Get real: Most grads aren’t college ready

Forty percent of A students are placed in remedial classes in community college, according to a new report, Expectations Meet Reality, by the Center for Community College Student Engagement at the University of Texas at Austin. Over all, 86 percent of new students say they’re well prepared academically and 68 percent start — and usually end — in remediation.

Most remedial students quit before earning a credential, writes Meredith Kolodner for the Hechinger Report. Colleges are trying alternatives, such as starting unprepared students in college-level courses with access to basic skills help, to raise low success rates.

Stop with the political correctness and admit the truth that “ordinary people” already know, writes Fordham’s Mike Petrilli. “Lots of high school graduates aren’t ready for college

Less than 40 percent of 12th graders are ready for college, according to the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), he writes. Yet nearly all are urged to enroll in college.

As the “college preparation gap” grows, completion rates are trending downward: The six-year graduation rate is 53 percent for those who started college in 2009.

We should stop encouraging unprepared students to go to college, writes Petrilli. “Why saddle them with debt and regret? Why allow colleges to cash checks from Pell Grants that aren’t going to do the students, or taxpayers, any good?”

Telling the truth about unprepared students’ high failure rates in college is politically impossible because most public schools don’t offer real alternatives — or the truth — to students who are on the remedial track. They need a chance to catch up in high school and choose (real) academic college prep or (real) career prep leading to a two-year degree or certificate with workplace value.

46% of LA seniors are off graduation track

Forty-six percent of Los Angeles Unified’s high school seniors aren’t on track to graduate, reports Craig Clough for LA School Report, citing district data.

This year, students must pass college-prep courses, known as A-G requirements, to earn a diploma. Those who pass with a “C” or better –a “D” is a passing grade — can apply to state universities.

Last year, Los Angeles Unified's graduation rate was 74%, but students didn't need to pass college-prep courses. Photo: Crystal Marie Lopez

Last year, Los Angeles Unified’s graduation rate was 74%, but students didn’t need to pass college-prep courses. Photo: Crystal-Marie Lopez

Los Angeles Unified’s school board decided to require all graduates to pass the A-G sequence in 2005. After 11 years to prepare, district officials are ramping up “credit recovery” programs to push more students to a diploma.

The district’s $15-million credit recovery program “puts students in specials classes after school and during breaks to help them pass classes they previously failed,” reports Clough. District leaders report an extremely high participation rate and predict a high pass rate.

Ed Next’s top stories of 2015

Starting in pre–K, children at Hoover School talk, sing, chant, move, explore, experiment, and play in language-rich, text-rich, and information-rich environments. Children who aren't proficient in English can learn well in English or their native language -- if they're taught well.

Children at Hoover School in Redwood City, California talk, sing, chant, move, explore, experiment, and play in language-rich, text-rich, and information-rich environments. Good teaching is more important than the language of instruction.

Learning English, my story on how “accountability, Common Core and the college-for-all movement are transforming instruction” of students from immigrant families, ranks 10th in Ed Next’s list of the top 20 Education Next Articles of 2015.

That’s not bad considering it didn’t come out till late November.

Overall, readers went for stories on poverty and inequality, say editors. “Five of the articles in the top 20 are from a special issue . .  . on the 50th Anniversary of the Moynihan Report which examined the rise in the number of children growing up in single-parent families.”

Idaho admits all grads to college

Idaho will admit all public high school seniors to a community college or state university, reports Inside Higher Ed.  The goal is to encourage more homegrown graduates.

From kindergarten through college, all public education in the state is overseen by the State Board of Education. That makes it easy to share information about grades and test scores, identifying which students qualify for competitive universities.Idaho

Students with a 3.0 — or lower grades and high test scores — will receive a letter of acceptance to all eight competitive public universities: the University of Idaho,  Boise State and the Idaho State Universities.  Those with lower grades will be admitted to open-admissions colleges that offer certificate or two-year degree programs.

Idaho’s college-going rate is the lowest in the nation: Last year, only half of high school graduates enrolled in a two- or four-year institution. Many who choose college leave the state and often don’t return.

The University of Idaho has been losing enrollment since 2014. “We have empty beds in our residence halls,” said Chuck Staben, the president. We can handle “a significant bump in enrollment.”

Learning English — pronto

The fall issue of Education Next is out, including my article on what’s changed in how schools are educating students who aren’t proficient in English.

Pushed by No Child Left Behind’s (NCLB) accountability measures and the college-for-all movement, educators nationwide have raised expectations for children from immigrant families.

More ELLs are learning in English, as old-style bilingual ed fades away. However, “dual immersion” bilingual programs are proving popular with educated, English-speaking parents.

There’s a greater sense of urgency about getting kids to proficiency in elementary school.

College pays — for some, not all

College pays — on average — but your results may vary, writes Megan McArdle on Bloomberg View. That last part is important: College doesn’t pay for the poorly prepared, who are unlikely to earn a degree.

The college wage premium has risen sharply in the last 30 years for U.S. males, concludes a working paper. However, there’s a much larger gap between high-earning and low-earning graduates.

“More people start college than did in 1985,” writes McArdle. “It’s just that they don’t finish.”

Dropping out may be a sensible decision for low-tier students who are likely to end up in low-paying jobs that don’t require a degree. Why borrow to be a barista?

While we’d like to think of enrolling in college as a guaranteed route to a stable, well-paying job, in reality it’s more like a lottery ticket. There are good jobs out there that are available only to folks with a college diploma. But not everyone with a college diploma gets one. You can also end up underemployed.

. . . Of course, it’s not exactly like a lottery ticket, because the distribution of the rewards isn’t random. Not every college graduate is entered in the “investment banker” or “Silicon Valley software engineer” draws.

According to this model, “the gains from pushing marginal students into college are likely to be small, for both the students and for society,” McArdle concludes.

People who’ve had trouble learning — and getting their work done — in high school occasionally bloom in college. But not very often.

Learning English: Good teaching is #1

With a rising tide of immigrant and refugee students in U.S. schools, helping “English Language Learners” actually learn English — and master academic subjects — is more critical than ever. ELL education is moving beyond the bilingual vs. English debate, I write in Education Next.

I visited Hoover School in Redwood City (south of San Francisco), where 95 percent of students coem from low-income and working-class Latino families.

Ocean animals was the theme in pre-kindergarten classes at a California school in early May. Some pre-K teachers introduced “octopus” and “tentacle,” while others taught “pulpo” and “tentaculo.” In all the pre-K classes, children acted out vocabulary words with hand movements, sang songs, and played a guess-the-ocean creature game. Then they moved to tables, where some of them painted paper octopuses, while others gingerly smelled, touched, and then dangled little octopuses from a local fish market.

Starting in pre-K, Hoover students “talk, sing, chant, move, explore, experiment, and play in language-rich, text-rich, information-rich environments,” I write. “They dictate stories to volunteers, write letters, keep journals, and see their writing “published” in bound books.

“Pushed by No Child Left Behind’s accountability goals and pulled by college-for-all expectations, English Learner education is shifting “from the language of instruction to the quality of instruction,” says Kenji Hakuta, a Stanford professor who specializes in language learning.

Nearly all students at Hoover School in Redwood City, California come from Spanish-speaking families.

Hoover students are expected to be proficient in English by 4th grade.

Common Core exams are accelerating the move away from the old bilingual model. Principals want kids who will be tested in English to be taught in English.

However, “dual immersion” schools are growing in popularity. Educated suburban parents want their kids to be fluent in two languages. Quality tends to be high: These schools can’t dumb down expectations or use bilingual aides instead of teachers, because middle-class parents won’t stand for it.

In 1998, Californians passed Proposition 227, which limited bilingual education. A measure to repeal most of 227 is on the November 2016 ballot. It would let children be placed in non-English instruction without parental waivers. I think it has no chance of passing.

“When 227 passed, I thought it would be a disaster,” Frances Teso, a former bilingual teacher, told  me. “Now I think it was a good thing in some ways. It eliminated a lot of low-quality bilingual programs and opened the door to better-quality programs.”

Teso founded Voices College-Bound Language Academy, a high-performing K-8 charter school in San Jose that uses a modified dual-immersion model.

Early college for all — in the Rio Grande valley

Krystal Balleza earned her associate’s degree two weeks before her high school graduation. Photo: Pharr-San Juan Alamo Independent School District

In a high-poverty district on the Texas-Mexico border, all high school students take “early college” classes, reports Hechinger’s Sarah Butrymowicz in the Washington Monthly‘s College Guide.

Pharr-San Juan-Alamo Independent School District (PSJA) Superintendent Daniel King pioneered early college for all at nearby Hidalgo. His goal is to persuade low-income, minority students — not just the motivated achievers — to raise their aspirations.

Nationwide, 90 percent of early college students graduate from high school, 10 percentage points above the national average, and 30 percent of students get either an associate’s degree or a certificate, according to Jobs for the Future, the Boston-based nonprofit that runs the national Early College Designs program.

Research has shown that students selected for early college schools by a random lottery have higher high school graduation rates and college attainment levels than those who lose the lottery and attend a traditional high school.

Incoming ninth-graders in all of PSJA’s high schools will take a college entrance exam used to show who’s ready for college-level work. They’ll take prep courses until they pass the exam, then move on to community college courses — usually taught at the high schools — and summer courses at University of Texas- Pan American.

Once enrolled in college courses, PSJA students average Bs, according to data provided by the district. Out of PSJA’s roughly 1,900 graduates this May, 60 percent took at least one college course. About 215 students graduated with an associate’s degree and 270 got a certificate.

By 2019, district officials hope that at least 90 percent of graduates will earn at least some college credit, with 1,000 students earning an associate’s degree or certificate, a one-year credential given out in fields like welding, IT and medical technology.

The district helps students make college plans and fill out financial aid applications. District staff advise first-year students on local campuses.

With an average ACT score is only 17.3, college degrees for all — or even most — is unlikely. But I’d bet these kids go farther than the PSJA students of the past.

I wrote about Hidalgo Early College High School and talked to King for my chapter on high-achieving high schools for disadvantaged students, part of Fordham’s Education for Social Mobility (soon to be a book!). It’s a very gutsy idea.

Second-chance system backfires

U.S. educators scorn “tracking” students into college-prep or vocational lanes, writes Marc Tucker in Ed Week. We brag that our system offers second chances — and third, fourth, fifth and sixth chances. Yet, our second-chance system ends up sorting students from first grade on, he writes.

Teachers know the low achievers will get another chance, so “they just keep passing them up the system, unchallenged and uneducated,” writes Tucker.

By high school, former Bluebirds are loading up on AP classes, ex-Robins are ambling toward unselective colleges and the Sparrows, if they haven’t dropped out, are headed nowhere.

Social class and parental education are more predictive of educational achievement in the U.S. than in most other industrialized countries, according to OECD data.

One alternative advocated by the Pathways to Prosperity network is to combine academics with work-based training that leads to skilled jobs. Some schools are collaborating with employers to provide pathways.

But many more are replacing tracking with covert tracking, writes Tucker.

How about 1) headed for selective colleges (at least a couple of AP courses with scores of 3 or better), 2) headed for open-admissions state four-year colleges and lower-tier private ones (at least an 8th grade reading level and some college credit), 3) headed for community college (same as #2), 4) headed for minimum-wage work (high school diploma/managed to show up for four years of high school), 5) headed for unemployment, poverty and prison (couldn’t read high school texts and so dropped out).

Vocational pathways are controversial unless they lead to college as well as careers. What’s not controversial is letting students pass classes labeled “college prep” with B’s and C’s, then go to community college or unselective universities, take remedial courses and drop out.

28% are ready for college

ACT scores 2015.JPG

Only 28 percent of 12th graders who take the ACT are prepared to pass introductory college classes requiring English, reading, math and science skills, according to the new ACT report. Thirty-one percent of test-takers did not meet a benchmark in any subject.

Overall, scores are flat, even as more students are taking the ACT. Some states require students to take the test in hopes of encouraging college aspirations.