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Work Ethic and Low SAT Scores

The Blame Game Opens the Door to More Excuses for Poor Performance

Once again the SAT scores of high school students in the U.S. have declined and raise questions whether today’s high schoolers are prepared for success in college. Scores on the SAT have sunk to the lowest level since the college admission test was overhauled in 2005, adding to worries about student performance in the nation’s high schools.

The average score for the Class of 2015 was 1490 out of a maximum 2400, the College Board reported last Thursday. That was down 7 points from the previous class’s mark and was the lowest composite score of the past decade. There were declines of at least 2 points on all three sections of the test — critical reading, math and writing.

 “Why is education reform hitting a wall in high school?” asked Michael J. Petrilli, president of the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, a think tank. “You see this in all kinds of evidence. Kids don’t make a whole lot of gains once they’re in high school. It certainly should raise an alarm.”

I’m not surprised by the declining scores. What I am surprised at (and disappointed, for that matter), is the apologists continue to point to the same old tired reasons for this occurrence.

They blame it on poverty, language barriers, low levels of parental education and social ills that plague many urban neighborhoods. Not to mention ill-prepared teachers, large class sizes, inadequate funding for our schools, and on and on.

Wake up, America. It’s the lack of a work ethic that causes the decline. Today’s high schoolers are unprepared for the rigors of college not to mention the technologically advanced nature of professional jobs today.

So, the real questions are: (1) What is the cause of the declining work ethic? and (2) What can be done about it?

The declining work ethic is due to an inability to focus in class for more than one or two minutes. Youngsters today are not taught learning skills in high school. They never take notes in class thereby missing a learning opportunity. These kids prefer to surf the “Net” and check social media sites rather than pay attention in class. There is nothing inherently wrong with using social media or learning from the Internet, but their priorities are messed up. It should be to work first, and then play.

We need to accept the fact that as a nation we are losing our global competitiveness to Asian countries, especially China. The 2012 global results of the Program for International Student Assessment (PISA) administered through the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) indicates that the U.S. was below global averages in mathematics and ranked 27th. China was ranked first.

What can be done to improve the situation? It goes much deeper than improving SAT scores. Their decline is a symptom of a society that has gotten too soft; one that lets high schoolers skirt by rather than demand excellence of them. To be honest, I don’t see any reason to think it will change in the future, especially not in the short run. What we need to do is focus on a long-term strategy to reverse the trend. Unfortunately, I don’t think we have the will to do what needs to be done with respect to educational discipline.

Educational standards are a moving target. First, there was no child left behind. Then a set of common core standards. What’s next? It doesn’t matter. We are focusing on the wrong solutions. High-schoolers and, indeed, all youngsters from K-5 through college could benefit from the following guidance:

  1. Develop a positive attitude.
  2. Get to school or work on time each day.
  3. Write down your daily tasks for each day of the week.
  4. Accept that the results of an effort worth pursuing requires hard work.
  5. Begin to discipline yourself in everyday life and translate it into study and work habits.
  6. Set achievable goals.
  7. Avoid analysis paralysis
  8. Embrace responsibility and accountability.
  9. Evaluate your work; identify your weaknesses and create a plan to improve on those weak areas.
  10. Stop and reflect periodically on what you are trying to accomplish; how can you work harder to achieve your goals; how do you want to be remembered at the end of your life.

Lifestyle expert Scott Young puts it quite well when he says: A work ethic is based on habits. Persistence, focus, “do it now,” and “do it right” are the key habits in building a dependable work ethic.

It’s unusual for me, to say the least, to end a blog with a quote from an actress, but that is what I have for you. Erin Cummings is quoted as saying: “At the end of the day, you are solely responsible for your success and your failure. And the sooner you realize that, you accept that, and integrate that into your work ethic, you will start being successful. As long as you blame others for the reason you aren't where you want to be, you will always be a failure.”

I would add to the blame game those in the political class (a new trendy term, it seems), those in the  1% wealthiest group of people, society in general that keeps you down, the school system, teachers, mothers and fathers and…The butcher, the baker, the candlestick maker.

Blog posted by Dr. Steven Mintz, aka Ethics Sage, on September 8, 2015. Professor Mintz is on the faculty of the Orfalea College of Business at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo. He also blogs at: www.workplaceethicsadvice.com