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Are High Schools Failing To Prepare Students For College? Are Minorities To Blame?

Submitted by on August 19, 2010 – 10:05 am8 Comments

The Wall Street Journal reports high schools are dramatically diminishing in their ability to prepare students for college. In fact, less than 25% of 2010 graduates who took the American College Testing exam (or ACT) earned a score high enough to indicate they could pass a college-level course. Contrastingly, elementary schools have experienced gains in national assessments.

What or whom is to blame for such lackluster scores? Many believe it is the lack of rigor in high-school courses, while others feel the students themselves and their low attention spans are the source of the problem. Overall, composite scores on the ACT have fallen nationally since reaching a five-year peak in 2007 (the year I graduated high school, of course).

Interestingly enough, ACT officials say the increased number of minorities taking the exam has played a role in the drop. Specifically, African-Americans and Hispanics—who, statistically speaking, post lower numbers on the exam than their ethnic counterparts—made up nearly 25% of the test-taking group this year, up from numbers in recent years.

In the end, it seems core high-school courses simply are not getting the job done as far as preparing students to succeed in college. However, there are quite a few other factors which should be addressed.

First of all, in order to succeed in college (or on the exam which determines whether or not you go), there must be a motivation to learn. With all the talk of education reform and No Child Left Behind, the most frightening realization we must make about our education system is the lack of legislation that can make young students want to learn or better themselves.

Next, we have largely scaled back our academic standards, honoring students and/or grades that are not exactly honorable. While it is important we all respect and value ourselves regardless of our academic achievements or scholastic abilities, we must also realize that lowering our standards to make ourselves feel good is much less rewarding or beneficial to society than actually earning our way to the top.

Of course, we cannot have a true discussion of education in America without bringing up our country’s infatuation with the standardized test. There are so many tests, state tests and practice tests, that students must take in a school year that we end up merely throwing facts into their faces and expecting them to recall them. Such an approach is leading us to become a nation of memorizers, not true learners.

Last but not least, the advent of the Internet and its use in education must bear some of the blame (yes, I said it). For many students, the Internet provides a shortcut instead of a supplement to thorough study and mastery of skills. Seriously, what’s the point of actually learning something when you can Google it? I have absolutely no doubt there are too many advantages of the Internet to count, and that it may be playing a role in a ‘weaker and wiser’ generation.

What can we do to fix the problem high schools are facing? The answer is tough. We have to change the culture from one of anti-intellectualism to one which values thinkers. We have to get the point across to youths that their education is their responsibility, not merely that of their teachers (who are often blamed for tests or classes that are “too hard”). We also have to fully explain the non-financial benefits of education instead of telling them mo’ degrees = mo’ money, a sentiment to which many respond by trying to find other means to financial gain and success.

Until then, there’s always Kaplan.

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  • Kwaping says:

    I hate to sound like a broken record, but another great article Chris.

    I think the main problem is that nobody ever sees the value of education until it’s too late, and they’re looking backwards saying “I wish I would’a studied harder.” I know that’s definitely the case with me! I didn’t take school very seriously and ended up going to a fairly low-class state college. Now, I can see how my career is being held up by not making the fullest of my high school time, and therefore getting into a better college.

    Maybe part of the solution is to have people like me go and give speeches to high school students with real, concrete examples of how working harder in school could have made our lives better. Remove the abstractness from “mo’ learnin = mo’ earnin”.

    Another idea I just had is more radical, but I think it would help. Instead of going straight from high school to college “just because”, I think kids should go get jobs straight out of high school. Let them work some menial jobs for a while, so they can see how far they get with no higher education. Then, when they do go to college, they will be a LOT more motivated because they know the reality of what their lives will be if they don’t do well. And, they get this firsthand knowledge in their teens when they’re still fresh, instead of later in life when it’s a lot harder to go back to school.

  • Thanks, man.
    You have some really valid points here. That last one sounds like it could be worked out along the lines of “bring your child to work day,” that is, if more parents actually did their jobs.

  • Another fantastic article chris. Great points kwaping.

    I was going to add a novel onto this but it’s like preaching to the quire. Parents need to do their job and kids do too. I hear people with the talk (excuses, copouts, finger pointing etc). With the net, the excuses are severely lessened. From the same places you ethug/troll/pimp, downloaded free movies, tracks etc. You can dl books, instructional videos etc. Of course this is what I’ve heard and seen others do. I’ve never done this before *whistles*. What I’m getting at is people have been known the system is messed up so they should’ve found other ways around it. Kinda like when one hookup ends they manage to find another. People just don’t see school as a hookup

    Also I’ve talked to people in the educational system and woooow, politics out the waaazoo. Too many people with their hands in the cookie jar. Majority of the teachers that care are getting pushed out and/or figuratively beaten down for caring by people that don’t do their jobs right. The ones that are in it for a paycheck stay.

    Aaand I wrote a novel lol.

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  • cee says:

    Best sentence in this post:

    We have to get the point across to youths that their education is their responsibility, not merely that of their teachers (who are often blamed for tests or classes that are “too hard”).

    I’d amend it slightly and add “and parents” to the “we have to get the point across to youth…that their education is their responsibility…

    On a structural note, summer vacation is a relic of an agrarian society from over 100 years ago. The “achievement gap” becomes most pronounced for kids who have 10 weeks off who do not have parents to keep them engaged or academically active during the summer

  • Kwaping says:

    I agree about summer vacation being antiquated. After I finally got my act together, I went to a year-round college. We had eight weeks of classes and one week off, with semi-annual two-week breaks for Christmas and summer. It was perfect. The breaks came right when I was burning out and were long enough to rest but not get lazy. I hope I can get my son into schools with that kind of schedule, but it’s unlikely.

  • @ cee:

    Great comment. Truly great. President Obama actually said the same thing, but we’ll see how the idea of year-round schools goes over with citizens and teachers, many of whom like a vacation. Educator Steven Perry has called out the need for an abolition of summer vacations as we currently know them as well, and said that no other profession gets a vacation, so teachers shouldn’t either.

  • Let's do ittt says:

    Great post:)

    I attended most of my schooling in San Diego, Ca. and for the majority of the time, it was “easy.” When I got into high school, my parents gave me more freedom. I thought it was all good because they never hassled me about much because as long as I was staying out of trouble or not pregnant, everything was all good to them. As much as I liked that (at the time), the lack of their interest and motivation didn’t push me to do anything with my education, my goal was just to pass my classes, even if it meant getting the lowest passing grade… It wasn’t until I started falling behind and had to go to a learning center program (students attend school for 2 hours a day and complete their credits on their own in order to catch up) that I realized if I didn’t push myself, who would? With my own motivation, I knocked out my classes and graduated 7 months early…

    My point is their is a lack of motivation in students and something has to be done to get students to want to do great rather than just aiming to pass with a “D”.

    @ Kwaping– Even though I graduated school early and started community college before most of my friends graduated, I was still telling myself the same thing, “I wish I would have studied harder!”…. also, I think your idea about giving speeches is great!

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