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March 14, 2012

Is high school tough enough?

Is the high school curriculum tough enough? Education initiatives as broad as the Common Core State Standards, grant organizations such as the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, and legislative actions like ESEA reauthorization all raise the issue in some way. All of these initiatives agree that high schools should produce “college and career-ready graduates,” and that “a rigorous curriculum” is the way to do so.

Beyond that, the picture gets murky. What do those two phrases mean? How do we determine what makes a prepared high school graduate, and how do we know if the current high school curriculum produces them?

The following facts should raise some concerns:

  • Almost two-fifths of high school graduates “are not adequately prepared” by their high school education for entry-level jobs or college-level courses, according to a survey of college instructors and employers (Peter D. Hart Research Associates, 2005).
  • Many low-income schools lack access to a rigorous high school curriculum by any definition. The U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights Data recently reported that 3,000 high schools serving nearly 500,000 students offer no classes in Algebra II, a key subject encompassed by the SAT and other indicators of college readiness (OCR, 2011).

If this is the case, what kind of high school curriculum would produce prepared graduates? The research has focused on four popular strategies: AP courses, higher math courses, dual enrollment programs, and early college high schools. Most studies are correlative, and most simply measure graduates’ success in college. But it’s been well established that graduates entering good jobs need the same skills as graduates entering college, so the findings can be instructive when considering career-readiness, too. Read the Center for Public Education’s new report, “Is high school tough enough?” for some key lessons about these popular strategies. –Rebecca St. Andrie

September 28, 2011

Wandering around academia

How long did it take you to decide what you wanted to do in life? Or at least to study? A new report by a California task force encourages community colleges to have policies that give priority to students who pick a course of study and progress toward a degree.

The study found that after six years, 70 percent of degree-seeking students had not either earned a certificate or a degree, or transferred to a four-year university. The thought is that such students wander around the academic curriculum, withdrawing and taking courses multiple times, or not pursuing any specific degree plan.

I’ve seen this happen, and I look forward to seeing if policy changes have a measurable impact on the completion rate. And while high school requirements are much more prescribed, the report also made me think about high schools. How many high schools, or middle schools, explain to students what courses they will need if they want to go to college or enter a particular field? How many explain the same to families? Is it just a sheet of requirements and recommendations, or a more interactive process? What does your district do? –Rebecca St. Andrie

Filed under: college,Course taking,High school — Tags: , — rstandrie @ 10:29 am

September 16, 2011

It depends on how you define college

You’ll probably see some headlines today about the U.S. falling in yet another global ranking: this one about how many young adults finish college. Before you sigh over a declining country, or roll your eyes at an “education-bashing” story, though, take a look at the statistics. They raise a more interesting question than the usual global horse race.

First, it’s true: The U.S. is falling behind. South Korea, Canada, and Japan lead the nations in the number of 25- to 34-year-olds who attained an associate-level, bachelors, or advanced degree. (They had rates of 63, 56 and 56 percent, respectively.) The U.S. is somewhere in the middle of the pack of developed nations with a rate of 41 percent, falling from 12th to 16th place.

So here’s the interesting piece: According to an article examining the results in The Washington Post, this is happening in part because the leading countries are focusing on one- or two-year associate-level degrees, whereas the U.S. is focused on the four-year bachelor’s degree. (The other is a rapid expansion of college attendance in Asia and Europe — a significant factor to consider.)

Combine that with the recent recommendations for measuring and defining community college success rates, and the question comes up again: what should community colleges be doing? Should our focus, too, be on increasing associate-level degrees? Does the workplace currently accept that? How would you define college?

And, most importantly, what about those who start college — any type of college — but don’t finish?

Read our pieces on 21st century education and college and career readiness to get the background for your answers. But how to define — and then attain — a helpful college degree is still a question that needs to be examined. –Rebecca St. Andrie

September 12, 2011

Measuring community college success

Different students, different goals, more data. Those are the sensible recommendations of a committee tasked by the Education Department to strengthen how the government measures community colleges’ success.

Basically, the draft report of the committee (which is still open for discussion) outlines several goals:

* Broaden the coverage of student graduation data to reflect the diverse student populations at two-year colleges

* Improve the collection of student progression and completion data

* Encourage colleges to disclose comparable data on measures of student learning and employment outcomes

* Improve coordination of data related to student success.

What I find most interesting is how the report defines different student populations — for instance, students looking to transfer, students looking to earn a two-year degree, and students taking continuing education; part-time students vs. full-time students — and then discusses determining “success” for each of those groups.

What do you think would determine “success” for each of those groups? And what about the high school preparation students get before they enter community college? See our video on college and career readiness to get a surprise on what different groups need in high school. –Rebecca St. Andrie

Filed under: college,Data,High school — Tags: , , , — rstandrie @ 11:11 am

July 7, 2011

The point of community college

Here’s one answer to my recent post about the point of community college: the point is to finish. Whether that’s by transferring to a four-year institution, completing a two-year degree, or completing a certificate, the point is to accomplish the program you started.

But a recent article in The Chronicle of Higher Education points out that rising costs and inefficient transfer policies currently make that less likely:

Too many college students won’t make it to graduation because of rising tuition costs and ineffective transfer policies, says a new report from the National Center for Public Policy and Higher Education.

The students most at risk are those who begin their college education at a two-year institution, usually out of financial necessity…

It notes that over the past 20 years, tuition at public two-year colleges has increased much more rapidly than has the rate of inflation. But the nationwide median family income, when adjusted for inflation, has declined over the last decade.

That combination puts pressure on states to make up the difference in financial aid, but their efforts have been insufficient, the report says. The shortfall shifts the burden back to students, who typically respond by working more hours and taking fewer classes, making it less likely for them to complete any kind of degree.

Such economic pressure disproportionately affects low-income, first-generation, and traditionally underserved minority students, who tend to enroll at community colleges….

The report highlights several states that have made significant progress in streamlining transfer policies, including Florida, New Jersey, Rhode Island, and Washington.

What about, then, community college’s role as an on-ramp for students who need to get up to speed? I don’t think that role is going to go away. But surely this calls us to look at the rigor of the high school curriculum, too, given that a  future professor and a future electrician wind up needing the same rigorous high school education to succeed in their jobs.

What purposes do community colleges serve in your district? Do they succeed in fulfilling those purposes? –Rebecca St. Andrie

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