Friday, September 30, 2011

Is "College for All?"

Last year my son's 4th grade class went on a field trip to visit Muhlenberg College. I thought it was a bit odd to take young school children on a tour of a college campus. They were not going there to see a play. Elementary school field trips should have some element of age appropriate fun! The new buzz phrase in our school district is "college readiness." According to the district website, college readiness is "the wave of the future." High school students can now take dual enrollment classes, taught by local community college professors, in order to receive college credits. Middle school students are being put on track for college.

College readiness is also a key requirement for obtaining a waiver, or relief, from the unrealistic AYP (Annual Yearly Progress) mandates of the failed federal No Child Left Behind Act:

“To receive this flexibility, an SEA [state education agency] must demonstrate that it has college- and career-ready expectations for all students in the State by adopting college- and career-ready standards in at least reading/language arts and mathematics, transitioning to and implementing such standards statewide for all students and schools, and developing and administering annual, statewide, aligned, high-quality assessments, and corresponding academic achievement standards, that measure student growth in at least grades 3-8 and at least once in high school."

In response to the current "college for all" education reform movement, a report by Harvard University's Pathways to Prosperity project determined that out of the 47 million new jobs expected to be created from now until 2018, only one third will require a bachelor's degree or higher. 30% of new jobs will require an associate's degree or post secondary occupational credential. Currently, only 30% of students go to college and earn a bachelor's degree by age 27. So why are we designing our public education system to satisfy an unrealistic and impractical goal? Here's a link to an informative blog that links to the Harvard report:

According to Dept. of Labor statistics, http://www.bls.gov/oco/oco2003.htm
the occupations with the fastest growth (scroll 3/4 down to see Table 1) and the largest numerical growth (see Table 2) show that a 4 year college degree is not going to be necessary for a huge segment of future workers. Home health care and personal aide jobs are at top of the list.

I think our school district's "college for all" agenda is more about improving the image of the district than serving the educational needs of the student population, which is 88% low income/poverty. If the suits really cared about the students they would not have cut art, music, phys ed and library from the already history and science deprived curriculum. Striving for excellence while narrowing curriculum just doesn't jibe. Public education should be about equal opportunity, and providing the best education to all students, in order to promote engaged citizens.

High expectations, standards, and goals are important, but when schools focus too much on college readiness, they tend to forget about who the children are at the moment. The important job of meeting immediate needs gets pushed to the background. The effects of poverty get ignored. I believe that it's much more important to provide mandatory pre-school to all children. Research supports early childhood intervention as a key factor in helping kids succeed at school. Once children learn to read, then they will read to learn. We need to give children the knowledge and rich educational experiences ( like exposure to the arts) necessary for them to discover their talents and decide for themselves if they want to go to college. Front and center should be the job of providing a safe learning environment, healthcare, nutrition, and books for students growing up in poverty. Why are we in a race to the top, and why do we need to be better than everyone else in the world? The majority of American students falling behind are those who are growing up in poverty. College degrees don't always translate into jobs.

I asked my son about his field trip and what he liked about college. His answer: "I got to see boys and girls kissing." and "Everyone has laptops." Thankfully the schoolchildren did not encounter any streakers or wild keg parties on their visit. ;D

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