to try to teach them complex mathematical ideas that are only truly expressible in a new language. I have a couple of options. I can either dumb down my course to give them a chance, or I can maintain my integrity and demand that they come up to speed. The answer is that I have to do a mixture of them. If I taught as I was supposed to, my student success rate would plummet and my perception scores would be low, hence I would be fired. However, if I make the course too easy, I've polluted my own field in the next generation. Instead, I try to ramp them up with basic skills, but push them just to the edge of what their minds can actually handle. I also try to encourage them in other areas of study outside my own. Most of my students consider me a very tough but fair instructor, and most are grateful for my help. However, I do fail a larger percentage of my students than other instructors. Most have gone the field pollution route.

    This is a serious problem in our society. One thing we could do to fix it is stop pushing college so hard. Many of my kids would be better served in a tradeschool than a university, and yet they are pressured to come to me. They waist 4 years of their lives, learn nothing usable, and then end up back where they started.

    Oh, and one last thought. About the perception of the rest of the world. If you have a Bachelor's degree, that basically brings you up to par with the high school graduates in other countries. That also brings you up to the level your grandparents in the US had when they finished High School. We need to stop the degradation of the primary schools, but we never will. No child left behind has basically ensured that all future generations of Americans will be too stupid to find their a**hole with both hands.

    • by nospam007 ( 722110 ) * on Friday February 15, 2013 @01:54PM (#42912681)

      "They waist 4 years of their lives,..."

      Indeed, these years are wasted.

    • They waist 4 years of their lives, learn nothing usable, and then end up back where they started.

      And they put them selves in serious debt.

      • by PRMan ( 959735 )
        Right, so many are far worse off. We really need to have a better system that encourages trades for people that would not do well in college. There's no shame in that, but the country heaps shame on people for "not going to college".
    • I'm an old fart who went to a good private school way back in the 80's. And our professors complained about our lack of work ethic, our ability to do assignments, and our writing ability.

      IMHO, what's really happening is that your skills are getting better as you age, and you're automatically up-leveling what "average" is. Back when your were in college, other kids were about as good as you. But now you have years of experience and you're way better. Only you still compare yourself to the kids, and of co

    • Everything the parent says is true, in my own experience as an English teacher. To put it more briefly, K-12 isn't getting it done, and college professors have to pick up the slack. We do it by working harder. And frankly, the harder work doesn't always pay off. And double-Amen on the NCLB.
  • And I proofed his report for my English class. It was atrocious. full of endless grammatical errors, punctuation etc. I had to retake the class, because let's face it English grades are subjective. But guess whose paper was selected for reading and who passed it? Proving my point that any writing class is largely complete bullshit, I repeated the course with a different teacher with the same assignments. Accordingly I re-submitted the same papers (only dates changed) and passed with a very good grade.

    As a

    • by nospam007 ( 722110 ) * on Friday February 15, 2013 @01:56PM (#42912713)

      "It was atrocious. full of endless grammatical errors, punctuation etc. I had to retake the class, because let's face it English grades are subjective."

      Alas, you still didn't get that punctuation thingie.

    • If it's graded properly, much of the subjectivity is removed. It's really not too hard, for example, to determine whether or not someone made a logical set of arguments, came to a conclusion that was supported by the facts and arguments they presented, and did so in a manner that was clear and appropriate for the audience. Lazy graders will simply give good grades to papers with few typos, or else will give good grades to papers that present a logical argument, but if you properly train the graders to look

  • No single cause (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward

    I teach writing at a community college in Pennsylvania. Primarily, I teach classes for developmental students -- students who aren't ready to write at a 101 level.

    At our school, it isn't an issue of lowering the bar. We're an open admission school; we accept everyone, and try to meet their needs. That means I see lots of poor quality writing, and it means that I'm always looking for ways of making a difference. I'd point to a number of reasons for why students write poorly, even after going through a un

  • by HappyHead ( 11389 ) on Friday February 15, 2013 @01:52PM (#42912651)
    First, the context - I used to teach a web development course at a Canadian university. It was a side-job as a sessional instructor, brought in for knowledge in the area, and since I moved away for my day job, I stopped teaching.

    While I was teaching the course, I would have the students develop a web site from scratch, with the primary focus being to showcase their ability to encorporate CSS and javascript, and follow the W3's accessibility guidelines - topic was up to them, and I frequently told the class that their content's accuracy wasn't important, as long as it was their own content being generated. (This produced some of the most entertaining things to read at times... "Reptiles of the World" was all about Lions, Tigers, Giraffes, and their political machinations.) There were always a mix of local and foreign students in the class, and frankly, while some of the foreign students hadn't actually bothered learning the local language before coming to the country (or after), their average writing skills are (and have always been) about the same as those of the local students.

    Sadly, I must admit, that over the 10+ years that I taught the course, the quality of writing steadily decreased. At first, the average student was fairly literate, and I only had occasional problems with people devolving into instant-message speak. ("Can u help me?" Seriously people, the "y" and the "o" are both within an inch of the "u" on the keyboard! If you're writing a web page, you've got time to search them out and hit them!) During the later years of teaching the course, I found that more and more of the people coming into my class fell into the category I would call functionally illiterate, and sadly, all I can think of to blame for it is schools no longer actually caring if kids learn to read and write before pushing them out with diplomas.

    A relative of mine's daughter in grade school came home with an "essay" she had written and received a good mark on - it was full of horrible spelling and grammar errors, which my mother and the girl's mother both made her correct - when the teacher was asked about why the spelling problems were not corrected, we were told "Oh, we don't do that anymore, we don't want to stunt their creativity."
    • by Anonymous Coward on Friday February 15, 2013 @02:01PM (#42912799)

      when the teacher was asked about why the spelling problems were not corrected, we were told "Oh, we don't do that anymore, we don't want to stunt their creativity.

      I wish you were kidding.

    • I've taught both high school and a few college courses.
      I also have my education degree in addition to my engineering degree.

      The reality is that the bar is lower.

      As others have pointed out, it is a problem with high school and elementary school. It appears to me that we've spent more and more on education and theories and gotten less and less out of it.

      I did my up to grade 3 under a British colonial system. I didn't learn anything well into high school.
      I'm in Canada, and many students graduating couldn't eve

  • Average students (Score:5, Insightful)

    by the eric conspiracy ( 20178 ) on Friday February 15, 2013 @01:57PM (#42912739)

    Average students attending universities with admissions standards that accept them will predictably attain - hold on now - average performance.

    50 years ago average students didn't go to universities to get bachelor's degrees. Now they do.

    So how is it a surprise that the standards are lower?

  • by RNLockwood ( 224353 ) on Friday February 15, 2013 @02:08PM (#42912929) Homepage

    In the mid '70s when I was in grad school there was a discussion about whether education standards had been lowered and the general opinion was "yes". It was pointed out that the average grades in particular high school and university classes had been rising and that increasing numbers of freshmen were required to take make up courses in "language arts" as they couldn't write well. It was suggested that the proficiency level in the 2nd year of university corresponded to the proficiency level of high school graduates from 20 or 30 years before. One would think that the decline would have bottomed out by now; perhaps part of this perception of decline is just perception.

    On the other hand this decline appears to be correlated with the "baby boomer" explosion and the introduction television in every household.

    There must still be some records around of the required proficiency in written language skill from previous decades which could be compared with today's.

  • by SirGarlon ( 845873 ) on Friday February 15, 2013 @02:10PM (#42912959)

    There is a widespread belief in the US that everyone should go to college. There are two problems with this. First, the economy has a certain need for skills like carpentry or auto repair. College, with some exceptions, doesn't teach those. Second, not everyone is prepared for college, due to lack of motivation or aptitude or due to a failure of secondary education.

    What I think you're seeing is that these unprepared students are being channeled into the university system. Two generations ago they might have gone to secretarial school or plumbing school or what have you and then into the workforce. One generation ago there was a movement for vocational education in the US to move that kind of training into high school and get the non-college-ready students career-ready instead. For reasons I don't understand, vocational programs first became a dumping ground for students with learning disabilities and/or behavior problems, and then were de-funded. This leaves us with little middle ground between ceasing education at high school, and four-year universities.

    At the same time, high schools have been struggling to keep their dropout rates down and to impart basic literacy to their graduates. They're frantic to minimally educate the bottom quartile of students. Given limited resources (and, often, a statutory requirement to spend disproportionately on special-needs students), they're just doing triage. For those students who do go on to college, there seems to be an implicit expectation that high school doesn't need to make them perfect: their deficiencies can be corrected later, in college.

    Back two generations ago, a college would take a weak high-school graduate and just reject her application, and she'd shrug and go on to a (perhaps perfectly rewarding) career in hairdressing or on an assembly line. Now, with the expectation that college is for everyone, economic forces ensure that there is a college that will accept such a student.

    When everyone is expected to go to college, college becomes the new high school.

    Interestingly, there is a lot of political will to make college accessible, but much less to put some teeth back into the high-school curriculum so a diploma actually means something.

  • Normal Distribution (Score:4, Informative)

    by gallen1234 ( 565989 ) <{gallen} {at} {}> on Friday February 15, 2013 @02:12PM (#42912983)
    I'm a college professor, and my students seem to follow a relatively normal distribution. I have a few who can write well, a few who would have a hard time making a grocery list and a large majority that do okay. The ones who do poorly often do very *very* poorly and I think their relative impact may cause outside observers to overstate the situation. I've also noticed that, predictably, full length papers tend to be more problematic than individual discussion posts. Students who do okay in the discussion often start to go down hill when they have to put together a multi-page argument.
  • Yes (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Tridus ( 79566 ) on Friday February 15, 2013 @02:12PM (#42912995) Homepage

    Math professors at Universities have been complaining about this same trend for a very long time, to the point that they actually created a set of non-credit classes that basically teach high school math again. You have to take an entrance test before taking a first year math course, and if you fail you have to take the non-credit course first.

    Why? Because the math failure rates in first year became astronomical due to the pathetic job that high schools are doing in teaching it.

    Other fields (like writing) are suffering similar problems now. Generally speaking we do a pathetic job of teaching basic skills like these in elementary and high school. But on the upside we've boosted everyone's self-esteem to the point where they don't know what failure is.

  • by Moridineas ( 213502 ) on Friday February 15, 2013 @02:13PM (#42913017) Journal

    For any interested in a little background, I highly recommend the book "The War Against Grammar" (Amazon link []).

    The basic gist of the book is that starting roughly 30 years ago, linguists and educational theorists decided that teaching grammar and prescriptive rules (arbitrary rules, they might say!) is not necessary. After all, people learn to speak without formally being taught grammar. As long as you can be understood by others, what does it matter? Communication is the key, not formal grammar. Thus being able to diagram a sentence or know the difference between a direct and indirect object became an archaism. The emergence of described (and accepted) phenomenon like Ebonics is part of this movement.

    Ask college kids today how many of them had to diagram sentences in elementary school? I have asked many current college students and very, very few even knew what diagramming a sentence means. Even ten years ago, many more students would have had this emphasis on grammar in early educational.

    The end results--college students who can't write to save their lives. (And no, I don't blame texting and Instant Messaging.)

    It's a good book!

  • Nobody Reads (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Sir_Eptishous ( 873977 ) on Friday February 15, 2013 @02:43PM (#42913411) Homepage
    It seems to me that someone can write a decent sentence and paragraph if they read regularly. If someone reads well written articles, columns, stories, histories, novels, etc; then that person will usually have an "inherent" ability to write a passable sentence, paragraph, argument, etc;.

    You can now get the fuck off my lawn as I lament the fact that(gots to have some exaggeration and hyperbole) no one reads anymore:
    Unless it is a few pages or less, and more likely 140 characters or less.

    A young relative of mine who is is college right now complained about how much reading they had to do for classes. I asked if they ever read on their free time for fun, you know, even something like "Harry Potter". They said no. I have since discovered that this is the norm for the Gen Y and Z folks. Reading on your free time is now considered very anachronistic and unhip.
  • by tlambert ( 566799 ) on Friday February 15, 2013 @03:13PM (#42913901)

    Not so long ago, the U.S. changed the way it taught the three pillars of traditional education: reading, writing, and arithmetic.

    The read and writing are very closely coupled, and the ability to write, as well as the size of your vocabulary, directly correlate with whether you were taught to read via the "Whole Language" method, or whether you were taught via the "Phonics" method.

    The "Whole Language" method effectively treats the letter combination which makes up a word as if it were an ideogram, and you end up treating English ideogrammatically. The end result of this method of teaching is severalfold for the student taught:

    (1) The student can read words for familiar ideograms very quickly; this translates to a perception of rapid initial progress in reading, which does not follow a linear curve when increasing vocabulary usage occurs over grade levels of reading. For most people this isn't an issue, since newspapers tend to use a vocabulary of at most 300 words for most of their stories (i.e. they write their stories in language somewhere between a 5th and 6th grade reading level).

    (2) The student will often fail to be able to read words which they have not encountered before, unless the meaning can be derived from context and the first letter of the word. This is because students are still taught the "ABC Song" mnemonic, which can more often get a first letter match, compared to subsequent letters.

    (3) Their ability to write words which they have heard spoken verbally, but have never seen written in verbally paired context, is either damaged or non-existant.

    (4) When using texting, and to a lesser extent, blogging, and email communications, the student is more likely to engage in use of an abbreviated phonetic alphabet (sometimes called "text-speak").

    Contrarily, learning phonetic processing of words leads to a slower apparent ramping to an observed ability to read, but suffers none of the other drawbacks.

    The "Whole Language" method came out of the newly minted discipline of child psychology in the 1960's, and took over from the phonetic method in the late 1960's or early to mid-1970's, with California leading the way, and the other educational systems following later -- the delay in adoption depended on how conservative the school or district was when it came to adopting new methods of teaching.

    Luckily, the "Whole Language" approach has since been largely discredited, but the children who were taught to read "in the gap" were effectively handicapped in their ability to read, unless they relearn it phonetically with unfamiliar words -- typically most easily achieved by learning a language other than English phonetically, where that language shares most or all of the phonemes with English.

    Unfortunately, this "gap" lasted into the mid to late 1990's for some states (mostly, again, the educationally conservative states, who were slow to adopt the "new" phonetic method, after have been late to adopt the "Whole Language" method.

    There are a number of interesting scholarly articles on this, apart from the Wikipedia article here: [] and I encourage you to seek them out, since the Wikipedia article fails to provide date-bands by at least state, or within a state, by school district, which would otherwise allow you to understand the age range you could expect to have been "damaged" by use of the "Whole Language" teaching method.

    NB: Some schools, notably Parochial schools (otherwise known as "religious schools"), and Montessori style schools, which had to simultaneously teach multiple grade levels within the same classroom t the same time, never adopted "Whole Language". Catholic schools in particular, which had an emphasis on teaching both Latin and English, and private schools with a foreign (usually romance) language requirement ended up with an additional teaching burden which was do

  • by PPH ( 736903 ) on Friday February 15, 2013 @03:47PM (#42914519)

    Midgets have to drink, too.

  • by dcollins ( 135727 ) on Friday February 15, 2013 @03:52PM (#42914619) Homepage

    I was talking to a more senior math instructor recently where I teach, and s/he said, "I recently went back to my files from when I started teaching here. Wow! There's no way we could give tests like those anymore!" [meaning they were much too hard for our current students]

    So I've been teaching math and computers in community colleges in Boston and NYC for about a decade now. First of all, when I initially started teaching, I simply could not believe the atrocious quality of the work I was getting submitted. It seemed utterly insane. Early on I also gave an assignment for a report paper, taking for granted that college students would have that as an assumed skill. [record-needle-screech] So wrong. The students went nuts when I gave them back corrections on their writing.

    Interestingly, the one bulwark, the "proud nail" in the current college system is the basic math requirement, which alone prevents about half of all community college students from graduating. (My ears never stop ringing from the nonstop chorus of, "I've completed all my other credits, I just need remedial algebra to graduate, please I need to pass" a hundred times every semester.) My theory is twofold: (1) math is the last discipline where you can't dance around and lower standards through subjective means; it's really obvious if you can graph a line or not, etc.; and (2) math is the one discipline that's inherently an application of shared principles (we don't just give true/false tests on whether multiplying is the inverse of division, you actually have to use that in the context of solving an equation).

    Now, we recently have a new protocol at our university that noticeably and dramatically made the algebra final exam a whole lot easier (fewer problems, mostly two-step manipulations, almost no fractions on the whole final), so as to ease the bottleneck of students trapped in remedial courses. But I see the tide rising everywhere, with the basic math requirement being held out as the last seawall, and stress for both students and instructors is enormous. Ultimately I don't see any final outcome to this other than colleges flat-out remove the math requirement, or fake the testing and make it absurdly trivial.

    My dad's a long-time veterinarian, and supposedly it's the same situation at the top professional schools there now. From what he says, a few years ago at one of the top schools, there was a rash of suicide attempts among the students who couldn't take the pressure, so now they basically don't fail anyone, and just pass everyone over to the state bar to determine who gets prohibited from actually practicing (after 8 years of schooling). So it's someone else's problem and the school does collect more tuition, after all.

    I don't know what the solution is. It seems like as soon as society decided in the last century that college degrees were inherently valuable, then it was doomed to corruption pressures and devaluation, in a case study of Campbell's Law [].

Garbage In -- Gospel Out.