Monday, June 26, 2006

Two tasks

Thought-provoking article in the Dallas News today. Starts out with a story of a girl who graduated with a 3.0 or thereabouts, got to college and had to take four remedial courses. She's not alone. Not by far. Estimates range from 50% to 87% for schools that don't adequately prepare students for college.

But why?

The answer lies partly in the unique history of American education, according to Michael Kirst, an education professor at Stanford University.

"We built two mass, disconnected systems. The K-12 system built up on its own, and higher education grew away from it," Dr. Kirst said. Over time, they've developed in "splendid isolation" of each other.

In England, Germany and many other developed countries, the two systems developed together. They have a long history of cooperation. For instance, together they create tests for college admission and placement, Dr. Kirst said. And here?

Many states require students to pass a test built on their state's curriculum – in Texas, the Texas Assessment of Knowledge and Skills – to graduate from high school.

But to get into many colleges, students must take the ACT or SAT, tests that were created by national companies and that don't really reflect the skills states require for graduation.

This is a problem-- and a big one. But I think the biggest problem is holding power. We need to align k-12 with college but we've got to make sure more students finish high school at all first.

One solution to the alignment problem in Texas was to require four years of math and science. That's great for colleges but could that increase our already disgustingly low graduation rates?

We've got two tasks for our public high schools -- graduate more students and help more students get ready for college -- which are often at odds with each other. We've got to make sure those tasks enforce each other, not cancel each other out. This can't be a zero sum game.
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