“The Fog of ‘College Readiness'” was recently published in the journal National Affairs (Issue 30, Winter 2017) by Chester Finn, President Emeritus of the Fordham Foundation and former assistant US Secretary of Education for research and improvement. I found the article so relevant to our context in Douglas County and consonant with the purpose of this organization, that I decided to engage with it on our blog. I will simply annotate some important portions of the essay.
Our K-12 education system has a transparency problem, and our higher-education system is complicit. While some American parents have a decent sense of whether their children are on track for the kinds of colleges they hope to attend, many more have been kept in the dark — or have been sorely misled. Most parents think their children are on track to be prepared for college after their 12th-grade year, and most students agree. But the truth is, a shockingly large share of graduating high-school seniors are not prepared to go to college — more than half, by some estimates. Given that the vast majority of high-school students plan to eventually pursue some kind of post-secondary degree, this means millions of kids are being set up for failure.
The core of the transparency problem is that schools are misleading parents about what their children are actually learning by divorcing grades from real academic achievement. As far as I can tell, the average course grade these days is at least a B, and the vast majority of grades issued are Bs or As. Yet in Douglas County, there are very few subjects, at least at the high school level, in which 50% or more students demonstrate proficiency on exams (the scope of this claim is state EOC exams and AP exams).
I have taught high school students who blindly assume that they will end up at a 4 year college, when I know as a teacher that they lack the self-management skills and academic knowledge needed to succeed even in an “open admissions” institution. When they graduate and do not go to college (over 50% of our vaunted 2015 class in which 89% graduated did not enroll in college), what do these students do then? They are among the millions of kids being “set up for failure.”
And of those who do enroll in college after graduating, nearly 30% have to take at least one remedial course. That means they passed at least some of their high school courses, probably making a B or A, without really mastering the curriculum. The high grades were a lie to them and their parents that they were succeeding. Remedial college courses are a waste of time and money, as they do not count towards college degree requirements. Why not make school systems pay for the remedial courses their graduates have to take?