Thinking and Linking by Joanne Jacobs
Created by Knewton and Column Five Media
Yeah, well, a lot of people are unprepared to be deep sea miners, too.
I don’t see anyone worrying about that.
Being prepared for college involves some pretty basic English and math skills that everyone, barring serious learning or cognitive disabilities, should have. Being prepared for college isn’t about making sure everyone DOES go to college, it’s about making sure everyone is prepared for the fundamental demands of life beyond high school whether they choose to be a lawyer, a deep sea miner or (like me) a homemaker.
This probably should have been worded like this:
Being prepared for college should be about making sure everyone DOES go to college, it should be about making sure everyone is prepared for the fundamental demands of life beyond high school whether they choose to be a lawyer, a deep sea miner or (like me) a homemaker.
Notice the difference between HS teachers and college teachers on the issue of student readiness for college-level work. There are many schools where most kids are truly ready but far too many are far behind that. I was looking at The Good School this morning and read about a group of college kids returning to their high school, where they had been A students, to tell younger students that their A work in HS was worth only Fs in college. SAT/ACT scores weren’t mentioned. Of course, the problem starts 9 years before HS.
A high school diploma does not stand for “can handle college.” It never has. If society has decided it should, then we must be willing to hold kids to those standards, which means we will need to deny lots of kids a diploma. College readiness for diploma earners will go up and graduation rates will fall.
A diploma is one thing (though it ought to mean “employment-ready”). Passing grades in classes which purport to be “college prep” are another.
Right now so many HS diplomas mean neither college nor employment ready. If colleges charged the high school from which graduates came needing remedial education, I believe K-12 education (public, private, whatever) would change almost overnight. I also believe we would see true voc-tech return to high schools that have abandoned it in lieu of “academies”. Would mean we would need better teachers in many, many classrooms but…it needs to be done. Also, if K-12 systems were charged I believe guidance counselors would do a better job of counseling students to post secondary paths better suited for the kid…
This is a major reason that I became a high school math teacher. Now that I am on the inside, I realize there is only so much I can achieve in one year. I wish I could have the same group of kids from their Freshman year to their Senior year. I think then I could make a major difference.
I had an English teacher who had worked out this sort of deal with his overseers. He didn’t get us in 9th grade, but he did get 10-12.
It was a great idea, and he trained several years’ worth of students in a manner most excellent. Of course, the teacher matters even more when he or she has this sort of pervasive influence. If you had a real stinker, he could do a lot of damage.
By high school it’s too late. If kids enter high school reading and doing math at a 3rd or 4th grade level, it’s nearly impossible to get them up to speed– especially since teens aren’t known for taking the long view or for realistic self–assessment.
A really determined kid might be able to turn it around in HS–but for the rest?
The graphic “U.S. Global Competitiveness” should be taken with a grain of salt. High school diplomas and college degrees have to be considered within their cultural context. In countries like Germany, fewer students attend college because a college degree is only necessary for certain types of professions, and only about a third of the population attends the type of high school that grants the diploma necessary for university entrance. By contrast, our academic credentialing system is largely inflated, and a high school diploma in the U.S. basically just signifies that a student showed up for school most of the time for 12 years. The push for “college for all” (which followed a much earlier push for “high school for all”) has ironically made the diplomas and degrees themselves much less meaningful, even as they become increasingly essential for employment. The value of a degree also varies much more wildly in the U.S. than it does in Germany. (I repeat this example because I lived and studied there.) In most professions (not teaching, of course!), a B.A. from Harvard is worth more than an M.A. from a bottom-tier state university, but in Germany, few distinctions are made between degrees earned at different schools because the standards don’t differ as much from school to school.
The reason I’m bringing up all these points is because in order to set realistic goals for American education and successfully achieve them, we must first decide what we want our diplomas, degrees, credentials, licenses, etc. to stand for. If the goal is for everyone to go to college, we have to accept the fact that college degrees are going to vary widely from school to school in the level of accomplishment they signify, and a B.A. isn’t going to be a guarantee of advanced academic competence. If the goal is to fill every sector of the economy with competent workers, we need to ask ourselves which sectors actually require rigorous academic study as a foundation, and then focus on developing the kinds of training and apprenticeship programs that will prepare future workers in the sectors that don’t. If we go with the first option, then a high school diploma should stand for college readiness (though that term will become further diluted); if we go with the second, then a high school diploma should stand for a level of accomplishment that does not necessarily signify that an individual is prepared for college.
In view of the fact that centrally-planned economies have been uniformly failures compared to economies based on a more distributed model of decision-making, i.e. free enterprise, it’s worth taking a step back and considering whether the societal we ought even to be used in this context.
If we decide, the decision’s reached on the basis of political clout and since self-service is a potent motivator the political compromise that’s reached enjoys the benefits of both the unresponsiveness of central planning and the corrosiveness of rewarding the screwing of your fellow citizens via the power of government.
The effects of that self-service are evident in both the K-12 system and the higher education system.
The former’s enjoyed huge increases in funding the inevitable slide downward in quality being neatly offset by an accommodating standard of quality measurement where there was any standard of quality measurement while the latter’s enjoyed huge increases in funding with the inevitable slide in quality being taken up by the large numbers of kids who’ve washed out saddled with debts they’ll quite likely never discharge – higher education having motivations to maintain quality standards not applicable to the K-12 system.
I don’t really expect us to stop making decisions about elementary or higher education any time soon; those with selfish reasons for arranging the system to their liking are still politically potent only partially convinced of the urgency of adhering to the flawed, but comforting, status quo. But that status quo’s in the process of re-examination.
Let’s try that last paragraph again.
I don’t really expect us to stop making decisions about elementary or higher education any time soon; those with selfish reasons for arranging the system to their liking are still politically potent and the balance of the public’s not yet convinced of the need to discard the flawed, but comforting, status quo. But that status quo’s in the process of re-examination.
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