I often wonder why we insist on making algebra a requirement for high school graduation. Many adults never use it. Many students hate it and some fail to graduate because it is a requirement. They may have many other skills, but just cannot get algebra. Matt Yglesias has a blog post about “signaling” in higher education. Maybe that is all algebra is in high school, but then, as Rudy Crew described it in Ways and Means Subcommittee this week, it really is then just a part of system that “spins rinses and sorts kids into categories of smart and dumb.”
From Yglesias’s post “Education Is About Signals, Not Just Learning and Credentials” (here):
…. reminds me that when people discuss innovation in the higher education space, they often forget that there's quite a bit more to the signaling function of higher education than just credentialing. In particular, since going to college is a normal bourgeois thing to do in America in 2013, doing it indicates that you are a normal American who subscribes to normal bourgeois values. A summer intern who's just finished up her third year at Yale doesn't have any kind of particular credentials, but we know that she probably has very good SAT scores and sounds like an exceedingly normal person. A young woman who got a 1600 on her SATs and has been spending the past three years working at 7-11 and watching Open Yale Courses videos sounds like a huge weirdo.
And employers seem to genuinely value that "you're not a weirdo" factor. There's nothing stopping firms from attempting to recruit 18-year-olds with high SAT scores to work for low salaries in trainee positions rather than those deeply in debt from going to college. But essentially nobody tries the alternative method of education. Not necessarily because it's an inherently terrible idea, but because given the status quo, only a weirdo would say yes to that proposition and people are generally trying not to bring weirdos into their workplaces.