By JAMES K. FITZPATRICK
I don’t know if we should view the information coming out of New York City regarding Common Core as good news or bad; I await our readers’ reactions. It seems as if the United Federation of Teachers (UFT), New York City’s teachers union, is calling for a delay on any decisions about teacher performance based upon the implementation of the controversial federally mandated curriculum. On October 14, the web site Education News reported that the UFT, “citing a lack of curriculum materials in many schools in New York City,” is “calling for a moratorium on high-stakes consequences for Common Core Standards assessments as the city schools are just a few months into implementing new teacher evaluations.”
What is the union worried about? It seems as if Common Core’s standards have become a problem for members of the union. Education News reports, “The union is pushing for Gov. Andrew Cuomo and Albany lawmakers to make yet another change to the state’s teacher evaluation law. . . . We’re 15 percent through the school year and this is still a complete mess,” said UFT President Michael Mulgrew. “We have no choice but to go in this direction.”
Even those predisposed to react with skepticism toward teachers union demands may find themselves sympathetic with Mulgrew. A survey commissioned by the UFT “showed that most schools are still missing all or part of the curriculum” based on Common Core. “About 64 percent of schools still lacked some math curriculum materials and 78 percent had not received English curriculum, according to the survey.” It seems fair that teachers should not be held responsible for teaching a curriculum that is not available to them.
Education News found that, while the federal Department of Education was responsible for delivering the curriculum to the nation’s schools by the beginning of this fall’s term, there was an “uneven distribution of curriculum. . . . Several schools received hundreds of copies of the wrong book, while others received too few copies to teach the curriculum for an entire grade. The curriculum is supposed to help teachers better prepare students for the state’s end-of-the-year standardized tests, and students’ performances on the tests will have a direct result on the rating teachers receive on their evaluations.”
According to teachers union head Mulgrew, “Now we know there is no debating with the fact that [the city’s] incompetence on getting the right materials to schools will have an adverse effect on the students and teachers.” Mulgrew wants the moratorium to be lifted only when “every school has the appropriate materials.”
Is it unfair to think of the rollout of Obamacare as we read this story? Is that comparing apples and oranges? Or is there a pattern that can be seen in both Obamacare and Common Core that requires our attention? Is this another piece of evidence for why the federal government does not belong in local school systems — and in our health-care system? Is any delay in implementing Common Core good news?
On another topic: selecting a college major. It revolves around the old question of whether students should choose a field of study based on the job prospects it offers, or on their scholarly interests. Many of us who studied in a liberal arts college decades ago heard the maxim that colleges ought not be considered “trade schools”; that employers will respond more favorably to job applicants with the language skills and the well-rounded scholarly background of a liberal arts major than to those with “narrow” occupational training.
It is an argument that has lost much of its luster in the difficult job market of our time. Employers do not seem as attracted as they once were to the “well-rounded” liberal arts major. The stories about liberal arts graduates either unemployed or working at Starbucks make an impact on us because they strike home. Many of us know young people caught in these dire straits.
An article by Catherine Conlan on Yahoo’s web site deserves attention because of these new workplace realities. Conlan reports on a recent study by Payscale that documented the “seven most underemployed majors” in the United States today. Specifically, the study examined which college majors result in graduates who have “to settle for jobs that don’t match their education or training.”
Coming in seventh place was psychology, whose “majors often end up in human resources positions, teaching, or at coffee shops.” In sixth place was history. Those with a bachelor’s degree tend to end up “in operations management or as paralegals.” In fifth place was liberal arts. Hiring managers tend to see “a liberal arts grad as someone who can’t make a decision” about a specific major. The study recommends that liberal arts majors “specialize soon” or find themselves hired as administrative assistants, office managers, or paralegals.
Those who see themselves as a future “Indiana Jones,” traveling the globe to study cultural practices or research lost civilizations, and think that majoring in anthropology — which came in fourth — will open these doors, should think twice, according to the Payscale research. Anthropology grads “are more likely to be working as office managers or in customer services.” Payscale also recommends that would-be actors avoid majoring in drama and theater arts (tied for number three). Rather than getting “their big break” because of a major in theater arts, they will likely find themselves “executive assistants, administrative assistants, and customer service representatives.”
Criminal justice was the major tied with drama and theater arts for the third position. Criminal justice majors found work, but Payscale maintains it is employment in fields that do not usually require a college degree: “police officers, paralegals, and security guards.” Payscale contends this meets the standard of “underemployment.”
The major coming in at the top spot on Payscale’s list was business administration. Perhaps this surprised you as much as it did me, considering all the stories we hear about highly paid graduates holding an MBA, a master’s degree in business administration. But Payscale’s focus was on bachelor’s degrees, and it found that a BBA, a bachelor’s in business administration, “isn’t going to get you nearly as far as an MBA will.” Students who do not go on to a graduate school of business often “end up as credit or collections managers, retail assistant managers, or as wait staff.”
Perhaps some of our readers disagree with Payscale’s findings. If so, fire away with your reasons why.
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Readers are invited to submit comments and questions about this and other educational issues. The e-mail address for First Teachers is firstname.lastname@example.org, and the mailing address is P.O. Box 15, Wallingford CT 06492.