Saturday, August 15, 2020
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College readiness likened to NCLB's '100% proficiency'

An excerpt from Robert Browning's poem in blank verse entitled, “Andrea del Sarto”:

Know what I do, am unmoved by men’s blame
Or their praise either. Somebody remarks
Morello’s outline there is wrongly traced,
His hue mistaken; what of that? or else,
Rightly traced and well ordered; what of that?
Speak as they please, what does the mountain care?
Ah, but a man’s reach should exceed his grasp,
Or what’s a heaven for? All is silver-grey,
Placid and perfect with my art: the worse!
I know both what I want and what might gain,
And yet how profitless to know, to sigh
“Had I been two, another and myself,
“Our head would have o’erlooked the world!” No doubt.

It occurred to me, upon reading an article in Politico, that presidents have big goals. Like George W Bush, who wanted every kid to be performing at grade level in reading and math by this year.

I wonder who it was that told George W Bush that he could, if he worked hard enough, grow up one day to become the president of the United States. Was it a first-grade teacher, a second-grade teacher? Who?

And although it worked out pretty well for Mr Bush, the other kids in his class didn’t quite hit that high mark. But the encouragement provided by their teachers’ words that it was possible to achieve very high goals kept them working hard in school. No doubt their lives are better as a result of that hard work.

No Child Left Behind replaced those high, mostly unrealistic but real-world goals with mere test scores, however. And that’s our fault, so we got what we asked for.

Now one of this nation’s best education reporters, Stephanie Simon, has discovered that several states are realizing President Barack Obama’s goals of “college and career readiness” may not be any more achievable than Mr Bush’s “100-percent proficiency” goal was when he signed the No Child Left Behind changes to the Elementary and Secondary Education Act.

This is especially true, she suggests, if we focus too much on the “college-ready” part and not enough on the “career-ready” part. Many people question whether President Obama meant what he said on Jan 30 about the importance of vocational education for many students.

Some states lower Common Core’s high goals

Texas, which never signed up for the Common Core in the first place but has set high standards of its own, just cut the Algebra II requirement for high school graduation, though some school districts in the state might still retain it.

One lawmaker in Indiana is suggesting schools allow students to receive a high school diploma by substituting a heavy rotation of vocational classes, with input from local employers, for a mastery of imaginary numbers and a close reading of Romeo and Juliet.

New York and Louisiana have decided to push back the goal for achieving statewide college and career readiness until 2022 and 2025, respectively. Lillian Lowery, the Maryland state superintendent of schools, told lawmakers last week that she supports at least a one-year delay of teacher evaluations based on Common Core tests, Maryland noted.

In New Mexico, state Rep Mimi Stewart has introduced a bill to let students earn a high school diploma without taking Algebra II or passing state exams. “We are supposed to be doing college and career readiness, not college and college readiness,” Politico quoted her as saying. In other words, why should we deny a high school senior a diploma because she has mastered greenhouse technology or Web design instead of Elizabethan poetry and vectors?

And the list goes on.

We can’t o’erlook the career side in seeing only the college side. We can’t o’erlook our students’ needs and dreams in reforming our schools, as that would miss the whole point.

Is ‘college readiness’ a realistic goal or pie-in-the-sky?

As I thought about presidents and what their elementary teachers told them about the possibilities of a lifetime, I wondered whether many states, which are scaling back on the goals of standards-based education, are like all the other kids in Mr Bush’s first-grade classroom. They hear the same message, but it doesn’t actually work out for them to get all way to the presidency.

Diane Ravitch writes:

Many people—especially policymakers and financiers who went to Ivy League colleges—would like to believe that all students are college-bound. But their beliefs are contradicted by reality when it turns out that a substantial number of youngsters would rather work than go to college, and that there are many jobs that pay well, don’t require college, and can’t be outsourced.

Ideally, people should be able to get as much higher education as they want and need, but the biggest obstacle is the cost. It is easier to raise the bar higher and higher than to do something significant about lowering the cost of college. How about free community colleges (again), where people can get higher education without assuming unreasonable debt?

That hits the mark. Presidents, from the bully pulpit, put these pies in the sky. “Every kid can go to college,” they proclaim. And their words are true, but they forget that not every kid even wants to go to college. As Ms Ravitch points out, when we focus on kids rather than on schools, we can easily see that “college readiness” won’t serve the masses we educate in public schools.

Rather, government leaders are focusing on the schools, which are under their control, not on students, and that goes against our triangle model of education. All points of the triangle—schools, communities, and students—have equal roles to play in school improvement.

Setting high goals isn’t a bad thing, but like NCLB’s “100-percent by 2014” proficiency requirement, we have to realize that goals are designed to be unreachable, especially when they come from the White House. But as Browning foresaw, No Child Left Behind has been “profitless” in our schools and, I think, has lowered the overall quality of education students receive today. Maybe there is great wisdom in what states are doing by cutting back on standards that not every child achieves. Read some more Browning to find out.

Paul Katula is the executive editor of the Voxitatis Research Foundation, which publishes this blog. For more information, see the About page.

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