Tuesday, September 11, 2007

In the know

This important topic of college readiness was the topic of a College-Readiness convening last November hosted by the Texas Center for Education Policy at UT. Feel free to download a pertinent report generated on the basis of a statewide conversation that combined the input of various stakeholders. -Angela

Tuesday, Sep 11, 2007
Posted on Sun, Aug. 26, 2007
In the know

The statistics sound dire:

About half of the freshmen in Texas public colleges need remedial reading courses because they finished high school without proper tools for the next step in their education.

The rate at which Hispanic and African-American students are catching up to their white peers in the fourth and eighth grades is so slow that it will take 63 years to close the achievement gap.

Fifty-two percent of Texas college and university students graduate within six years -- the nation's fifth-lowest rate.
But haven't students' results on the Texas Assessment of Knowledge and Skills steadily improved, even as the passing bars move higher?

Aren't Texas students scoring at or above the national average on most parts of the National Assessment of Educational Progress?

Isn't the state on target to meet many of its goals for boosting college enrollment and graduation by 2015?

Despite that progress, something's amiss when so many graduates require so much patchwork, as if they've brought home a new car only to find the fuel lines clogged.

Disturbing evidence about college preparation and completion, plus concerns from the business community about deficiencies in new graduates' skill levels, have persuaded a core of Texas movers and shakers that our high schools don't adequately prepare students for higher education and beyond.

It's a nationwide issue that has spawned many a research report and advocacy group.

The Legislature also wrote into law requirements that "vertical teams" of educators develop a more cohesive K-16 approach, instead of letting K-12 and higher education largely go their own ways.

It's an economic issue as well: A more educated work force translates into almost $200 billion a year in incremental gross product for the state by 2030 and more than 1 million jobs, according to a study by the Perryman Group.

On a more personal level, college graduates earn an average of twice as much as workers with only a high school diploma. And students are more likely to enroll and continue in college if they're prepared for it.

The disconnect between high school and college in Texas might be the result of standards that aren't demanding enough. It could be that universities haven't communicated their expectations sufficiently to feeder schools. It could be that increasingly complex technologies simply call for increasingly sophisticated instruction. It could be what happens when some schools are more rigorous, wealthier or better staffed than others.

A key roadblock for those studying the problem: There isn't agreement on what constitutes "college readiness."

That's what the Commission for a College Ready Texas is supposed to define.

What's the commission's purpose?

Austin lawyer Sandy Kress, who heads the governor-appointed panel, said the goal is to prepare "a fairly detailed description of the knowledge and skills that are important" for students to know as they prepare for higher education or the work force.
But if Texas educators don't already know that, what is it they're teaching?

Kress, who advised George W. Bush on education in Texas and Washington, believes the menu known as Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills is too vague and gap-filled to properly define what Texas high school graduates should be expected to master.

One presentation to the commission suggested that what high school teachers believe prepares students doesn't necessarily correlate with what college instructors want to see in incoming freshmen.

Other witnesses have challenged notions of what courses are important: For example, are students better served by memorizing the prologue to The Canterbury Tales in Middle English or by learning technical writing?

Texas already is ratcheting up graduation standards, requiring this year's entering freshmen to complete four years of English, math, science and social studies.

Kevin Foster, a University of Texas education professor who has not testified before the commission, said college readiness involves "a lot more than the just the classroom." It includes having counselors who can guide students toward the right classes; "folks who believe in kids"; broad extracurricular support; and even university outreach programs that introduce high schoolers to college-level work.

What should it accomplish?

The commission has a short time frame for putting together recommendations for the State Board of Education.

Hearings started in April and are scheduled into September, with a preliminary report to follow.

The commission won't be able to definitively map out college readiness, but it can help focus debate, particularly if it comes up with practical ideas for bridging existing gaps.

But it's crucial to remember that students' transition to college and the rest of their lives starts long before high school -- with well-prepared teachers, equipped with adequate resources, enforcing high expectations and getting reinforcement from administrators, families and communities. Texas still requires a lot of work to reach that ideal.

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