The College Puzzle Blog
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Dr. Michael W. Kirst

Michael W. Kirst is Professor Emeritus of Education and Business Administration at Stanford University since 1969.
Dr. Kirst received his Ph.D. in political economy and government from Harvard. Before joining the Stanford University faculty, Dr. Kirst held several positions with the federal government, including Staff Director of the U.S. Senate Subcommittee on Manpower, Employment and Poverty. He was a former president of the California State Board of Education. His book From High School to College with Andrea Venezia was published by Jossey Bass in 2004.

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My blog discusses the important and complex subjects of college completion, college success, student risk factors (for failing), college readiness, and academic preparation. I will explore the pieces of the college puzzle that heavily influence, if not determine, college success rates.

Windows On College Readiness, Guest Blogger Will Fitzhugh

>"Windows on College Readiness"
>Will Fitzhugh, The Concord Review
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>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.
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>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.
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>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.
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>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.
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>Will Fitzhugh
>(fitzhugh@tcr.org) is
>the founder of The Concord Review; http://www.tcr.org

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