Get ’em ready

To increase black and Hispanic enrollment in college, improve K-12 education, write Jay Greene and Greg Forster in the Washington Post. Affirmative action is irrelevant.

The primary obstacle to getting more minority students into college is that only one in five of such students graduate from high school with the bare minimum qualifications needed even to apply to four-year colleges.

. . . For students to be able to attend virtually any four-year college, they need to graduate from high school, have a set of required courses on their high school transcripts and demonstrate basic literacy. The shocking reality is that fewer than one in five minority students has passed these three hurdles and is thus “college ready.”

Underprepared students who do make it to college aren’t likely to earn a degree.

Greene, a Manhattan Institute scholar, will talk about dubious high school graduation statistics on 60 Minutes II tonight.

About Joanne


  1. Precisely. There’s little point in trying to get more black or Hispanic kids into college if they’re not going to be able to handle the work because they haven’t been prepared for it. I don’t want to get involved in an affirmative action debate, but it seems a relatively easy conclusion to draw that you need to start earlier with kids than college age.

    Say I want to take calculus (ha!). But I don’t take trig or pre-calc or whatever it is that they make you take to get into a calculus class (in my case, it’d be something hallucinogenic). How can I reasonably be expected to understand the calculus class?

  2. Steve LaBonne says:

    Sad that publication of such an obvious truth in a forum like WaPo is noteworthy. Sadder still that it will undoubtedly prove “controversial”. By the way, as a former college professor I would point out that most white middle-class suburban kids are also poorly prepared for college- it’s just that they start college at, say, a 9th-grade academic level rather than (to be optimistic) a 5th grade level for the products of lousy urban school systems. And the middle-class kids are less likely to realize or admit the deficits in their academic background, which often makes it a lot more pleasant to try to help the kids from disadvantaged backgrounds- though that may be a hopeless task if they’re too far behind.

  3. I agree with Steve. I taught calculus, stats, and a general “quantitative reasoning” class to mainly upper middle-class white students, at NYU and NCSU. On the whole, they were not prepared for real college math because they could barely do high school math. What was =really= sad is that some of these kids had taken calculus in high school and gotten good grades in it, though they couldn’t solve algebra or trig problems without seeing a carbon-copy example in front of them. As he notes, these kids don’t realize their math skills are lacking (“We went to the best schools!”), and thus were difficult to teach; the ones who had had calculus before were extremely difficult to teach.

    Those who know they don’t know are the easiest to help.

  4. Why not focus on trade school? I have a neighbor who has an associates in Electrical Engineering, and he makes 50% more than I do with an MS in Sociology, and I think he should make more than me.
    My coworker recently hired a painter for his new home, and the guy is literally cleaning up. And don’t talk to me about plumbers and car mechanics. There has to be a shortage of good blue-collar workers if they can get away with charging so much.
    Back on my neighbor, he had two years of formal schooling, and now has 6 years of work experience, no student loans, and makes a garunteed salary that can be padded by overtime (like they recently experienced with the power outages). And his job can’t be exported.

  5. … and the jobs of painters, electricians mechanics and plumbers cannot be exported to India… good job security.

  6. No offense Geoff, (my wife’s degrees are in social work and sociology) but with those degrees, everybody makes 50% more than do you (and she)…

  7. I agree that trade schools need more attention, but this in no way removes the need to improve teaching of math and english skills. There are just too many things you can’t do if (say) you don’t know what a “cosine” is, and even more if you can’t write an intelligible paragraph.

  8. I would tend to agree, but due to self-esteem mantra, feel good malarky, and social promotion, and the awarding of diplomas to students who didn’t earn them, it’s no surprise that so many students need remediation in college (33-40% according to some studies), and in the cal state system, it’s 50%.

    A person who has been out of education a while will need to take refresher courses to get up to speed (person in 30’s or 40’s working on a degree, etc), but if a high school graduate comes out and is barely able to perform basic math, what makes them think they are college material in the first place?

  9. Self esteem mantra? Feel good malarky?

    Please give some specific examples.

  10. D. Cooper says:

    SuzieQ .. here’s one .. in my high school the Honor Roll when posted now only lists students in alphabetical order instead of by the grade point average earned … wouldn’t want anyone to feel bad … or good !!!

    Want another one … remember when a grade was actually a reflection of what you had learned .. now its done with smoke and mirrors … a little boost for good attendance … I know that’s important … but would you want a surgeon working on you who didn’t know squat but was always in class?? I’ll take the class cutter who knows what he/she is doing… not promoting class cutting, but you get the point !!

  11. I’m sorry, “cosine”? As a well off professional computer person who has worked at high levels in both government and private business I have yet to use the word “cosine” outside of this intelligible paragraph.

    I took all those math classes, wondered “when am I ever going to use this”, and have found the answer to be “pretty much never”.

  12. D. Coop, perhaps you’ve had a few brief experiences of “self esteem mantra” and “feel-good malarky,” but Bill’s comment implies that these, er, philosophies (and I’m not sure what he means because his terms are so vague) take up so much time that students need remediation in college.

  13. D. Cooper says:

    SuzieQ … these philosophies do much more than take up time. What they translate into is a ‘dummying down’ of the curriculum. (I believe the pc term here is lowering of standards) Recall that years back they ‘recentered ‘ the SAT’s. One would think that an 80 is an 80 is an 80. It isn’t, not from school to school or year to year. Back in the 60’s the effort that would have earned you a grade in the 70’s will now in all probability yield a grade in the 80’s or even low 90’s. Teachers are becoming ‘impressed with less’ !! That does not necessarily mean lower expectations … it is just a reality.
    So, and I’m not sure you were or weren’t agreeing with Bill … he’s dead on. Those ‘brief experiences’ that I’ve had, so to have thousands of other teachers, and they weren’t brief !!!
    Reasons/solutions … that’s another book !!

  14. Of course, sometimes the children of painters, electricians, mechanics, and plumbers (and their parents) hope for a job that can be done indoors, in comfort, without the risk of injury.

    Meanwhile, I can think of a few middle class white folks who I’d like to see laying under a house, in freezing mud, covered with backed-up sewage. You can’t really “negotiate” with a septic system… but that doesn’t mean they should have been denied a decent public school education.

  15. My two cents regarding kids being prepped for college: In my 2nd to last year of grad school, I attended a mixed grad-undergrad class (20th Century Latin American Revolutions). It was also a “2nd writing course” for the undergrads. Frankly, I was appalled at not only the lack of basic writing skills, but the almost complete lack of interest in the course’s topic. Two of the undergrads ended up dropping the course, but never let the prof. know — the prof. had to investigate why they weren’t showing up for class.

  16. Some good points on both sides here, but I couldn’t resist responding to Bill’s comment from much farther up the list:

    “A person who has been out of education a while will need to take refresher courses to get up to speed (person in 30’s or 40’s working on a degree, etc)…”

    A blanket statement that isn’t true. Yes, some folks that go back to school after being out for many years do take remedial courses. There can be several reasons besides the fact that they need remedial help; perhaps the school even requires students who have been out of school more than 10 years or so to take a refresher course.

    Of course, for me and for the large majority of my coworkers (I’m in the chemical industry), we spend a significant amount of time in learning and training on an ongoing basis. A few years ago,I took a graduate course, and found myself bored out of my mind at the excruciatingly slow pace at which the material was covered. The amount of information that the professor covered in a full semester is equivalent to the amount of information that we generally cover in several hours or no more than a day or two in industry.

    We are expected to be able to not only cover this material in an incredibly short period of time, but also to (1) comprehend it, (2) analyze it as it is presented and be able to ask intelligent, insightful questions, or even challenge assumptions, and (3) be able to apply it immediately.

    When you get used to working at that pace, going back to school can really be a waste of time for many of us ’30’s and 40’s. Besides, I don’t need the degrees. I’m in my 40’s and I have a Master’s in Chemistry, and equivalent work experience, continuing education credits, and in-house training equivalent to additional degrees in polymer science, materials science, plastics engineering, mechanical engineering, quality engineering, business administration, business management. I’ve taught courses in graduate school, I’ve taught in industry, I’ve developed training curricula for extensive technical courses, I’ve participated in consulting and beta-testing of industry-wide training courses and materials. I’m also a trained auditor for quality, environmental, health & safety.

    Several school districts have told me that I’m not qualified to teach in their schools. See, I don’t have a teaching certificate, and I haven’t taken classes in education theory. So they don’t want me. There are lots of people like me, and the teachers’ unions are scared to death of us.

    I’m about ready to take my 8-year-old daughter out of 2nd grade, where she’s bored to tears, and homeschool her. See, she reads at a 6th grade level, is learning long division with decimals, and wants to learn the Latin names for the shells in her collection. And in my school district, she’s hardly an exceptional child-we’ve got tons of kids this bright. But the school district just decided that it’s of more importance for all kids to be with their age-related peers than for them to be broken out in groups by ability. So now my daughter is now in a math class with other kids who are just being introduced to the concept of ‘carrying’ in addition, her spelling words are 3-5 letter words, and she blows through her reading so fast in class that she carries three books with her all the time so she has something to do – mostly 5th & 6th grade-level books that she bring from home because they won’t let her check them out at that level from the school library. She’s even totally bored in the Gifted and Talented classes, along with many of her classmates. Just for the record, her school has been rated Exemplary for at least the last 5 years running, and is considered one of the top 3 in the state; I’m not impressed so far. So what do I do, let her stay bored until she either starts misbehaving or loses interest so much she starts failing?

  17. PJ/Maryland says:

    As a well off professional computer person who has worked at high levels in both government and private business I have yet to use the word “cosine” outside of this intelligible paragraph.

    Corsair, you’ve obviously not worked in the banking or mortgage industries, where “cosign” comes up all the time… 😉

  18. Well, as a person who has 21.5 years of computer exp. under his belt, numerous certs, and a degree (assoc. applied science), I can tell you that our continuing ed requirements are quite insane also.

    The simple fact is that we keep making excuses instead of holding students and teachers accountable for their actions (i.e. – giving a student a ‘D’ instead of an ‘F’, etc). If students learned that in the real world (which academics is not, btw), people are expected to perform (except perhaps if you work for the federal government, where no one is accountable, no matter how badly they screw up), and if you don’t perform, you’ll be shown the front door.

    A person who holds a master’s in the field of math or science should be welcome at a school, but the NEA and teacher’s union won’t hear of it (as it could be threatening to watch an outsider show them how to really teach a class).

    However, we’ll keep making excuses (most of which i’m TIRED of hearing) as to why our students aren’t performing, and thus the cycle will continue.

  19. Interestingly, the NCLB Act, which you have been highly praising for holding teachers and schools accountable, is what makes it mandatory for a teacher to be certified, not so much the unions (although the unions absolutely do push for it). Claire, you may or may not make a fine teacher, but Prez Bush has made sure a district cannot afford to hire you. You are not, according NCLB, “highly qualified.” I don’t think a certification program is entirely necessary — probably a couple classes on educational psychology and school law would do it for anybody with a Master’s degree. I taught for years without a certificate. The ed. psych. and law stuff was about all I found really useful — and a writing and reading theory class because they were heavy in techniques.

    Also, you miss the meaning of Exemplary. That has more to do with how many kids have been dragged into proficiency, not how many naturally talented kids the school happens to enroll. The new regulations are all about the kids “left behind” not the kids “out front.” The really bright kids don’t make or break a school — it’s the low skill kids who get funding yanked, and those are the kids who are going to get the resources.

  20. Steve LaBonne says:

    I believe that, in fact, a teacher nationally certified via examination by a body such as ABCTE would meet the requirements of the Act without needing _state_ certification.

  21. The only national certification program I’m aware of is a two-year portfolio process, and it is not really feasible for pre-service teachers (I think you’re elible only after a certain number of years in the classroom). The Praxis exams are used by most states. Believe me, you don’t want a Praxis exam to be the sole determiner of whether somebody gets into the classroom.

  22. Ricard Brandshaft says:

    “As a well off professional computer person who has worked at high levels in both government and private business I have yet to use the word “cosine” outside of this intelligible paragraph.”

    As a retired professional computer person, I did use basic math, and occasionally more. The problem, for anyone, is that at least half your technical education will prove useless. The problem is, you never know which half. (Or which 3/4.) The first intermediate class I used, fresh out of school, was something I considered boring and took because it was required.