61% of grads aren’t ready for anything

Most high school graduates aren’t prepared for college or a career, concludes Meandering Toward Graduation, a new Education Trust report by Brooke Haycock and Marni Bromberg.

Forty-seven percent of 2013 graduates didn’t take a coherent college-prep or career-prep sequence of courses, a study of transcripts showed.  If “mastery” is defined as a 2.5 academic grade point average, only 39 percent of graduates were college and/or career ready.

The dental program, huh?” the community college admissions counselor asked as she looked over Tre’s high school transcript. “Then why didn’t you take more science?”

. . . “I just took the classes my counselor put me in,” Tre stammered. “She knew I wanted to be a dentist.”

. . . The admissions counselor looked at him with empathy as she described the course entry requirements for the dental program, including high school biology, chemistry, and college preparatory math — all passed with a C or better. Tre nowhere near met these requirements, despite passing all of his classes and earning a diploma.

A majority of not-quite-college-prep students missed more than one requirement,commonly Algebra II, a foreign language and chemistry or physics.

Lower-income, black and Latino students were less likely to complete the college-prep sequences and less likely to achieve mastery, according to the report.

Among those who’d completed a college-ready curriculum: 82 percent of white graduates had a 2.5 academic GPA or higher, compared with 51 percent of black graduates and 63 percent of Latino graduates.

What does a high school grad need to succeed?

Many years — perhaps 25 — ago, I was asked my advice on a school district’s new graduation requirements. I said, “Go to your local community college and to employers who hire high school graduates. Ask what skills and knowledge one of your graduates would need to have a chance of passing an entry-level course or qualifying for an entry-level job. That’s what your diploma should require.”

Remedial math instructor Robert Fusco teaches at Bergen Community College in New Jersey. (Photo by Elizabeth Redden)

Remedial math instructor Robert Fusco teaches at Bergen Community College in New Jersey. Photo: Elizabeth Redden, Hechinger Report

A high school diploma should signify the graduate is ready for the first year of college, writes Marc Tucker in Education Week. That “is a far higher standard than most high school diplomas are set to currently.”

He envisions states setting the syllabi for required core courses and writing the exams, which would be graded by outside teachers. That’s a radical power shift.

Well-prepared students could complete the core in two years, he believes. Some would have two years for Advanced Placement or other high-level courses. Others could learn high-level technical skills, like vocational students in Singapore and Switzerland, at a community college or their high school.

Everyone would be expected to pass by the end of 12th grade.

We would be doing high school in high school, not in college, and therefore saving enormous amounts of money for both states and families.  We would have more brain surgeons and more specialty welders.

High schools could be held accountable for the proportion of students who earn the new diploma and the proportion who complete two-year and four-year degrees, Tucker writes.

What do you think? Is it doable? Should it be tried?

High school vs. lobstering

Boys start lobstering in their early teens on Deer Isle, Maine. They can be millionaires by age 30. So how do you keep them in high school? asks Sarah Butrymowicz. A marine studies program is showing future fisherman that high school matters.

The island’s small high school had the lowest graduation rate in the state at 57 percent, writes  Now it’s up to 90 percent.

A Deer Isle-Stonington High School student works on a model of a boat hull he created in a marine studies math/science class.  Photo: Sarah Butrymowicz

A Deer Isle-Stonington marine studies student builds a model of a boat hull for math/science class. Photo: Sarah Butrymowicz

Principal Tom West added a 45-minute “intervention” period to help students catch up. Some also are required to attend before- or after-school tutoring.

Then teachers designed courses with a marine studies focus. They talked to marine-based nonprofits and fisherman to see what graduates will need to know, such as how to handle the financial end of a fishing business.

Fifteen-year-old Elliot Nevells, who makes good money lobstering in the summer, was planning to drop out till he enrolled in the marine studies program.

. . . Elliot and the other 15 marine studies students are taking math and earth science with a marine twist. Sometimes that means solving math problems with hands-on projects, like building Styrofoam boat hull models to scale. Other times, the class looks more traditional, with students working their way through algebraic expressions.

“Last year, three-quarters of graduates either enrolled in college or got their lobster license, up from two-thirds the previous year,” writes Butrymowicz.

In addition to marine studies, the school has designed courses with an arts focus and plans to add a pathway for students interested in health careers.

38% are college ready, but 66% enroll

Thirty-eight to 39 percent of 12th graders are prepared for college reading and math, according to NAEP, yet 66 percent will enroll in college. We’re motivating more young people to enroll in college without preparing more to earn a degree, write Mike Petrilli and Checker Finn on Flypaper.

Over recent years, college readiness has remained flat, more or less, while more students are reaching 12th grade.

Even now, not everyone goes straight to college. Of those who do, 58 to 59 percent have the reading and math skills needed to pass college-level courses, based on NAEP scores. Readiness improved after a low of 51 percent in 2005, Petrilli and Finn write, because college enrollment dipped.

For more than 20 years, college readiness hasn’t exceeded 40 percent. If Common Core standards, efforts to improve teacher effectiveness and no-excuses charter schools are wildly successful, it’s unlikely that more than 50 percent of U.S. high school graduates would be college ready “any time soon,” Petrilli and Finn write.

We need to get serious about the “career” half of “college- and career-ready,” they conclude.

What are the reading and math skills needed to train for a skilled job? Does a would-be electrician need the same skills as a prospective legal secretary? Would more students be ready for success if high schools told them about the demand for welders, plumbers and medical techs?

Kids don’t want to grow up

Most of Michael Godsey’s high school students don’t want to prepare for college or careers, he writes in The Atlantic. Adolescence is fun. Adult life holds little appeal.

After years of teaching AP English, Godsey now teaches average students. They enjoy reading books written for or about teens, but appear “utterly bored” when counselors talk to them about “college pathways.” They’re not interested in exploring careers either.  They want to stay kids as long as they can. 

Technology lessons don’t appeal. His school’s “Bring Your Own Device Day” was a flop. Only five of his 150 students brought a device they wouldn’t otherwise have taken to school.

 One of the teens explained to me, “We like using our phones and laptops for games and talking to each other, but we don’t really want use them for school.”  

. . . A recent nationwide survey by NuVoodoo shows that while most people, regardless of age, use Facebook, teens say Instagram—which is used by just 16 percent of middle-aged adults—is their “most important” social network. My students for their part prefer to communicate through Snapchat, a photo-messaging application in which the messages “disappear” within ten seconds of being viewed. According to researchers at the University of Washington, most Snapchat users—59 percent—primarily rely on the app to share funny content like “photos of stupid faces.” Not surprisingly, Snapchat is used by just 4 percent of middle-aged adults.

Unless we can find a way to “make adulthood more appealing or adolescence less luxurious,” college and career readiness programs won’t reach their full potential, Godsey writes. That sounds like  job for parents.

Average (non-AP-taking) high school students typically enroll in a community college or not-very-selective four-year institution. Weak on academic skills and motivation, a majority will quit before earning a degree. Some will complete a vocational certificate in a technical or medical field and get a decent job. Many will find adult life just as difficult and unfulfilling as they’d imagined as teenagers.

U.S. “millennials” (16- to 34-year-olds) do poorly in literacy, numeracy and problem solving compared to young adults in other developed countries, according to a new ETS analysis.

Literature, non-fiction, lady or tiger?

Under the Common Core, students are supposed spend half their reading time on non-fiction in elementary school, 70 percent in high school. English teachers aren’t happy about the shift from literature. Susan Pimentel, a lead writer of Common Core standards, defends the stress on non-fiction in a Hechinger Report interview.

The “literacy” part of the English Language and Literacy standards includes reading in social studies, science, and technical subjects, says Pimentel. Seventy percent of reading in all classes should be non-fiction.

It’s really important that in science and history classes, students have access to important primary texts and that they be able to figure out what the speaker is trying to say. In English, there should also be great literary non-fiction, so students can uncover the meaning and understand the author’s perspective.

In talking to college professors and employers, Common Core writers discovered a “four-year gap” between high school graduates’ skills and the demands of college and careers, says Pimentel.

A New York City teacher is using literature to teach computer science, writes Emmanuel Felton on the Hechinger Report. 

“Literary texts are informational texts,” says Lev Fruchter, who teaches at a school for gifted students.

He’s developed a computer science curriculum, STORYCODE.  Fruchter uses works like Moby Dick, where characters talk about science, and “what if” science fiction. However,  he says “implicit” STEM stories are the most powerful.

Frank R. Stockton’s 1882 short story The Lady, or the Tiger?  helps students understand binary choices.

In the original story, a king discovers that his daughter is having an affair. To punish the princess’s lover, the King puts him in an arena with two doors. Behind one door is a woman the king thinks is an appropriate mate for the lover, behind the other is a tiger. Meanwhile, the princess learns from the tiger keeper which door is which, but the question is whether the jealous princess will lead her lover to his death or into the arms of another woman.

In coding terms, this is a 1-bit story, with the solution either being 0 if she chooses to send him to his death or 1 if she sends him to the other woman.

But Fruchter likes to add more layers. Fruchter adds that the lover knows about the princess’s jealousy and has to decide whether or not to trust her. It is now a 2-bit story with four possible versions. Fruchter then adds in that the tiger keeper is in love with the princess, thus introducing the possibility that the tiger keeper lies to the princess, making it a 3-bit story with eight possible outcomes.

Each students writes a version of the story, then retells it in code. For example 110 “could translate to the tiger keeper telling the princess the truth, the princess telling her lover the truth, but her lover doesn’t believe her.”

Education for upward mobility

I’m in Washington D.C. for Fordham’s Education for Upward Mobility conference, which will look at what schools can do to help children born into poverty move up in the world.

Mike Petrilli, the moderator, hopes to question the idea that college is the only path to the middle class.

What if by spending all of our efforts trying to boost the proportion of low-income students who are making it through college from 10 percent to, say, 20 percent, we’re ignoring the needs of the other 80 percent?

He hopes to “find a middle ground between the utopianism that characterizes so much of the reform movement (‘Let’s get every child college and career ready!’) and the defeatism that emanates from too many corners of the education system (‘There’s nothing we can do until we end poverty!’).” 

I’m on the Multiple Pathways in High School panel, which will look at adding “high-quality career tech ed and youth apprenticeships to the “college prep for all” model.

In Hard Work, High Hopes, I look at district, charter and private high schools with lots of lower-income, Latino or black students and a college-prep mission.

“President Obama wants the U.S. to lead the world in college graduates, but college dreams
usually don’t come true for the children of poorly educated, low-income parents,” I write.

Half of people from high-income families earn a bachelor’s degree by age 25. Only 10 percent of those raised in low-income families complete a bachelor’s degree.

Tech credentials pay for low-income students

Vocational certificates and associate degrees in health, transportation, construction, manufacturing and security lead to relatively high pay for disadvantaged students and low-scoring high-schoolers, according to a Florida study.

Different diplomas for different kids

What does a high school diploma mean? Common Core standards are supposed to guarantee that all graduates are ready for “college and career.” (Which college? Which career?)

Absent a miracle, that would man denying most 12th graders a diploma, writes Checker Finn in Education Next. Today, somewhere between 26 percent (ACT) and 40 percent (NAEP) are prepared for college.

Different Kids Need Different Credentials, Finn argues. States should issue a gold-star diploma that signifies college readiness and a conventional diploma that shows the student has passed mandatory courses “to the satisfaction of those teaching them.”

This is akin to the practice for many decades (until 2012) in New York State, where a Regents Diploma denoted a markedly higher level of academic attainment than a local diploma, and it’s somewhat similar to the practice in today’s England, where you can complete your schooling with a General Certificate of Secondary Education (GCSE), but if you’re bent on university, you stick around to earn a more-demanding A-level certificate.

Finn is “unpersuaded that college readiness is the proper goal of everybody’s high-school education” or that the new academic standards “are truly needed for success in myriad careers.”

. . . much as I admire the Common Core standards and hope that they gain enormous traction across the land, I have never seen, in any line of endeavor, a standard that was both truly high and universally attained.

About half the states have graduation exams, but they’re typically set at 8th, 9th or — at most — 10th-grade levels, writes Finn. Even then, some 12th graders — disproportionately disadvantaged students  — have trouble passing after multiple tries.

Ed Next has set up a discussion, but everyone agrees that differential diplomas make sense.

Support low-income and minority students to earn stronger diplomas,” writes Richard D. Kahlenberg.

States should award a “diploma plus” to students who’ve achieved career or college readiness, writes Sandy Kress.

Career planning starts in 8th grade

Is 8th Grade Too Early to Pick a Career? asks the National Journal. In South Carolina, counselors help middle schoolers set career goals through the Personal Pathways to Success program.

(Patricia) Reid begins by meeting and talking with each student about her interests, hobbies, and academic preferences. Together, the two identify a career path that the student can focus on during high school—perhaps technology, engineering, veterinary science, or manufacturing.

Then Reid meets with the student and parents to develop an individual graduation plan, which allows students to take electives throughout high school to bolster particular interests. So, if a student expresses interest in becoming, say, a veterinarian, he could sign up for an agricultural science or animal-care classes in high school in addition to enrolling in required courses such as English, math, science, and history.

South Carolina saw textile jobs move overseas in the 1990s. Attracting new manufacturing jobs was hampered by a shortage of skilled workers.

The state has required schools to include career exploration in the curriculum since 2005. By eighth grade, students meet one-on-one with counselors, choose a career cluster and take a few career-related electives in high school.

Counselors are the key to success, a five-year study concluded.

“School counseling used to be focused on college, college, college,” says Natalie Stipanovic, an assistant professor at the University of Louisville, who has extensively studied the counseling portion of the South Carolina program. “With all of the kids who don’t go to college, what do we do? This program makes sure that every student is seen as important to talk to.”

Career discussions should be more than college or bust, says Anthony P. Carnevale, director and research professor of the Georgetown Center on Education and the Workforce. “If you want upward mobility in America for low-income kids, you have to get them to think about how they will use their education to make a living,” Carnevale says. “Right now, we act like there’s only one pathway.”

In southern California, San Bernardino Unified hopes to put every student on a career path by 2017.

Students in career pathways programs have higher graduation and college enrollment rates, research shows. “Programs in visual and performing arts, construction technology, finance, and digital design and communication are joining long-standing district pathways, such as the Educators for Tomorrow program, and others in public safety, green technology and business,” reports EdSource.