"I know no safe depository of the ultimate powers of the society but the people themselves; and if we think them not enlightened enough to exercise their control with a wholesome discretion, the remedy is not to take it from them, but to inform their discretion by education. This is the true corrective of abuses of constitutional power." - Thomas Jefferson 1820

"There is a growing technology of testing that permits us now to do in nanoseconds things that we shouldn't be doing at all." - Dr. Gerald Bracey author of Rotten Apples in Education

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Tuesday, July 2, 2013

College Readiness for How Many?

Bill Gates is on record stating that he envisions twice as many students as now going on to college by the year 2020. That would mean approximately 60% of the student population would be expected to attend college. Interesting goal from a man who himself never finished college because it had nothing to offer him that he could not achieve on his own. Harvard only claims him as an alum because of his success in founding Microsoft. If his venture with Paul Allen in 1975 had ended the way many entrepreneurial first tries end, in failure, their relationship with Mr. Gates might have been as difficult to document as their relationship with the President.

Yet somehow, Bill Gates thinks that pushing even more children to take on college debt and receive training he didn't get or need is a good idea. Apparently, so do many other education elites. You have to wonder if they have considered the bigger impact of such a goal.

For starters there is the concept of flooding the market. With twice as many people holding the same qualification, what will be the impact on earnings for future college graduates. Econ 101, which even Bill Gates must have taken, tells you that an increased supply results in a decreased price due to less demand. Today's college graduates are having a hard time finding employment. Granted a lot of this has to do with tax policy for businesses and a massive regulatory burden from an ever growing government, but it demonstrates that a sheepskin does not innoculate you against those concerns when looking for work.

Secondly, there is the reality of pushing students who previously were not likely to succeed in college, into college. College has traditionally been a place for our best and brightest to practice in depth study into a subject area that holds a particular interest for them. Our university systems are where some of our best research takes place. That is because they used to be about gaining more knowledge. Now they are becoming extensions of the job training program, formerly known as k-12 education.  Having taken my child on several college tours recently I was struck by the focus placed on their job placement offices. While every parent wants their child to be gainfully employed, that was not traditionally the goal of college.

If your goal is to be able to enroll more children in college programs, the reality is that you are going to have to dip further down into the performance pool. That reality is already impacting higher education as high schools are required to boost their college entrance statistics to maintain AYP. A significant amount of fudging is done to make more students academic record look acceptable to college admissions offices. This is one of the explanations for the increase in the need for remediation in college. The students entering aren't really qualified to be there. It also explains the rising college drop out rates. According to the latest statistics only 63% of students entering college will complete their degree, and many will take as many as 6 years to do so. The ones going in simply don't have what it takes to complete the work.

Thirdly, (and this point has been covered by many sources) the biggest impact on America of doubling college entrance rates will be the rising amount of student debt. Currently it is over $1 trillion. What happens if we double that to $2 trillion? With the government having a lock on student loans, how will that impact the national debt? Is that an unintended consequence of the goal of doubling college education or the purpose? The answer may lie in your willingness to think conspiratorially.

A fourth point has to do with the means being applied to the end. The goal of Common Core is to make children "college and career ready" to participate in the "global workforce." The assertion CCSSI and its supporters are making is that standards and assessments will address the workforce problem.  In other words, the reason we aren't globally competitive (which itself is a red herring) is because we haven't been consistent in what we teach children or good at assessing whether or not they are learning. If we had been, then naturally more kids would be going to college. Of course we did have 50 states using standards and assessments for many years without this being the natural outcome. Could student failure to graduate or progress on to college have anything to do with our social programs which pay people not to work, whether through welfare or unemployment benefits? Doesn't this seem at cross purposes with preparing a workforce?

The government creates social problems and then says we need more government to fix the problems it creates, and now, private corporations are throwing money at the "fix", not to improve outcomes, but to profit from the process of faux crisis management.

The last effect that absolutely needs to be considered is, what does this goal does to those who don't have what it takes to complete college, who don't wish to go there and to the programs that currently exist for such people like technical or trade schools?

Ed Week recently wrote of some of the realities of this kind of thinking for the high school student who realisitically is not on the college track. They site the rapid decline in the offering of vocational classes and institutions dedicated to the trades.
"88 percent of our public high schools still retain career- and technical-education programs, but the number of students receiving job certification is in decline. School districts that once had robust networks of vocational high schools have stripped offerings. In Boston, a city with 625,000 residents, there is only one vocational secondary school...
Instead of taking two years of foreign language to meet college "readiness" requirements as a junior or senior, why can’t more students take core classes for half the day, then leave school to intern or train as carpenters, electricians, auto technicians, dental assistants, or fitness trainers?
Instead of being pressured into a college track for the sake of improving accountability numbers, why can’t teachers and administrators honestly assess students’ college potential—or lack thereof—and help place students in programs that give them the best shot of having a productive life? It’s one thing for a student to be in a remedial rut, it’s another to compound the problem by not considering other program options."
A group of concerned citizens we spoke to recently in Macon MO expressed this exact concern. They did not necessarily want all their children to go on to college. Who would remain in Macon to run the farms and businesses there if every child went out and got essentially white collar training? No one asked the Macon School Board if college and career readiness was their goal as well. These citizens are asking why they have to funnel all their k-12 education dollars into a curriculum whose goal they never voted on or approved.

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