The graduation gap

The graduation gapSo your students walk off the stage with a high school diploma. Tasseled caps soar in the breeze, held aloft with aspirations for the future. But just because they graduate, doesn’t necessarily mean they’re ready to fly.

Recently, the National Center on Education and the Economy (NCEE) released the results of a two-year study of the English literacy and mathematics required for success in the first year of community college. It wasn’t pretty.

According to What Does It Really Mean to Be College and Work Ready?, high school graduates don’t know enough of the basics to get them through one year at a community college. Think about it. An average of 45 percent of high school graduates attend a community college—with fast-track training that goes directly into the workforce. If the students aren’t ready for college, they most surely are ill-equipped to succeed in a career. The system keeps moving them along at a fairly rapid clip without ever really giving them what they need. Basic English and math skills, for example.

Alarming highlights from the study revealed that many college programs demand little or no mathematics. What students need most is middle school mathematics but their command of those concepts is weak. And the skills needed in many community college programs—mathematical modeling, statistics and probability, complex measurement, schematics and geometric visualization—are not even taught in most schools.

Most high school graduates cannot understand college texts written at 11th–12th grade levels. In many community colleges, the required reading demands little more than searching for basic facts. Most college courses require very little writing and industry training courses rarely ask students to do the kind of writing they will need to do on the job.

“This report shows that our community colleges have shockingly low expectations of the students entering their institutions, because many—perhaps most—of our future nurses, EMTs, and auto mechanics haven’t mastered middle school mathematics and cannot read much of the material in their first year college textbooks—even though they are only written at the 11th and 12th grade levels—and a large fraction of our future four-year college students have a very hard time writing a simple report that requires students to make an argument and support it with facts” said Marc Tucker, NCEE president. “If the United States does not fix this fast, its citizens will face a bleak economic future.”

It’s a complex issue with far-reaching implications. How do you think we can teach our students not only what they need to graduate, but what they need to succeed?

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