A new survey released today shows broad agreement among parents, teachers, and business executives on the importance of college and career readiness for high school graduates. But opinions about what exactly that means, how high a priority it should be, and what reforms are needed vary.
About 93 percent of secondary school parents, 85 percent of secondary teachers, and 80 percent of business executives said graduating each and every student from high school ready for college should be a priority, according to the MetLife Survey of the American Teacher: Preparing Students for College and Careers conducted by Harris Interactive last fall. There's a bigger difference, though, when the respondents were asked: Should it be "one of the highest priorities in education?" Parents of secondary school students (73 percent) said yes, in contrast to 54 percent of teachers and 48 percent of executives.
Other findings include:
Looking at what it means to be prepared, teachers, parents, and executives believe that writing skills, critical thinking, problem-solving, self-motivation, and team skills are more important than math and science. However, executives placed greater emphasis than others on the capacity for teamwork.
Nearly all English (99 percent) and math (92 percent) teachers rate the ability to write clearly and persuasively as absolutely essential or very important. Just 45 percent of English teachers and 50 percent of math teachers viewed ability in higher-level mathematics, such as trigonometry and calculus, as absolutely essential or very important.
About 31 percent of executives surveyed said advanced science courses are absolutely essential or very important for college- and career-readiness, and 40 percent said advanced math knowledge and skills are that critical. What is most important to businesses? Executives rated critical thinking (99 percent), problem-solving (99 percent), and strong writing skills (97 percent) as absolutely essential or very important.
Students have high expectations for college, and these expectations have increased over the past two decades. In 1988, 57 percent of middle and high school students said it was very likely they would go to college. This level had increased to 67 percent by 1997. Today, 75 percent said it is very likely they will go to college.
On average, teachers predicted that 63 percent of their students would graduate high school ready for college without the need for remedial coursework, and that 51 percent of their students would graduate from college.
Access and affordability
From students' perspectives, it's not so much about getting into or finishing college today as it is affording it. More students worry more about having enough money to pay for college (57 percent) than about being able to get into college (31 percent) or to succeed in college (33 percent). Concern over college completion was greater for Hispanic students (48 percent) and African-American students (34 percent) than white students (27 percent).
About half of parents rated their child's school as fair or poor at providing information to parents on what it takes to get into college (46 percent) or about financial aid (52 percent).
So what can be done to get students better ready for life after high school? The survey asked about education reform measures, and the stakeholders' support for the proposals varied.
Giving schools more ability to remove teachers who are not serving students well was one of the top priorities among parents (75 percent) and executives (83 percent). However, only 39 percent of teachers agreed with that priority. Their answer (59 percent) to improvement was strengthening programs and resources to help diverse learners with the highest needs meet college- and career-ready standards. About 57 percent of parents agree with the importance of resources and 31 percent of corporate executives.
For the Met Life survey, 1,000 public school teachers (grades 6-12) 2,002 public school students (grades 6-12), 580 parents of public school students (grades 6-12) were contacted by telephone. Online, 301 business executives from Fortune 1000 companies were surveyed.