>"Windows on College Readiness"
>Will Fitzhugh, The Concord Review
>The Bridgespan Group, working for the Bill &
>Melinda Gates Foundation, has just released a
>report called "Reclaiming the American Dream."
>The study was intended to find out how to get
>more U.S. high school students prepared for and through college.
>Much of the report is about getting kids to go
>to college, and it finds that if there is enough
>money provided, and if parents, peers,
>counselors and teachers say going to college is
>important, more high school students are likely to go.
>The major weakness of the report, in my view, is
>its suggestions for the kind of high school work
>that will help students to do college work and to graduate.
>One of the concluding statements is that
>"Inertia is particularly difficult to overcome
>when people are unaware that a problem exists or
>that the potential for solving it is real." What
>a useful insight. What they recommend for high
>school students is "a rigorous college
>preparatory curriculum." What could be wrong with that?
>Two very simple and basic things are wrong with
>that. Current "college preparatory" curricula,
>including AP courses, do not include the reading
>of complete nonfiction books or the writing of serious research papers.
>That is almost as if we had a crisis in
>preparing high school football players for
>success in college and recommended a standard
>preparation program which did not give them
>practice in running, blocking and tackling. ACT
>found last spring that 49 percent of the high
>school students it tested could not read at the
>level of college freshman texts. And the
>Chronicle of Higher Education reported on a
>survey in which 90 percent of college professors
>thought high school students were not well
>prepared in reading, writing and doing research.
>A true college education requires reading
>serious books and writing substantial papers
>although many schools have watered their
>requirements down. High school students should be ready for in-depth study.
>If high school football players haven't done
>much blocking or tackling in high school, no one
>would expect them to play well in college, but
>somehow we expect high school students in a
>college preparatory program which includes no
>nonfiction books and no real research papers to
>do well with college reading lists and with college term paper assignments.
>In my state, Massachusetts, 34 percent of the
>students who go to state four-year colleges are
>in remedial classes, according to The Boston
>Globe. Those students had the expectations,
>support, access and aspiration for the college
>dream, but when they got there, they were not ready to do the work.
>The Gates report says that "the high school
>environment needs to provide students with high
>expectations and strong teaching..." but without
>any real focus on students' independent academic
>reading and writing, that environment doesn't do
>the job of preparing students for college work.
>If we want students to be able to read and
>understand college books and to write research
>papers there, then we must give students a
>chance to learn how to do that in a "rigorous
>college preparatory program" in high school. But
>that is not happening, and just about no one is
>paying attention to the fact that it is not happening.
>The inertia in this case that is "particularly
>difficult to overcome" is the exclusive focus on
>what teachers do and what courses cover in
>textbooks. There must be more attention to the
>actual academic work that students are required
>to do-at least in the humanities. Perhaps in
>mathematics and the sciences, some students are
>really doing the kind of academic work that
>prepares them, but in the world of academic
>reading (nonfiction books) and academic writing
>(serious research papers), most schools badly
>serve their students. This report, like so many others, completely misses that.
>The Business Roundtable reported in 2004 that
>their member companies were spending more than
>$3 billion each year on remedial writing courses
>for both salaried and hourly employees, so even
>many of our college graduates may not have
>achieved a very satisfactory level of academic
>competence in reading and writing these days.
>With so many ill-prepared students coming into
>college, many professors have taken the path of
>least resistance and watered down their courses.
>Our high school programs for students who hope
>to succeed in college and beyond should require
>them to write extended essays and papers which
>are rigorously graded. They should also require
>students to read at least one serious complete
>nonfiction book every year. While this may be
>beyond the prevailing and generally feeble
>educational standards of the moment, if we don't
>do it, most U.S. high school students will
>continue to be unprepared for higher education.
>the founder of The Concord Review; http://www.tcr.org
Labels: College Readiness, College Success