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What's 2/2?

We made new friends in Syracuse this week. They are Josh’s friend's parents and he is very fond of them. I am going to call them Adam and Jane. He designs instructional spaces and she teaches development math to college students. This used to be called remedial math which helps students gain skills needed to complete college math requirements.

Jane works with high school graduates who cannot answer a simple question - what is two divided by two?

Suspended between denial and disbelief, we inundated Jane with a barrage of questions: how is this possible, what kind of school are these students graduating from, how old are they, how do you cope? From schools all over, of all ages and with extreme patience, she replied. She lamented about what will happen to these students now that her college is doing away with development math classes and she is retiring.

How on earth are students graduating from high school without basic skills?!

In 2016, the National Assessment of Education Progress report card found that two third of US high school seniors are not prepared for college-level courses in math and reading. With the pandemic and related remote-learning chaos, I cannot imagine there's been an improvement in this stat over the last two years.

Two-thirds is nuts!

Let's put real numbers on this: in 2019, there were almost 16M high school students with 4M graduating annually. This means 2.6M students are not college-ready.

Naturally, the job market is feeling the squeeze.

It is extremely difficult to find college seniors with strong technical skills. The pool of eligible graduates is small and they are scooped up before you can blink your eyes.

Low supply means high demand and astronomical salaries.

Last month we ran into someone who is 27 years old and earns 400k per year at a global tech company. He's not an outlier. The root causes of salary escalations are entangled like the limbs of a banyan tree.

If our first graders cannot count, second graders don't know multiplication tables, third graders stumble on division, eighth graders can't handle algebra and high schoolers fail calculus. That’s just math; reading, humanities, and science deficiencies are equally stark. In the end, college graduates are not equipped to handle the real world.

Do I know how to fix this? No, because the deterioration is decades in the making and will not turn around quickly.

All I know is that the K-12 education is in serious crisis, while we bicker about CRT. Couple that with irrational legal immigration controls and we are staring at disaster in the face. Family and friends in India no longer want to come to the US for college education - too far, too expensive, and poor job prospects for immigrants are motivating them to choose academic destinations on other continents.

Jane is not a made-up person with an abstract problem.

Her students actually don't know what 2/2 is. As I drowned in that information, she added that the problem is compounded by paid cheaters hired to help under-performers. Unfortunately, the politicians on both sides of the divide are not interested in trying, enabling, funding, or delivering solutions.

Jane opened my eyes to the enormous scale of the education challenge. After meeting her, education and immigration reform has become front-and-center on my election agenda. We cannot fix the economy without having a diverse, dynamic, educated workforce. Sadly, as more dedicated people like Jane ride off into the sunset, that will become impossible.

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