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Who is Responsible for Preparing Students for College and Career?

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collaborate pixabay .jpgThis is a two-part post about college and career readiness. Today's focus is on preparedness for college. Sunday's post will focus on career readiness.

According to the Ed.Gov website, college and career readiness, defined by former President Obama, included the following:

We must do better. Together, we must achieve a new goal, that by 2020, the United States will once again lead the world in college completion. We must raise the expectations for our students, for our schools, and for ourselves - this must be a national priority. We must ensure that every student graduates from high school well prepared for college and a career.

It is important that standards remain high, gaps are closed, and there is equal access to opportunities for learning for all. Equal access means more than open enrollment. It means that all students, strong and weak, are held to the same academic standards. It means that support and encouragement are offered to all so gap closing results in students being able to access the level of courses that will prepare them for college admittance or career readiness.

Higher standards and expectations are expected to facilitate the preparation for college and career.  As educators, we are familiar with what being prepared for college means. Students have to be prepared as skilled readers and writers, adept at mathematical thinking, able to function in an environment that expects them to be independently responsible for their learning, and have a level of maturity that supports the decisions they are asked to make. Students have to know how to live harmoniously with others, work with others, and communicate well. Now, in this century, in addition to this they need to have experience in being creative, critical thinking, working in a collaborative setting and communicating in a variety of genres.

College is familiar to educators. Most believe they know the way, the route, and what is expected.  Yet, a Hechinger Report from January 2017 reports:

The numbers reveal a glaring gap in the nation's education system: A high school diploma, no matter how recently earned, doesn't guarantee that students are prepared for college courses. Higher education institutions across the country are forced to spend time, money and energy to solve this disconnect. They must determine who's not ready for college and attempt to get those students up to speed as quickly as possible, or risk losing them altogether.

Not a blaming of K-12 education, rather a question arises. Why are high schools under the impression that they are preparing students for college and career, when colleges do not? It is not a failure to teach. It is another kind of educational gap, the gap in communication and relationship between k-12 and higher education. It is a failure to create a k - 16 relationship that supports students. Public schools and higher education have a responsibility to generate a conversation that benefits both. 

Both systems are in positions that need to change/shift into a more modern model. Why not do it together? It is not a question of colleges telling public schools what they need to do better. It is a matter of public schools and colleges finding out how the transition from 12th grade to freshman can be more seamless.

Four questions for school-higher education partners:

  1. What skills and behaviors do high schools need to boost in their expectations?
  2. What developmental understandings do colleges need to reset for incoming freshman?
  3. What programs can both high schools and colleges put in place to smooth the transition?
  4. What shifts in practice do both need to learn from each other?

In school districts where students move from an elementary to a middle school and a middle school to a high school, conversations unfold when vertical curriculum planning takes place. Are the skills in the departing grades adequately preparing students for the receiving grades? Are the expectations of the receiving grades in sync with the incoming students? What is the cause of this mismatch and how can it be reset? How do the demands of the curriculum in each grade spiral to help the students reach the expectations of the receiving grades?  These are conversations that have taken hold in our schools, hopefully. So why then would it not make sense to have these conversations with colleges and universities?

We are not suggesting a meeting to address a problem. We believe and have seen evidence that when high schools and colleges and universities create partnerships, where conversations are ongoing, professors observe, or better, work along side high school teachers, both learn and students are the beneficiaries. As schools look to increase their college ready population, rather than working harder, consider working with partners.  This is surely a leadership responsibility to develop the inter-organizational relationship and nurturing it.  The relationships are of value to the system, to the teachers, and most certainly the students; enriching the system and the possibilities for success for the students. Who wouldn't want that?

Ann Myers and Jill Berkowicz are the authors of The STEM Shift (2015, Corwin) a book about leading the shift into 21st century schools.  Ann and Jill welcome connecting through Twitter & Email.

Photo courtesy of Pixabay

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