College/Career Readiness and Graduation Rates: Why Are So Many High School Graduates Not College/Career Ready and What Can We Do About It?

For a decade Joel Klein burnished the reputation of the mayor: rising state test scores and graduations rates were proof of the effectiveness of the “reform agenda” of Bloomberg.

High on the “reform agenda” were aggressive school closings/ school creations and attempts to change the laws; end seniority-based layoffs and fire excessed teachers (ATRs).

It was all about messaging: painting the teacher union as the enemy of positive change and defenders of seniority (which equals ineffective, uncaring teachers) and measuring success by metrics which can be manipulated by teachers, principals and Tweed and repeating the message in every possible forum.

In New York City, the nation and across the globe a relentless pounding of the media tom-toms, we have found the Holy Grail, if only we could disempower those evil unions.

In the summer of 2010 the Koretz/Jennings Report (read analysis here) was released by the Regents: the state tests had been systematically made easier – in reality state test and city test scores were flat. The “miracle” was illusory.

High school graduation rates seemed to be continuing to climb – until the State Education Department adopted the CUNY metric – only kids with at least grades of 75 on the English Regents and 80 on the Algebra Regents were college ready. The new numbers were staggering: vast numbers of kids were graduating without being college ready and, the evidence (see latest SED data here) , massive numbers required remediation in college and were dropping out.

One of the reasons: credits were handed out willy-nilly through credit recovery programs – a few hours sitting at a computer terminal, and, schools marking the regents exams of their own students: voila! Another ill-prepared high school graduate.

The lesson for the kids: you don’t have to persevere, you don’t have to study and do homework: we’ll get you through, summer school, credit recovery; we’ll move you to the next grade regardless of your results.

We were, in the words of Inspector Reynaud (see video clip here), shocked, shocked, when kids stumbled badly in college.

On Thursday the Center for NYC Affairs at the New School hosted a panel entitled Creating College Ready Communities: Preparing NYC’s Precarious New Generation of College Students (see some of the data here – a detailed report is due out in a September).

The Report points to,

Good news: dramatic increases in students graduating from high school and applying to college

Bad news: most will never get a college degree

David Conley, the keynote speaker, a professor at the University of Oregon and CEO of Education Policy Information Center is the go to guy in the area of college and career readiness.

Conley presents a far more nuanced definition of college and career readiness. Content knowledge, scores on regents examinations is only one part of the definition, and maybe not the most important part.

Take a look at Conley’s PowerPoint here.

For Conley “… success in post-secondary settings is a function of readiness across multiple dimensions … College and career readiness is more than a score on English and math tests … aspirations do not end up aligning with outcomes.”

The research-based study creates a straightforward “ownership of learning” list,

Know Yourself: be self-aware

Set Goals: know what you need to achieve

Be Motivated: have the mindset to achieve your goals

Persist: don’t give up

Monitor Performance: know how well you are really doing

Ask for Help: when you stuck, ask for help, it’s not a sign of weakness

Show Self-Efficacy: learn to control the things you can control.

The current college readiness system monitors “high stakes” measurements – test results and credit accumulation, and ignore low stakes elements. Conley emphasizes, speaking, listening, persistence, effort and goal focus as crucial elements leading to college success.

Both the NYC Department of Education and the NYS Education Department seem more anxious to achieve success by teaching the wrong values, the behaviors that result in failing to complete college or have career ready skills.

NYS reduced the English regents from a 6-hour, two day exam requiring students to write four essays to a one-day three hour test requiring two essays. Not surpassingly passing rates and overall grades sky rocketed. This year State Education promoted making the Global Studies regents optional – the failing rates were too high.

On one hand both the city and the state flack the adoption of the Common Core State Standards, a ratcheting up of rigor, and quietly continue to “dumb down” actual requirements.

The superb classroom teacher, who also has high standards and fails students, is degraded by the principal; they are bringing down school stats, and possibly imperiling the future of the principal and the school.

One of the panelists was DOE Chief Academic Officer Shael Suransky who appeared to agree with the Conley presentation and even praised the handful of schools that have a waiver from the state and use student portfolios and oral defenses (usually called roundtables) as a measurement is achievement in lieu of regents exams.

The evil side of Tweed and the educator side of Tweed – life in a bipolar age.

The 24 schools caught up in the turnaround school debacle dominate the news and clearly occupy the mayor. His goal is to punish, to vilify, to arm twist, to win at all costs, without defining what win means for kids and schools.

Another twenty or so schools actually teach students the skills to get into and survive in colleges – the Consortium schools, the schools operating under the Commissioner’s Regents waiver rules.

If the mayor listened to David Conley and worked to expand the multiple pathways waiver option perhaps we would have some hope for the last eighteen months of Bloomberg’s regency.

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