If high school is easy, college is hard

Valedictorians from low-performing Washington D.C. high schools are poorly prepared for competitive colleges, reports the Washington Post.

Nearly two-thirds of the District’s high school graduates enroll in college: 37 percent of D.C. students who go to college complete a four-year degree in the six years after graduating from high school.

Top students can get into top colleges, but then they’ve got to pass their classes.

(Sache) Collier, the 2011 valedictorian at Ballou Senior High in Southeast Washington, said the first thing she noticed when she arrived at Penn State University was how intently her fellow students paid attention during class.

“It was like, ‘Wow, everyone’s on the same page and everyone wants to learn,’ ” Collier said. “At Ballou, it wasn’t like that at all. I was always trying to get the students quiet.”

Collier had been a star at Ballou, where fewer than one-quarter of students are proficient in math and reading. But she said that her classes largely dealt with the basics: summarizing story plots, for example, and learning how to write complete and grammatically correct sentences.

Only in her senior year, in an advanced English course, did a teacher challenge her to think more deeply. “I feel like it was too late,” said Collier, who took two of the three AP classes she said were available to her at Ballou. “It just wasn’t enough to have that kind of teacher for one year.”

In her first semester at Penn State, Collier was surprised by professors’ expectations. She’d done little writing and no research in high school. She earned a 2.1 grade-point average, but raised it to a 3.38 by the end of sophomore year by using writing tutors and consulting librarians and professors. “I’m not the type of person to give up,” Collier said.

Seth Brown, valedictorian at Wilson HIgh, took 11 AP courses, passed five exams and got into Dartmouth. But he was “overwhelmed” by two five-page writing assignments — longer than any assignments he’d completed in high school — in his first semester. “I didn’t even know where to start,” said Brown, a rising senior at Dartmouth.

These students persisted. Many give up.

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  1. This seems to be a flaw in the college admissions process. Perhaps, in addition to transcripts, colleges should ask students to submit a page long essay response to the question: ‘Which was your most challenging High School Class? Why?’

    • Ummm, two 5 page writing assignments? I routinely wrote longer lab reports in my science classes back in the late 1970’s.

      In my final year, we were probably pushing 15 to 20 pages in a final project in a science class.

      Sounds like Mr. Brown (who graduated as valedictorian) is finding out the hard way he probably didn’t work very hard in high school and is now paying for it.


  2. “Seth Brown, valedictorian at Wilson HIgh, took 11 AP courses, passed five exams and got into Dartmouth”. That is not even a 50% pass rate. Did he take 11 AP exams or just took the AP class with not even taking the test?

    Also, the Collier student is shocked that everyone wanted to learn in her college classes. WOW

    • the Collier student is shocked that everyone wanted to learn in her college classes.

      HBD and the non-fungibility of cultures is a constant surprise to those immersed in the ever-raised hymns to equality.

      • hbd?

        • Roger Sweeny says:

          Human BioDiversity. The idea that people differ in various ways, and that groups of people may differ (on average) in various ways.

          In particular, many HBD people will say that, on average again, Europeans have more academic intelligence than Africans. Some will also say that East Asians have more academic intelligence than Europeans.

  3. Crimson Wife says:

    I went to an affluent suburban high school that often scores in the top 10 on the MCAS (MA’s state standardized test) and was not prepared for the rigor of college coursework. It was a pretty big adjustment between the “memorize & regurgitate verbatim” of high school and the “wait, you actually want me to THINK about what I’ve learned?” of college.

    • Richard Aubrey says:

      Graduated HS in ’62. Middle-class or slightly lower, post-war subdivisions most of the homes.
      Other than a book report, iirc, everything we did in prose–excludes math and hard science–required thinking about whatever it was. At the very least, you had to figure out how to organize whatever you were regurgitating.
      Other than memorizing numbers, you had to think about stuff you learned in science because it was the only way to understand it, or even recall it. If you couldn’t do that, you flunked.
      IOW, I don’t think “thinking” about what was taught was the big deal. Didn’t change in college, except the volume we were expected to handle was so much greater.
      I recall having a conversation with a grad student, saying I couldn’t get going on a paper if I weren’t trying to prove something, one way or another. His view was that collecting three-by-fives (dates me) was boring, agreed, but part of learning.
      IMO, the first difficulty in adjusting to college is volume. Imagine how much more info a lecturer, even a prof in front of 500 students in an intro class, can address when there are no announcements, no collections for a club, no classroom disruptions, and can presume the students want to study, as proven by the efforts they made to get there.
      So for kids like the valedictorian, the problems are volume and lack of preparation–what would be called prerequisite knowledge–for even intro classes.

  4. I read the linked article and most of the 600+ comments and I doubt that 10 made any reference to the mismatch that AA creates. The Fisher case, now awaiting the SCOTUS decision, documents a 300+ SAT point differential between black and white students and more between Asians, at Texas. No wonder these kids, and many more, are struggling, They are far behind their classmates in preparation. A prominent black professor wrote, about 20 years ago, that he was not allowing his eldest, beginning her college search, to consider any school where her scores and HS record did not put her within 1 SD of the freshman mean.

  5. BadaBing says:

    What if the state and/or federal governments threatened to withhold funds from schools in which too many AA kids got low grades in their classes or simply dropped out because it was too hard? I’ll bet they could do it and get away with it. Most college profs are leftists anyway, so I don’t think they would raise a stink. And the population at large wouldn’t care. In fact, the majority might even think it’s a righteous policy. It would be a riot. I’d love to see it.

  6. The students did the best they could academically in their high school context and had to make an adjustment to the rigors of the college classroom–not big news or a big deal. Just enough information to provoke the kind of classist and racist commentary spilling out. The students are adjusting and will graduate–perhaps with honors. They’ll also get jobs or start businesses, pay taxes, and make their contribution to society like millions of other citizens have in this country. The real news is that students continue to have vastly different experiences in elementary and high school due to inequities in resource distribution. The lesson for policy-makers is that we need to fix the inequities and level the playing field so that everyone gets the same exposure and opportunity to prepare for college.

    • The lesson for policy-makers is that we need to fix the inequities and level the playing field so that everyone gets the same exposure and opportunity to prepare for college.

      The inequities are apparent at the youngest ages at which they can be tested.  The equalitarians have already dumbed down public education in the non-minority school districts, yet “the gap” persists.  What do you propose to do to “level the playing field” fully–hit smart kids in the head with hammers?

      The real news is that students continue to have vastly different experiences in elementary and high school due to inequities in resource distribution.

      Inner-city schools are funded more lavishly than many higher-achieving suburban and rural districts, some of which spend half as much money for superior results.  What educational “resources” are lacking in Detroit and Newark?  None that can be affected by fiscal measures.  We’ve proven that over and over, in Kansas City most notably.  Insanity is doing the same thing and expecting a different result.

  7. BadaBing says:

    Eric reminds me of an ed school professor I had. She opined that district A outperforms district B due to racism inherent in funding policies. It all came down to another example of “white privilege,” according to her. I investigated and found the opposite to be true. The minority district was getting way more funds than those privileged white kids in their district.

    • Richard Aubrey says:

      No surprise there. Profs don’t expect students to check for themselves.
      So. Did you tell the prof? Speak up in class? Tell the other students? Keep it to yourself?
      And if/had you done one of the first three, what was/do you think would have been the response?
      One of my son’s friends,when they were all in college, said a prof had told them that the US used the bomb on Japan because of racism.
      I suggested he look up the dates of VE Day, Trinity, and Hiroshima. Don’t know if he did. Kind of guy who’d say something to somebody.

  8. BadaBing says:

    Richard, I did say something in class, and the prof dropped the subject. Later, however, I was shouted down for expressing a contrary opinion. The prof had four henchmen sitting in the front row. It was one of those who shouted me down, and with fiery indignation. Toward the end of the class the prof emailed me to say she was sorry that I would never have the compassion to be a good teacher. This prof, now retired, was a proud disciple of Paolo Freire and that bonehead from UCLA, Peter McClaren. This quote from her I will always remember: “There is no such thing as truth.”

    • Richard Aubrey says:

      Being shouted down is upsetting. But the point is not you, it’s the others in class. They discover that, whatever they know, they’d better keep it to themselves.

  9. My friends from small, rural schools without AP classes had a similar problem adjusting to college (all white, same IQ as me.) I went to a highly competitive magnet, and my B average put me in the middle-low end of the magnet class, yet I got 5s on all my APs, and, even ‘slacking’ still had about 4 hours of homework a night in addition to sports and job and activities.

    Most of the kids from smaller schools had cruised through as the smartest kids in their school. The first quarter of college, I was shocked at how much free time I had! With only 4 classes (full courseload on the quarter system), I had HOURS a day where I wasn’t in class or at work! I could finish everything early and crash! And while the work wasn’t easier than what I was used to (except in Bio) it was equivalent.

    The kids who’d been the smartest in their town from K-12 were blown away because they’d never had to WORK before. They’d just been smart.

    Basically, the other kids had been stunted because they never had to work hard to keep up with challenging classwork.

    WRT these DC valedictorians, I suspect it’s not that their IQs were at fault, but that they’d never had to fight for the A– they were probably in classes that presented no challenge. And the teachers probably fawned over them because they were easy to teach and never had any discipline issues….