State report shows many students are not ready for college

State report shows many students are not ready for college –

From today’s ASCD SmartBrief, a report that while some 80% of Massachusetts high school grads go on to college, 37% of them are ill prepared and require remediation.  The article quotes a higher ed official and a NJ department of ed official about the report:

“This reports what we’ve known anecdotally for some time, and that is there are certain groups of students that, despite our best efforts, are still not graduating from high school ready to pursue college-level work immediately,” said Eileen O’Connor, spokeswoman for the Board of Higher Education.

Acting Commissioner of the Department of Education Jeffrey Nellhaus said: “We hope that the data in this report serves as a catalyst for steps to be taken statewide to improve the academic preparation and performance of the Commonwealth’s public school students.”

Or, maybe now is the moment for us to realize that children and young people and even oldsters like me learn and mature at different rates and are ready for different learning experiences at different times.  I taught one of those remediation writing courses at a public university, where students had three semesters to pass in order to gain admission.  Sadly, some of them took the course three times and still failed.  Some failed because their skills were still weak, but many because they just didn’t want to be there.  I couldn’t help but thinking that we were really wasting their time, time they could have been using to move into the world and learn more about themselves rather than academic writing styles.

I wasn’t ready for my own first experience with graduate school.  I graduated with honors from William and Mary but didn’t really have the necessary passion to be a literature professor nor the discipline to be a full-time writer.  In addition, my personal life intervened, making school difficult.  I dropped out after taking much of the course work and discovering a love for rhetoric and African American writers that I carry with me to this day.   I know what it feels like to fail educationally.  I just wasn’t ready.  I certainly don’t blame WM.   And that doesn’t mean I gave up.  I just had to wait for the right time and the right program.  Later, I found the perfect MA program, designed for writing teachers rather than English professors.  I loved it, and my thesis on literacy continues to inform the way I think about new media.

I finished that degree in 1991; now, 25 years after completing my BA in English at the same school, I’m moving towards completing my PhD.  In those 25 years, I did public relations for an art museum, taught high school and middle school, learned about technology, got pretty passionate about educational technology, and, voila, the perfect PhD program seemed to materialize in front of my eyes.  I was ready, and the education was there.  While I admire young professors who found their passions early on, I’m happy that I waited this time.

OK, I think I’m starting to sound a little mystical here and getting away from the original point:  students are very much individuals, and as much as we would like it if we could somehow guarantee that each one has identical skills and knowledge when they pick up that high school diploma, that simply isn’t going to happen because each person brings her own dispositions, her own passions, her own concerns, her own learning styles to those skills and knowledge.  Lately, I’ve been thinking a lot about my vision of education.  I tend to be a pragmatist who tries to work with people where they are, but in my heart, I have a sense that if we really were willing to change everything, school could be this amazing experience, rather than something that kids get through.

So, part of my vision of edutopia includes multi-age classrooms where each child gets the time they need to learn, but more importantly, the room they need to find their passions.  One of the hallmarks of a leader according to Warren Bennis is passion.  I think this is easier to envision at the elementary school level because I think there’s a sense that, at some point if we do it right, all students should be at the same place at least when they hit high school.  At the secondary level, edutopia means that we start redefining “college” and finding ways to blur high school and college experiences.  Helping kids make a plan for the future that makes sense to them and supports them beyond their walk across the high school gym stage.


  1. sharps

    Karen–This is a great post! For 8 years I worked at an elementary school that perhaps is what you are describing above. It is a private school, “The Little School” and is one that has no desks, no letter grades, very few (if any) standardized tests, considers “recess” part of the curriculum (we never even called it “recess”–recess from what??? we called it “free time.”)–a fairly radical idea in today’s world of education. You can read more about it at:

    Basically the overriding philosophy for learning was an “emergent” curriculum model. If a student was interested in astronomy for example, it was my job as the teacher to weave all of the core subject areas into this passion that the student expressed. As the teacher I could also introduce curriculum ideas to the group, based on the group and based on the individual students.

    The hardest part of the job was this sense that I was always having to convince the parents that what we were doing was educationally sound. I sometimes felt like a marketing guru in trying to back up this experience with anecdotes as well as data and studies showing how positive an educational experience their children were getting.

    Anyhow, great post. Thanks.

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