Dishonesty in the School System: a Commentary on Chester Finn’s “The Fog of “College Readiness”” – part 4


Yet our K-12 education system has never gotten more than one-third of young Americans to the “college-ready” level by the end of the 12th grade. Twenty percent drop out before finishing high school, and of the rest only about two in five graduate with the reading and math skills that equip them to take credit-bearing college courses. – Chester Finn

High school graduates in Georgia receive a diploma that is earned, ostensibly, by completing successful a college preparatory curriculum. While students can complete various “career pathways” as electives to pick up some job skills, there is no alternative diploma. The official goal is to make sure everyone is ready for college.

Our public schools are far from reaching that goal. Let’s track Georgia graduates from the class of 2011. I chose 2011 because we now have five years of post-graduation data for this class, and five year college graduation rate is used as a key indicator of success. In 2011, 68% of Georgia graduates enrolled in some kind of post-secondary institution the year after graduation (included 4 year colleges, 2 year colleges, trade schools). Of these, 16% needed remediation in Reading, and 25% needed remediation in Math. By 2016, only 25% of the 2011 graduating class had earned a post-secondary credential (includes Bachelor’s or Associate’s degrees, or some kind of certificate).*

Would we accept a 1 and 4 success rate in any other public institution? 

How do Douglas County graduates fair? If you have been following CEPS for awhile, you would probably guess worse and be right. The 2011 class saw 63% enroll in college the next school year. The remediation rate for reading was 17%; for math 30%. By 2016, just 20% had completed successfully some kind of post-secondary program: a 1 and 5 success rate for a system whose main focus is supposed to be preparing students for college success. 

Evidence of fraud lies in the fact that parents and students anticipate a much different result from their education.  More from Mr. Finn:

That might be acceptable if only a third of young Americans aspired to college and there were ample decent jobs for those who did not. But surveys consistently show that the overwhelming majority of U.S. kids plan to go to college (though not necessarily four-year college). Their parents expect this, too, and both children and parents believe that students are on track to gain entry to and to succeed in college. While many families worry about the cost of college, a 2016 survey by Learning Heroes found that 90% of parents with children in grades K-8 were fairly certain that their kids are at or above grade level in math and reading and are on track academically to succeed in the next school grade. Sixty-two percent worry little, not much, or not at all that their offspring will be well prepared for higher education — and just 19% “worry a lot” about this. (Given a list of worries, parents ranked college readiness ninth, far behind emotional health, peer pressure, and the like.)

The kids are confident, too. Purposeful efforts to boost their positive feelings about themselves were all the rage in education circles a quarter-century ago — despite evidence of an inverse relationship between self-esteem and actual achievement — and those efforts seem to have had the intended effect. According to a 2014 Northeastern University survey, more than 80% of U.S. teens believe that a college degree is important to advancing their career goals, and they think it’s important to pursue the career of their choice. Some 87% want eventually to earn such a degree, reports a 2015 YouthTruth poll. According to a 2016 report of a three-year survey of 58,000 new community-college entrants, 76% agreed or strongly agreed with the statement, “I feel that I am on track to reach my academic goals at this college within my expected timeframe.”

Most of my science students last year blithely supposed that they were headed to college after graduation (these were regular-level classes that nonetheless are still supposed to be “college prep”) . They had been fed this vision their entire childhood. Yet I knew that most of them did not have the knowledge, self-management skills, or work ethics to succeed in college, and the statistics tell me that even if they start college (many public institutions have no admission standards), they will not finish. The problem with this delusion is that they are not preparing themselves for alternatives: if they never get a college degree, how will they be “productive citizens”? What will these children do in adulthood?

What are the 80% of the 2011 class that have not yet gotten any kind of college credential doing now?  It is definitely not what their parents expected five years ago! 

This is part 4 of a running commentary on Chester Finn’s “The Fog of “College Readiness”” (National Affairs, Issue Number 30, Winter 2017). 

*Post graduation data from “High School Graduate Outcomes Report”,

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