To cite a cliché, the more things change the more they remain the same. This applies to many areas of life, but arguably it is the essence of educational reform.
Recently the ACT, an independent organization that provides assessment, research and program management in broad areas of education, issued a statement on the “essentials for college and career readiness.”
What it found is precisely what evaluators of education in the United States have been saying for decades. Despite an enormous per capita national expenditure for education, exceeded only by Switzerland, “high school learning standards are still not sufficiently aligned with postsecondary expectations.”
Across the curriculum, college instructors and high school teachers differ on the level of preparation for college assignments with many more high school teachers than college instructors reporting that graduates are prepared. At the same time, while college math and science instructors agree that reading is one of the most important skills needed for success in this century, “overwhelming majorities of them report spending little or no time teaching reading strategies in their courses.”
Apparently findings indicate that students are shortchanged in high school and post secondary courses, despite the fact many high school teachers believe their students are adequately prepared for higher education study. There is simply a huge disparity between skill level and performance expectations.
To address this concern the ACT contends high school standards should focus on fewer – but essential – college and career readiness conditions and a rigorous core curriculum should be mandated for all high school graduates. These are sensible recommendations that have been advocated for at least half a century. The key question is why haven’t these recommendations been put into practice if everyone – or almost everyone – knows what should be done.
There are several factors that account for this state of affairs. One, student readiness is not related to faculty compensation. In fact, merit pay, which could be related to readiness, is consistently opposed by the teachers’ union. Second, relatively little time is spent on “hard subjects” such as math and science. The curriculum is, to some degree, a mirror on national social conditions. If there are fatalities on our highways, driver education is encouraged. When rates of illegitimacy rise, sex education is emphasized. As rates of drug abuse assail us, drug education is introduced. And, of course, political correctness is a time consuming theme that crosses all disciplines, even the sciences.
Herbert London is president of Hudson Institute and professor emeritus of New York University. He is the author of Decade of Denial (Lanham, Maryland: Lexington Books, 2001).
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