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.
There are, in most high schools, pep rallies prior to the Friday night football game. There are announcements of various kinds during the school day and, of course, the required weekly assembly program.
In addition, distractions prevail. Texting is the nemesis of concentration. There are video games, e-mails, Facebook, sororities, fraternities, parties, television programs that trump serious study. It is also the case that high school teachers are among the most marginal students in their college classes. Although there are superb teachers, the profession lacks the status and prestige that accompany other professions.
Last, perhaps most noteworthy, is the nation’s dysfunctional social life. Divorce, illegitimacy and various forms of social deviancy have disrupted home life so that mom at the kitchen table with cookies and milk at 3 pm is as rare as two dollar bills. Mom is probably working; no one is there to guide Johnny and Mary when they return from school except Oprah Winfrey. Homework is for autodidacts and, most teachers do not count on homework assignments, a bygone vestige of education in another era.
The “Leave It To Beaver” family is interred and with it have gone attention to student performance. Parents may retain expectations for their children, but the conditions necessary to achieve these goals are lacking. Now schools do not concentrate on subjects that matter, distractions make learning a chore and the mediating social structures that aided educational attainment are in trouble.
Clearly the ACT should be commended for pointing out what should be done to improve educational performance, but I’ve heard all the claims before. Until there is recognition of what ails us, there will be many more reports in our future, but little progress in student attainment.
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