Thirty years ago, there was a 31 percentage point difference between the share of prosperous and poor Americans earning bachelor’s degrees. Today, that gap is 45 points.
-M. Bailey and S. Dynarski, University of Michigan (taken from article by Jason DeParle)
This past weekend I had the opportunity to read a heartbreaking and gut-wrenching piece written by Jason DeParle in the New York Times. This article depicts the rise, and subsequent fall, of three promising students from Galveston, Texas. These three young women, all excellent students, seemed to have overcome the challenges brought on by their financially poor background. They were in excellent standing within their school, had earned high marks both academically and socially from their teachers and school staff, and, by all accounts, were “college and career ready.” Yet, as DeParle goes on to describe, this designation did not, in fact, prepare them for college and their future careers.
If you were to go by the Common Core State Standards Initiative’s designation of what “college and career ready” truly means (at least for ELA) you would likely find that these three young women were quite qualified to earn this title. In their school lives, they exhibited all of the tenets necessary. Yet, as their stories exhibit, it was what was happening outside of their school (and what occurred once they entered post-secondary education) that truly put them at a disadvantage.
This article, along with an in-depth discussion with my Superintendent (my thanks to Dr. Langlois for helping to turn my reactions to the article into a blog post) helped me come to the realization that college and career readiness is all but meaningless if it is seen as an endpoint, and not a benchmark along a much longer road. The story of these three promising young ladies shows that currently, a “college and career ready” designation is as much edubabble and jargon as it is truly beneficial to students. To truly help students ready themselves for college and be prepared for the challenges once they enter the workforce, much is left to be done. Here are three steps that I believe must be taken to put us on the right path:
- Provide smoother transitions for students. Most elementary schools and middle schools have excellent transition programs in place. Students spend time visiting their new schools and often start the year with a modified schedule that allows for them to slowly acclimate to the different world they’ve entered. Quite a large number of schools also have transition plans in place for middle to high school moves. Yet, this type of transition is all but nonexistent for seniors in high school. Why? While it is true that every college and university is different, and many attempt to welcome freshman with open arms and some sort of “intro to college” program, not all schools are as “beginner focused” as they could or should be. Why don’t high schools, in conjunction with local colleges and/or universities design transition plans? So what if students may not attend that college/university? Wouldn’t the benefit to both parties and the assistance provided to students in getting a sense of what post-secondary education is like be worth it? Certainly the PR, in itself, would do wonders for education in the US. In the article, none of the three women truly had any clue what college would be like, despite the best intentions of busy guidance counselors and staff members from Upward Bound.
- Understand that “college and career readiness” can’t only be about what happens in school. Family and social dynamics and needs greatly influence student lives. Why then do we not provide juniors and seniors with required courses on how to deal with these pressures in relation to post-secondary education? One of the students profiled in the article had a challenging relationship with her mother and an intense relationship with her boyfriend, both of which played a role in her fall. Another was worried about whether her grandfather, who was a main caregiver, would survive his fight with cancer. As educators we know the challenges of professional and personal pushes and pulls. Life experience has helped us deal with these tough times. For seventeen and eighteen year-olds, however, and particularly those with fewer familial and social connections, these pushes and pulls may be enough to topple even the loftiest potential accomplishments.
- Push higher education (as a whole) to be more of an interactive learning establishment, and less of a passive informational one. I understand that there are many colleges and universities where staff members do more than just talk about their subjects; they truly engage students and serve as master learners (rather than information spouters). That being said, I also know that not all institutions of higher learning are designed to truly treat students as individuals. Many times funding plays a role. In other cases, the structure of the university or college itself may be the reason. Regardless of the case, the three students discussed in this piece could have used more assistance at the college level to deal with the challenges they were facing. Whether being about money, family, or specific academic courses, these young ladies all faced situations where their difficulties were not eased by their institution (as they should have been), but were instead exacerbated. We can’t allow that.
If we truly believe that students must be “college and career ready” to succeed in life, our education system must prove it. We can’t assume that it is only the responsibility of K-12 institutions to do this, nor can we truly state that college and career readiness is only built in the classroom. Let’s stop adding to educational jargon, and put meaning behind the terms we use. I encourage you to read DeParle’s piece and see how it makes you feel, and then think about how you would view education as a whole if you were these students or if they were your children.
DeParle, Jason. (2012, December 22). For Poor, Leap to College Often Ends in a Hard Fall. The New York Times. Retrieved from: http://www.nytimes.com/2012/12/23/education/poor-students-struggle-as-class-plays-a-greater-role-in-success.html?pagewanted=all&_r=0
National Governors Association. (2012). ELA-Students Who are College and Career Ready. Retrieved from: http://www.corestandards.org/ELA-Literacy/introduction/students-who-are-college-and-career-ready-in-reading-writing-speaking-listening-language