In a letter on his foundation’s work, Bill Gates advocates a national education goal: “Ensure that 80 percent of our students graduate from high school fully ready to attend college by 2025.”

Note that Gates isn’t shooting for 100 percent and that his foundation is focusing on helping community college students complete a certificate or two-year degree.

The foundation will replicate “the school models that worked the best,” almost all of which are charter schools, Gates writes.

Many states have limits on charter schools, including giving them less funding than other schools. Educational innovation and overall improvement will go a lot faster if the charter school limits and funding rules are changed.

Good schools “help their teachers be more effective in the classroom,” he writes.

. . . our new strategy focuses on learning why some teachers are so much more effective than others and how best practices can be spread throughout the education system so that the average quality goes up. We will work with some of the best teachers to put their lectures online as a model for other teachers and as a resource for students.

Nelson Smith is happy about the plug for charter schools.

Gates also plugs Jay Mathews’ new book on KIPP, *Work Hard, Be Nice*. (Which makes a good complement to this book.)

If Gates thinks it is our lectures that make great teachers great, then he has a steep, steep learning curve on this issue.

The only way to get 80% of all students to be college ready is to reduce the difficulty of college…which seems to have been happening for the last 15 years. The local university now assigns homework and takes attendance in classes.

Miller, we’ve always assigned homework: it’s called reading and research papers. As for attendance, it’s for record keeping.

Miller, we are already there.

I was reading the course catalog for the local community college system, which is one of the five largest in the country, and I stumbled upon the remedial math courses.

Here is what the CC considers to be the “college-level mathematics” starting point. It sounds like high school Algebra II:

MATH 1314 College Algebra

Prerequisites: Must be placed into college-level mathematics or completion of MATH 0312.Topics include quadratics, polynomial, rational, logarithmic and exponential functions, system of equations, progression, sequences and series, matrices and determinants.

Let’s follow the chain of prerequisites. The first one, MATH 0312, sounds like Algebra 1.5:

MATH 0312 Intermediate Algebra

Prerequisites: Must be placed into MATH 0312 (or higher) or completion of MATH 0308.Topics include factoring techniques, radicals, algebraic fractions, complex numbers, graphing linear equations and inequalities, quadratic equations, system of equations, graphing quadratic equations, and an introduction to functions. Emphasis is placed on algebraic techniques in order to successfully complete Math 1314 College Algebra.

Oh, another prerequisite, MATH 0308. It sounds like Algebra I:

MATH 0308 Fundamentals of Mathematics II

Prerequisites: Must be placed into MATH 0308 (or higher) or completion of MATH 0306.Topics include real numbers, basic geometry, polynomials, factoring, linear equations, and inequalities quadratic equations, and rational expressions.

Another prerequisite, MATH 0306. This one sounds like sixth-grade math:

MATH 0306 Fundamentals of Mathematics I

Prerequisites: Must be placed into MATH 0306 (or higher).Topics include fundamental operations in whole numbers, fractions and decimals, percents, ratios, and proportion, descriptive statistics, and an introduction to the real numbers. All students who enroll in this course are expected to complete Math 0308, and Math 0312 in the following consecutive semesters before attempting their first college-level mathematics course (usually Math 1314 College Algebra).

Lest you think that MATH 0306, sixth-grade math, is as low as you can go in community college, oh no, not at all! In case you find MATH 0306 too hard, we have MATH 0106 to help you pass sixth-grade math:

MATH 0106 Fundamentals of Math I Bridge

Intensive help and preparatory course for those who have not successfully passed MATH 0306.

If even that is too hard, we have MATH 0102, which looks like third- or fourth-grade math:

MATH 0102 Basic Mathematics

Prerequisite: Appropriate assessment score or Counselor’s or department chair approval requiredDesigned for students who have tested below MATH 0306 and require a self-paced presentation of the basic operations in whole numbers.

The highest courses offered are Ordinary Diff Eq, Multivariate Calc (Calc III), and Discrete Mathematics. The school also offers “Math for Elementary Teachers”, and the only prerequisite is the “College Algebra” course above.

In our state, all public institutions are supposed to have aligned their curricula so that students can start out with two years at the CC and finish up at a baccalaureate college or university. (I would say four-year, but we have some two-year schools that are junior-senior-masters level only.)

I weep.

Mike, I never had homework or attendance taken when I was in college at University of Tennessee, Knowville (1988). From the first day I entered to the day i ws graduated with a B.S. in Biochemistry I had not one bit of homework. None. We were graded on performance only on specific days and times.

Adults are treated differently by colleges than kids are by highs schools. Thus the dumbing down of college.

Miller is correct on his basic point. The only way 80 percent of students will go to college is if we continue to “dumb down” college so that it doesn’t represent what it traditionally has. (This way, even more people can graduate with useless degrees that won’t get them great jobs, but they’re still saddled with high school debt. But that’s another story.)

On the issue of homework and mandatory attendance, I think it’s varied for a long time. The only thing I can remember that could be called homework was simply keeping up to where I needed to be in textbooks (something I rarely did, unfortunately). Friends who went to some colleges told me about their schools’ draconian attendance policies that would cause you to fail a class if you missed more than six sessions in a semester. But when I was at the University of Alabama, almost all of my professors took the attitude that it was up to me whether I wanted to learn the material, so if I could pass the tests, they didn’t care whether I was in class or not, except in classes where discussion counted for part of the grade, of course. But, Miller, the only professor of mine who was really strict about attendance happened to be a University of Tennessee graduate, ironically. 🙂 The experience I’m describing was in the late ’70s and early ’80s.

one can be college ready and attend community college: the key is not being forced into community college in order to qualify for college.

similarly, one can be ready for college and enter the trades or military … be ready for college later, if desired, or be an effective informed active citizen.

Reaching the goal can be done, but will take school reorganization and professional development for teachers

Miller, how are you defining “homework”?

Or another way would be to (starting in kindergarten) make the curriculum more rigorous, so we aren’t having to enroll college students in remedial reading, math, or science classes. I’d rather see that than have a mandate handed to me that I have to make my college classes “less challenging.” (If I had listened to my evaluation comments a couple years ago I would have; now I’m getting comments from students saying they appreciate the rigor and that I don’t think they’re stupid.)

I don’t know. While it’s a lofty goal to make 80% of the students “college ready” (whether they go there or not, and frankly, I admit I daydream of a world where plumbers read Shakespeare in the evenings and someone in even the most basic retail job can do advanced math), I think that would require quite a societal change. I see a lot of people who don’t value education, and so don’t put the effort in on it.

And I’d like to see going into trades not seen as second-best in some circles. After all, you can’t “outsource” a plumbing job.

> After all, you can’t “outsource” a plumbing job.

Actually, you (mostly) can, and we have.

Go to Home Depot and/or Lowe’s. You’ll see lots of products to let ordinary people do things that used to require plumbers and the like.

Note where those products are built.

When the housing market picks up, we’ll start seeing more prefab modules used. That’s outsourcing too.

Around the turn of the century, someone pointed out that universal telephone service would require that every woman be employed as an operator. Now, thanks to automation, every phone user is an operator.

Seriously? There was a time when there was no homework in college? What in the heck were people “studying”? I was in college over 25 years ago at a top, major university. We were told we’d have 3 hours of outside work for each credit hour in which we were enrolled, and for most classes that held true. There were research papers, novels to read, and labs to conduct. It’s part of what taught me to be an independent learner. Oh–and my professors also took role, unless it was a huge lecture-style class.

Not to say that college hasn’t already been ridiculously dumbed down. I returned to graduate school last year and was appalled at how easy it was, the lack of scholarly traits in many of my classes and classmates, and what passed for “writing” in general.

Ricki, curriculum in elementary school (in CA at least) is too rigorous, IMHO as an elementary school teacher. Everything has been backed down a grade, with children expected to read by the end of Kindergarten. Some of our standards are simply not developmentally appropriate, and as a result, massive red-shirting of K students has become the norm in affluent communities such as the one in which I teach.

The curriculum isn’t the problem, it’s what we accept in lack of effort from the kids. Then again, Joe-average kids can barely keep up with the curriculum, then they’re socially promoted and hopelessly lost by upper grades. By the time they get to middle school, kids are burned out, dropping out, and it’s THERE that the curriculum begins to be ridiculously dumbed down. Unfortunately, that trend seems to be extending to college, thanks to the ridiculous idea that college should be for anyone who feels like going.

We’d do much better if our educators and education system quit acting like learning a trade rather than going to college is socially unacceptable.