McKinsey: Teachers overestimate students’ skills

Teachers overestimate their students’ employability, according to research conducted by McKinsey & Co. Graduates often are judged unready for the workforce by potential employers, leading to underemployment.

While teachers more or less understood which skills employers would value, they had overly rosy view of how well their students had mastered those skills pretty much across the board. In particular, educators think their students are significantly better at problem-solving and more computer literate than potential employers do, and that they have far more hands-on and theoretical training when they graduate from a post-secondary school.

Employers complained the most about job applicants’ “ability to take instruction, their work ethic, their problem-solving skills and . . . language proficiency.”

About Joanne


  1. CarolineSF says:

    I see you’re not taking a vacation from teacher-bashing, Joanne Jacobs. Classy!

    • CarolineSF,

      As someone who has interviewed plenty of college graduates for STEM careers, I can tell you that the estimates in the article are quite correct. Graduates of high school and college routinely lack the ability to take and follow instructions, be able to work independently and with little supervision (i.e. – no micromanagement), and in reading many resumes and job applications, I usually reach the conclusion that the graduate isn’t qualified from the work and or effort put into the resume.

      I’ve lectured college and high school students on the importance of a good resume, and I’ve told them, when I reach the 3rd instance of misspelled words or the 3rd instance of bad grammar, the resume goes into the shredder.

      If you’re looking through a pile of 100 plus resumes, and spending an average of 5 minutes (500 minutes here), you don’t have the time to waste on potential employees who do NOT understand the importance of a resume.

      • CarolineSF says:

        I’m saying it shows poor judgment to post surveys purporting to show that teachers are stupid — in a context where “teachers are stupid” is a widespread theme, heavily promoted by Joanne and her wealthy, powerful “reformy” colleagues — before those teachers who gave their lives protecting children are cold in the ground, and I am SO holding back merely calling it “poor judgment.”

        • I must have missed the part where the survey claims to show that teachers are stupid.

          I read it as more of a disconnect between what the teachers considered “ready to be employed” and what the employers considered “ready to be employed.”

          What part did you read as implying stupid?

          • In a context where we get a constant barrage of propaganda that teachers are undereducated; greedy; lazy; “the bottom third,” as we’ve read here (it’s false); and a longer stream of invective and disparagement — in that context, a commentary that teachers think their kids are qualified when they are not does constitute disparaging them as “stupid.” Doing that the morning of the first workday after teachers gave their lives protecting students in Newtown is just insensitive beyond belief.

        • I don’t think that it’s about teachers being stupid, it’s about different expectations. Some jobs have absolute expectations. Doctors must complete anatomy, contractors must know building codes, etc. When you teach for a while, you start to judge ‘normal’ or acceptable by what you see every day, even if you start out with higher expectations. By the time a high school teacher sees students, they may not be able to get them to where they need to be to get a job (and it may not be the fault of that teacher, or any teacher). When I taught at a CC, I was shocked by the inability of many students to write coherent sentences. I now teach 9th graders at a homeschool co-op. These kids are much better writers…but are less accustomed to the level of rigor that I’m expecting (which is less than my college classes). I’m pretty confident that, purely based on intellect, both groups are capable of both writing and doing science. In both situations, though, I made some adjustment to my expectations. Over time, I could see how teachers might come to see subpar work as ‘average’, even if it isn’t good enough for employers.

        • before those teachers who gave their lives protecting children are cold in the ground

          Your ghoulish attempt to capitalize on the completely unrelated deaths in Connecticut to score cheap rhetorical points is noted.

          • I am outraged at teacher-bashers who would never lift a finger, let alone give their lives, to save a child, but who call for slashing teachers’ pay, eliminating their pensions and denigrating them as stupid losers. I call BS on your best-defense-is-good-offense crap, “engineer-poet.” Show a tiny shred of class.

          • I am outraged at teacher-bashers who would never lift a finger, let alone give their lives, to save a child

            Of course, you “just know” that the people trying to get senile or incompetent teachers pulled from classrooms and eliminate pay bumps for e.g. degrees and “training” which don’t benefit students “would never lift a finger”.  You can be sure of this because they didn’t teleport to the scene and throw themselves in front of the gunman or something like that… but you’re CERTAIN.

            Show a tiny shred of class.

            Damn, there goes another irony meter.  I need to start buying these things by the case-load.

  2. I was at a busy local bakery, on Saturday morning, when the power went out. There was a calculator, but none of the four counter employees knew how to enter data to calculate the sales tax. I walked them through the process, with enough repetitions that most customers left. One of the employees said “Wow, you must be a math teacher!”. No, I simply know basic arithmetic; the knowledge and skills that, in my day, were learned by sixth grade. These people (20s-30s) have neither the skill nor the understanding.

  3. I think that there has been a large decrease in the amount of out-of-class work (independent reading included) and in the expectation of note-taking, summarizing and outlining. A recently-retired HS-teacher relative agrees; his son’s teachers either provided notes or went over the tests the day before they were given (or both). Kids are trained to expect this. I think that part of it has been driven by the push for heterogeneous classes and full inclusion; even kids who could and should be working independently are being spoon-fed, because the bottom of the class needs that assistance (or enough help that simply giving them the notes is easier). The teaching of writing is poor; grammar is not taught (Lucy Calkins, of Teachers’ College, explicitly states that grammar should be “caught, not taught” – except that it isn’t).

    Maybe Caroline considers it teacher-bashing, but when four adults (appearing to be of average intelligence), from four different local schools (3 public, 1 Catholic) cannot do simple math, even with a calculator, there’s a problem. It was not just a lack of basic facts, but a failure to understand the relationship between percentages and decimals (none recognized .06 as 6%) and a failure to understand how to set up a simple problem – in addition to the fact that they could not multiply 6 x 0.55 without a calculator. I did it in my head faster than they could do it on the calculator – and I’m no math type.

    • momof4,

      I’ve had exactly the same instance happen to me in a restaurant, except no one had a calculator…thus the old pencil and paper method.

      None of the on duty employees had a clue how to compute sales tax based on a final price, and that’s something which should have been learned in elementary school, not in middle or high school.

      CarolineSF, no one implied (certainly not the article) that teachers are doing a bad job, but there is NO way a high school teacher can take a kid who is years behind in reading, writing, and math, and fix them to be employable in the course of a standard school day.

      In reality, many students wind up hating math, due to the fact that they had a bad experience with it during elementary school. Math is like a foundation, you need basic skills in order to handle more complex problems in math, without the basics, you’re sunk.

  4. Mike Curtis says:

    I quit teaching today…When I retired from military service in 1995, I promised myself that I would never, ever, again work for stupid people…I held out as long as I could. 13 years: It was always about the kids; but Admin just kept wearing me down.

    • Peace Corps says:

      I think I will make it through the end of the school year. After that, I plan to join you out the door. Same reason that you gave.