April 18, 2013

Are High School Grads Well-prepared for College?....Well...(Cough)

One of the purposes of Common Core, the initiative to draft new standards for math and English, was to align secondary curricula with the demands of college.  The presumption was that high school expectations simply fell short of first-year college coursework and the standards it set.  Further evidence of mismatch came out this week in a survey of high school and college teachers by ACT that uncovered a glaring division of opinion. While 89 percent of high school teachers declared their students "well prepared" or "very well prepared" for college in the subjects they teach, only 26 percent of college teachers agreed.

ACT's recommendation is for high school teachers to receive more professional development that familiarizes them with actual college-readiness benchmarks.  That means, however, challenging some of the popular pedagogies of high schools today, for instance, the preference for topical contemporary readings over traditional offerings of ancient and modern classics (broad reading of works spanning the ages produces more cultural literacy of the kind presumed by many college courses), the emphasis on collaborative projects (one finding of Academically Adrift was that the more students study by themselves, the higher their achievement), and more "core" courses and fewer electives (according to the College Board, "SAT takers who reported completing a core curriculum performed better on the SAT than those who did not complete a core curriculum").    

Given the investment many secondary educators have in these popular pedagogies, college readiness may serve as an effective constraint.  Instead of saying, "Well, we should assign more contemporary novels, not old classics, because they are more relevant to the students," college-readiness forces them to ask, "Which books will best prepare them for U.S. history 101, freshman comp, Survey of Western Philosophy, Ancient Art and Architecture, and other common first-year courses?"

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