From a recent Ed Week article:

A survey by ACT finds that 89 percent of high school teachers report their students are “well” or “very well” prepared for college-level work in the subject they teach, while just 26 percent of college instructors say incoming students are “well” or “very well” prepared for entry-level courses.

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I am shocked, shocked!!
No, not at all. Nothing could be more obvious than that most HS teachers in their constant isolation are unaware of what college success demands. Why else would there be 40% remediation rates at college in NJ and NY? Why else would so many kids drop out of college? Why would so many HS assignments bear little relationship to college level demands? [Here’s a new study, added a month after this post, on the disconnect between HS and community college.]
Here is a personal example. Just last week my daughter sent me a draft of her Philosophy paper to review. She is a freshman at Stony Brook, a branch of the SUNY system in New York. Here was the assignment, in its entirety:

What is the result of Nietzche’s genealogical analysis of the concepts of good and evil? How do they come into existence?  Your answer should include an analysis of the concept of ressentiment among other concepts you find useful in your answer. Your paper should be approximately 2 pages long with no filler.

I don’t think half of American HS graduates could answer this question adequately, yet she is taking an intro course at a state university.
I once showed a group of HS teachers a set of Freshman exams from various colleges and they could not believe how “difficult” they were.
I therefore find it a dereliction of duty that HS teachers continue to teach and assign work with no attempt to check out what is happening in the colleges they send their kids to (or, better yet, colleges they wish to send their kids to). It ought to be a required policy that each department must a few times a year look at college exams and sample student work from an array of colleges; and either invite in local professors to talk about the deficits of incoming students or visit a local college to talk with their own alumni and their professors. (And via the Internet you can find assignments and exams for any course taught.)
David Conley did a great job of pulling together a lot of such material in College Knowledge. Years ago, Littleton HS used the U of Colorado entrance exam in writing as its exit test in writing, given to all juniors. It used to be a requirement of BOCES vocational courses in New York State that twice per year a meeting needed to occur with the teacher and representatives from the industry or trade they taught, to vet the curriculum and grading standards against industry standards.  In short, there are lots of ways to remedy this situation.
Such inquiry and vetting ought to be standard operating procedure in high schools. It is  a terrible disservice to our kids to have HS teachers test and grade in a complete vacuum as now most do. (Obviously AP and IB work solves the problem in a different way, but that usually only affects a small fraction of the teacher and student population).
There are no excuses for continuing this HS teacher myopia, none.
PS: This just in: 40% in Colorado also need remediation.



47 Responses

  1. High school teachers work with a different population–in a single classroom we have very high achievers, students with severe learning disabilities (including IQs below 70), students who read at a 3rd grade level, students who are constantly stoned and only in class because of truancy cops, students with severely dysfunctional family/social situations (parents in prison, addicted and alcoholic parents, etc.). It is our job to ensure that ALL these students learn and are successful, and a many of them aren’t able to do pre-college level work. I have students whose scores on cognition tests are in the 14th and 21st percentiles. It is absurd to suggest that I have failed as a teacher because these students aren’t ready to do college-level work. ALL high school teachers, except those in elite private schools, are faced with the same situation. Your post is really somewhat insulting to those of us who struggle with educating EVERY child to the top of his/her achievement level.

    • You miss the point. The poll says that HS teachers SAY that they are ready, by a big number. The dropout and remediation rate says you are mistaken about achieving success for those going to college. Heterogeneity has nothing to do with what I am arguing: you have an obligation to know whether your kids are prepared for what they wish to do next, period. The data show a serious problem. I didn’t say that everyone should succeed in college! I said teachers should know if their kids are ready for whatever they do, and HS clearly fails that test by the data. Direct your irritation to your Dept Head and College Counsellors, not me.

    • You miss a key implication of your own argument pattipeg. The students reading at the third-grade level, the stoned, and those skipping school are unlikely to be going to college. Therefore, it’s only a small percentage of the highest-performing students in a highly heterogenous class that we’re talking about– up to 74% of YOUR BEST STUDENTS are unprepared for the demands of college!

      • Actually, my students tend to test into 3000 level Spanish courses, and often when they take their college placement tests in Spanish, the tester thinks they’ve been in an immersion course or that they’ve studied overseas. Almost ALL of my students, not just my best students, who take Spanish 3 and 4 with me, are extremely prepared for the demands of college-level Spanish courses.

  2. You realize that HS teachers must teach to state standards that are sometimes miles wide and inches deep in terms of content. In IL as a science teacher I must try to teach to 5 different sets of standards. Common Core Literacy in Science, Common Core Math, ACT College Readiness Standards, Illinois State Board of Education Content standards and now the Next Generation Science Standards. My students miss about 14 days of my class due to standardized testing each year. I teach 5 classes of 32 students each, we’re required to enter two grades per week into our computerized grading system that’s 300 grades per week… aligned to 5 sets of standards… plus test prep and all those standardized tests which are used to grade our school or to evaluate teachers. I’m not sure teacher myopia is the problem. I’m not sure blaming teachers for systemic problems is a productive approach. Did I mention that my school is over 90% low income – some very low- and my students have to deal with violence on the streets and often in their homes? I wonder what Nietzche would say about all this.

    • Please re-read the article and the survey results. The issue is whether or not HS teachers THINK their kids ARE prepared for college, not whether or not they in fact are prepared. By your account, then, you would (correctly) say that kids are NOT prepared for college! It’s that prediction that we’re talking about, not whether or not you can reach a certain perhaps unrealistic goal in the face of obstacles. I am not blaming teachers for systemic problems; I know well how systemic the issues are in every job we take. But in this case it is just a failure on the part of teachers to know better – that IS a teacher problem. Good Lord, every HS coach knows what the colleges want; why can’t the teachers at least inquire? No rules, policies or standards prevent each HS department from finding this out and disseminating it via their communications with and assignments for kids. I stand by my criticism even as I empathize with your very heavy load. Anyone who follows my work knows that I always work on what is in my control and I always encourage educators to do likewise. This is in your control, period.

      • Teachers are told that teaching to the standards makes students “college and career” ready. This may be true in an ideal world, but most of us don’t teach in an ideal world. I think that a few of my students are ready for a selective college right out of HS, but most of them are not… just as they were not ready for high school when they got to me. Asking professors what they want is not the answer. I have to teach the students who show up at my school. I have no choice and I’d want it no other way. Why are universities admitting students who are clearly not ready to do the work at the university?
        I teach an AP class which is not constrained by the same state standards. It’s not really a college style course because the AP test in my subject is much broader than students would experience in a college intro course. Many of them don’t pass the AP exam… some are 3-5 years behind in reading and writing skills… some have tiny vocabularies and are not native English speakers. Most have never been exposed to the subject at all. But when they go to college they get easy A’s in their intro course and many major in the field. I prepared them fairly well for college in this subject… partly because AP is set free from some of the insane structures that top-down ed policy has put in place. I know this because I keep in touch with my students after they graduate.
        I know that my students in other subjects will struggle when they get to college, but it’s not because I don’t know what they’ll be learning or expected to do there… after all I went to college and I read journals… I have our professors in my immediate family including my wife. The reason many of my students aren’t ready for college is because I’d need more resources to get them ready for it. I’d need time… fewer students per class… fewer classes… fewer state mandates that have nothing to do with real college level work. Knowing what professors expect would to little.
        Blaming teachers for not asking professors what they want is not productive. My knowing what they expect does not magically make my students able to do it. It would be great if I could have my students do several 10 page APA style research papers per year… but even if I know that would help them in college there is no way I could even begin to do it.
        You say I have control about asking professors what they expect. This is true… but you’re also assuming that what they expect is somehow appropriate for the bulk of the students I teach upon their graduation… which it is not. You are also assuming that my knowing what the professors expect would enable me to radically change the type of assignments I give and the type of feedback I’d be able to give my students… which it does not.
        There is one condition where I’d buy what you’re selling. If we could take this concept from HS to middle school, to elementary, to kindergarten, to preK and to early childhood and prenatal care so every 9th grader I see at my school meets my expectations of what a scholarly HS student could do… then I’d happily scrap all my state standards… risking my job… and collaborate with your philosophy professor. Until then, maybe the professor should visit some urban high schools to see the lives our students live. Maybe they should taylor their teaching to the students their admissions department saw fit to admit.

        • I was with you Mr. Cantor until your last paragraph. I don’t think backtracking works. And now, it’s the lastest scheme of the so-called “education reformers”. They want to set up a “Dashboard” system where student data is plotted along a continuum of expected targets for each year of education- going backwards from college graduation to kindergarten with what to expect each year. We ought to stop trying to shoehorn students into expected levels. When we play where the ball lies, and give that flexibility to teachers, we’ll see that the system will work a lot better. Let’s look at the child and make the system work to teach them – at whatever level they happen to be at.

          • I agree with your critique of backward mapping based on arbitrary standards. I was trying to suggest that we need to build strong communities with great healthcare, nutrition, and most of all economic opportunities for all, so kids will be well supported from before they are born. Kids who grow up with financial and emotional security will be much more ready to learn when they get to school. I don’t like teacher bashing and I don’t like a myopic view which sees a student’s success at age 19 as being primarily the responsibility of their high school teachers… especially when the high school system is setting them up to fail… as were many other societal systems going back to the moment the child was conceived… if not before. I was trying to say that if we fix all that then I’ll gladly take responsibility for that last bit of mentoring to get the student ready for college.

          • I agree. There is a lot of discussion now about this backmapping. It’s the latest idea of “reformers” to have this map that we follow. Anyone that veers from it is put in remedial I guess. Social/psycho/emotional is included. It’s very disturbing. So, I’m glad you don’t support that.

  3. Mr. Wiggins, considering that ALL teachers graduated from college and that many have a Masters degree- why do you think they have forgotten what college was like? To what do you attribute this myopia?

    • I think it’s three things: as a young student, with no perspective (most of us only went to 1 college) your memory is limited to what you felt and saw at that time – inherently limited and not a valid sample of many classes at many colleges (and for some it was 25 years ago!). Secondly, you don’t think about this issue at all in day to day work. You aren’t grading against college standards routinely and you aren’t vetting your assignments against college level assignments if ever. Even if your memory is ok, it’s easy to believe, without evidence, that you are preparing kids just by virtue of all the hard work you do. The feedback loop for HS teachers is very poor: we don’t get feedback from alumni ever since the Buckley Amendment made it impossible for schools to get info from colleges on specific kids, and as I say in the post almost no HS teachers are routinely comparing their work to college-level assignments and grading standards. The third part is the delicate subject of typical HS teacher blindness from having lived in life in relative isolation from peers and colleagues on a day to day basis. If HS teachers met daily as a department and addressed these topics, it might be very different – both in terms of college knowledge and use of best practices in teaching. PS: Most of the Masters Degrees are not in the core subjects; they are mostly in education which means that they were not getting masters-level work in their academic major.

      • Our department gets to meet once per week for 40 minutes. We’re mostly using that time to jump through hoop after hoop relating to standardized testing and teacher evaluation procedures. When we do work on improving instruction it is all around our state standards … and now the Common Core national (college and career ready) standards. We need to solve some much larger problems than your so-called teacher myopia if we’re going to make a difference.

  4. I’ve thought a lot about this discrepancy over the past couple of hours. On the one hand, I’m just as “shocked, shocked.” After all, college professors blaming high schools, high schools blaming junior highs, and junior highs blaming the elementary schools is a game that’s been going on for far too long. If only this blame game could solve the problem; unfortunately, it simply exacerbates the problem by driving the parties farther apart.
    Yes, educators at all levels need more opportunity to articulate vertical (and horizontal) expecations and assumptions. However, those of us who are in touch with post-secondary educators on a routine basis find ourselves frustrated by the inability to get our students where they need to be because of an over-emphasis on standardized testing.
    Listen to the teachers, Dr. Wiggins. Our students spend hour after hour, day after day taking standardized tests and under-going preparation for standardized tests. Sometimes this takes the form of learning test-taking strategies. Sometimes it means time out of class to fill in demographic and interest inventory bubbles for the testing companies. All of this is in addition to the actual tests. Teachers are saying loudly, “This is a bad idea! We cannot prepare them for college because they’re being forced to focus on testing!” All of this testing and test preparation is replacing curriculum, and the trend is growing.
    Although this study is interesting, the fact that it is sponsored by ACT significantly taints it. ACT has a vested interest in proclaiming students unprepared for college. (If students are deemed “unprepared,” then they take the ACT more frequently in order to become more prepared, paying the company each time they do so.)
    Teachers cannot simultaneously claim that their students are “well prepared” and that their students are not prepared due to these standardized testing encumbrances. We cannot have it both ways. I can say this though: My students are reasonably well prepared for college, but they could be even more prepared if they were allowed to be in class more frequently and focused on a deep, rich curriculum instead of spending a shocking amount of time focused on tests that will not help them be successful college students.

    • I don’t think it is tainted by the source. I agree with you that we should listen to teachers. I work with teachers every day and work hard to improve the very conditions you describe. But blaming the tests and admins to me simply overlooks a basic issue. If I am a HS teacher I personally want to make sure I know as much as I can about how alumni fare and what colleges want. Few faculties make these inquiries.
      Before Littleton HS did its great work on competency-based diploma requirements and working with U of Colorado to use their writing exam they sent letters to all the colleges at which their students matriculate asking: what are you looking for? What if we did x y and z? What can we do to better prepare kids? etc. They received dozens of lengthy letters back with data and recommendations. My thought, then, is very basic: why aren’t HS teachers working more as a team to find this stuff out? Having worked in HS myself and worked with HS teachers for 30 years I can say what you know: the isolation of HS teachers is a key problem and it plays out here. It’s a problem that cant be passed off to others; it is a longstanding cultural problem in American high schools.

  5. Grant, thank you for speaking to this serious problem. It reminds of the discussions on the meaning of rigor I have had with HS educators. It seems that just about everyone (pta, teachers, curriculum supervisors, principals, and superintendents) understands it differently and has a rational for their position. Your suggestion of articulating between HS and College will serve to provide a realistic context for defining academic rigor. I plan to bring your message back to my school tomorrow. Thank you, Anthony

  6. As someone who has taught high school, is currently teaching at the college level, and will soon be going back to high school, I hope I’ll bring some perspective with me — but I’ve got to say that the ignorance goes both ways.
    I meet very few college faculty who know the first thing about pedagogy, differentiated instruction, special needs, etc.,etc. of the many issues faced by high school teachers, just like I meet very few high school teachers who have a realistic picture of what their students will face in college.
    If we want high school teachers to have better perspective, we could get it while also giving college faculty more skills and better perspective, by putting the two groups together a lot more often. Maybe in formats where the college faculty are mentored in pedagogy by the high school teachers, and the high school faculty mentored in current developments in their fields by the college faculty.

    • I completely agree about college profs knowing little pedagogy – my workshops with them are incredibly dreary in most cases – but this is a different issue: readiness for college level assignments.

      • “College level” is not a fixed target, and many college faculty are asking totally unrealistic things of first year students.
        I’m claiming that more students would appear to be ready for college level assignments if more college faculty had a realistic picture of where their students *are*, rather than where they want them to be, and if more of them had some pedagogical tools to actually help them get there. Both of those could happen if the high school teachers taught the college faculty, rather than just focusing on the college faculty letting the high school teachers know what they expect.

        • It may be unrealistic but it is the expectation – and it is our obligation to know the expectations. No one is defending college teaching or their understanding of pedagogy or saying that they know better than HS teachers about how to teach. I can say with firsthand knowledge that you and others are correct: most college teaching is not very strong and most college teachers know little about pedagogy. None of that is relevant here. The issue is: are our kids prepared to do college-level assignments? As in my daughter’s writing assignment, are kids aware that such paper topics are the norm? My son, a junio at Ursinus similarly reports tha his ex-romnmates (dropped out) were not prepared for college level writing assignments.

          • It is relevant! There are two derelictions of duty going on, and I don’t see how either is going to be meaningfully fixed without the other. HS should teach to the actual expectations of college, but the actual expectations should be reasonable.
            Those kids might well have been well enough prepared for what the college level assignments _should be_, especially if those assignments were accompanied by decent pedagogy.

  7. You nailed it in the quote below:
    “The third part is the delicate subject of typical HS teacher blindness from having lived in life in relative isolation from peers and colleagues on a day to day basis. If HS teachers met daily as a department and addressed these topics, it might be very different – both in terms of college knowledge and use of best practices in teaching.”
    This is the crux of the problem. HS teachers in the U.S. routinely teach in isolation…isolation from each other and from the rigor expected in college courses. This has to be addressed systemically. The best professional development occurs when colleagues regularly collaborate to improve their craft.

  8. Isn’t it interesting that all of these colleges are admitting students that are not prepared to do introductory college work. Why didn’t they know? That being said, I would expect that by this point your daughter would have had enough class time to be able to tackle this topic or the professor was not doing his/her job. I went to a highly selective college many decades ago coming from a well respected high school. As an incoming freshman, my performance on a paper like that would have depended in large part on the quality of the course and my commitment to the subject. Since I was less than a diligent student my freshman year, I would imagine my performance on that paper would have been no more than adequate. I learned a great deal with time especially when I advanced to the point where I was concentrating on my major. Putting my own experience as an example aside, we do have to be aware that we are encouraging more and more students to attend college. Since funding and resources are highly variable among public schools and students come from a range of communities that are more or less capable of preparing students for college, we ought to expect that we might find that a lot of students do not meet college readiness standards given the far greater numbers who are attending. My last comment is a question about the survey. Was there an answer choice for average preparation or were the choices limited to four: poorly prepared, below average prep, well prepared, or very well prepared?

  9. I loved Beyond Good and Evil and Zarathustra but I didn’t read them until I was well in to college study. I was partial to the Kauffman translations. Anyway, I don’t think most state/local superintendents of schools, supervisors, principals, or teachers could answer that question – not without reviewing Nietzsche’s philosophy. But the real truth is that they probably never encountered his thought at all in their study in the first place. I think it’s great that your daughter is reading it in high school. It has a strong appeal to young minds. Mostly I respect his emphasis on the individual – something that is sorely missing in K-12 education today.
    “The individual has always had to struggle to keep from being overwhelmed by the tribe. If you try it, you will be lonely often, and sometimes frightened. But no price is too high to pay for the privilege of owning yourself.”

  10. Provocative post as usual.
    Poorly posed survey question in my opinion. 89% of teachers saying their students are prepared for college doesn’t mean the same thing as teachers saying 89% of their students are prepared for college. If a teacher thinks 60% of their students are ready for college, how can they possibly answer the survey in a meaningful way?
    College completion rates are quite low for students needing remedial classes. So, why do you suppose the instructors of the remedial courses are so confidant about their students readiness for college?

  11. I think that teachers in general tend to overestimate their students’ abilities, knowledge, etc. I think teachers tend to factor in behavior and cooperation into grades. I have seen many a report card (I’m 5th grade, but I’m positive this somewhat applies to later grades) that talks about how a student looks, or how well they behave. I also know that vertical alignment of the curriculum stops at 12th grade. HS teachers do not go to the colleges and collaborate or ensure that their material is preparing their students for college. How often do the HS teachers have college profs come in to review curriculum and talk about what they are seeing? I teach 5th grade and I am in frequent contact with the 6th grade teacher about his thoughts and what he sees. I don’t believe HS teachers do this with colleges/universities – it’s just how they remember college.
    The teaching profession can be pretty resistant to change and feedback. I honestly believe that some of the kickback from teachers about standardized tests is that they do not like the results. I frequently hear total disbelief from teachers when they see student scores. Sometimes we just want the students to do well so we push grades upon them. In other words we are in denial.
    You also wrote a great post about spoon-feeding students too much. HS can be very scripted and students are spoon-fed in comparison to college instruction and pedagogy. I don’t see a lot of professors massively scaffolding each lesson. There is also not a lot of support in college, nor is there someone looking over your back like HS. College requires a much higher level of independence. Sure students may do well with support and scaffolding, but when that is pulled away, students can struggle – especially in the beginning. I wonder if HS teachers take this into account especially towards the end of HS. Is that scaffolding/support pulled back gradually? I don’t think it is. It seems the same all year long. IB has a huge set of mock exams, massive “group studying”, etc. Colleges do not do this. This could be part of the problem as well.

  12. This is a more complex issue that I think you realize- at least here in FL. Our school guidance counselors regularly give out misinformation regarding required coursework for college entrance. One example of many I have heard/witnessed is a guidance counselor who told my niece that Chemistry is a “must do” to gain entry into colleges. She is a language arts type kid. If she took Chemistry- it would be a good experience and she would not fail. However, she does not absolutely need Chemistry to gain entry into a college. Counselors have a ‘one size fits all” approach since they have so many to advise. Counselors treat every child as if they are going to try to attend Harvard.
    Another issue that comes up is the motivation problems we have in our schools. The high stakes testing, lack of diversity of coursework, lack of encouragement to be independent and self reliant have all added to a mentality of low motivation. There are many highly motivated kids. But there are also many who have given up or at least do not buy into the pay off for our high school offerings.
    Another factor is our testing program. There isn’t a huge amount of time for teaching anymore. Truly. Our last quarter of school is upon us. Our principal sent home a schedule for the final quarter of school. Each day- and I mean literally each and every day- has a test scheduled. These include FCAT, EOC (End of course exams), AICE tests, AP tests, etc. They have switched to block scheduling to accommodate this testing. Further, teachers must be disrupted with kids coming and going. They also have to stop teaching when their classroom is being tested. Often 1/2 the class will be pulled for testing and then the remaining kids watch a movie. If you have some high level motivated kids in a class who have an AP test, FCAT, EOC”s and an AICE test all in one year, those teachers will be showing lots of movies to the remainder. And if one of those kids has extra time on their IEP- well, it’s movies all day! This is the ENTIRE last quarter. I’m happy to email you with the schedule if you want confirmation of this. Testing is strangling our programs. When we have testing for an entire quarter, it’s no wonder we have to have so much remediation in colleges.
    Another problem that is an off-shoot of this testing regime is that we have set the bar at mediocre. We are grading schools, teachers and students based on passage of a minimum skills test (EOC’s and FCAT). We are concerned (rightfully so) that the bottom 25% raise their skills. But we have become so wrapped up in that- that we have stopped working to raise our top 25% or to motivate our middle 50%. The bar has been set at passage of this test. Last time I looked, colleges and universities did not care how kids did on FCAT. Yet we continue to focus on this test by using textbooks and workbooks that teach to this test, train teachers to do item analysis to train kids on item per item for test prep (keeping a portfolio of this type of teaching to defend themselves against firing), and to put aside all teaching for the administration of this test.
    If you want kids to be better prepared for college/university, the fact that teachers do not coordinate their teaching with what happens in a college course is the tip of the iceberg.

    • PS Our guidance counselors (high school) have 600 kids each to “counsel”. Students barely get 5 minutes of her/his time – when they ask for it. It’s a sham. There is no way they can effectively do their jobs with this many.

  13. I wonder if similar research has been done between middle and high school teachers. Certainly, high school teachers like to pass some of the responsibility for “unprepared students” on to their earlier teachers.
    I teach middle school, and while preparing my 7th and 8th grade courses, I researched the material taught in local 9th grade classrooms – to see what they needed to be prepared to do and to understand. What was heralded as “really high level professionalism,” for me had seemed like an obvious step, but clearly not a lot of middle school teachers have the time or inclination to do this.

  14. Amen. Thank you Grant. I could not agree with you more. Of course I am fortunate to be an upper school principal in an independent school where we continually ask this very question. One way we are trying to monitor how our kids are doing is to plan to connect with our graduates and ask very specific questions about their freshmen experiences. This is one way to gain information about the effectiveness of our program. Do you have any sense of the CWRA assessment which is supposed to measure “college readiness”? Also, I would love to bring a panel of college freshmen professors to my school and moderate a panel discussion with my faculty. I sit on a professional development board at Hofstra and have suggested this thought. Waiting to hear if there is any interest.

  15. I just finished a two-day workshop with your sometimes partner Jay McTighe, and I believe you and he have to own that much of this problem is your creation. Your name appears as a consultant on two of our dumbed-down Pearson text books that we use where even in the world history text is there no mention of philosophy or critical thinking (which your daughter’s professor asks for). UbD is the Bible of education classes, and teachers graduate knowing how to design their lessons using UbD but with little content knowledge (which you yourself acknowledge in a post above). In fact, your argument in your books, consultations, blogs, etc., is that there is too much content to be covered. Administrators believe (because your promotional literature encourages them to) that this disconnect between high school and college readiness is a curriculum design problem, when in fact, it’s a content problem (the teachers don’t have enough) and a student problem (kids are poor and are arriving with all the problems poverty brings with it). Own up. Be part of the solution, not part of the problem.

    • Your comment has little to do with what I wrote about and doesn’t even make sense. It’s your job to plan units. The text is a resource. And my role was to infuse it with some good EQs. Saying “there is no mention of critical thinking” doesn’t make sense. It’s a history textbook. You’re the planner; you’re the teacher. The text gives you materials. It is not the curriculum. It IS a curriculum design problem – that’s always a local matter. Blaming UbD training for lack of content knowledge in graduates is hogwash. Lack of content knowledge has been a problem for 40 years, reported widely. Your comment is unwarranted.

  16. Yesterday, I attended the honors ceremony for the university where I am employed. I was surprised with about 60% of the total honorees came from the School of Education. While we have a reputation of a “teachers college” it seemed to me that if you did not graduate from the education program with honors (Summa, Manga, or just Cum Laude) you must be a complete screwup. Heck, even Cum Laude honors seemed like stragglers compared to the amount with the higher distinctions.
    I said to my colleague sitting next to me that there were a lot of students from the department with this honor. His response was that clearly we were just “too hard on our students.” My response was “that’s your takeaway?”, which generated no response from him.
    If these students are tomorrow’s teachers, and are not being challenged it seems in their own studies, is it a surprise that they do not push their students when in the classroom, particular when faced with NCLB and other pressures? How much damage has this practice at my school done to the education of my state (one which received a NCLB waiver)?

  17. “The current study results are based on a national sample of 9,937 participants, including elementary school teachers, middle school/junior high school teachers, high school teachers, and college instructors in English, writing, math, reading, and science.”
    I couldn’t care less whether elementary teachers or middle school teachers or, frankly, 9th or 10th grade teachers feel their students are well prepared for college.
    This study would be a lot more convincing if the data were solely from 11th, 12th grade teachers and college professors who deal specifically with freshmen and sophomore classes.
    Second, I find the college professors’ complaints about students a little silly. If the admissions department did their jobs properly, unprepared students wouldn’t be in those college courses, and I’d have a easier time preparing my students because I would then be able to say honestly, “You need to work harder or these is no chance you be accepted at …”
    As it is, senioritis starts in November, right after early admission and these days, it seems there is no other kind. The junior and senior years are when the required courses are complete and the electives that would give them the foundation that would make them prepared is treated lightly.
    I know how good my students are because I have gone to those colleges and talked to the STEM professors directly. I know the students aren’t prepared and the parents and the school administration actively work to get them graduated: the piece of paper is more important than the knowledge.
    It’s this experience that gives me pause when you trot out that graph; it doesn’t ring true and it seems highly biased.

  18. You are absolutely on the mark. I teach high school history and am sometimes open to adverse comments that my classes are not, “stem” not “common core” do not have enough “group” activities, no posters, no extra credit. Why do I teach not using these techniques, well it is because they don’t do much of this in college. My brother is a college history professor, my father was the chairman of communications department at a university, as was my uncle held the same position at another university, I talk to them regularly and their colleagues and discuss what and how they instruct and then follow their lead. I require reading, writing, give no multiple guess test, my test are essay and/or short answer that require critical thinking. Yes I have to teach to a state mandated test and manage to incorporate these elements into my lessons. I tell my students that my goal is not to have them “pass” my class but to become students. All that said I would say that only 20% at most, and I maybe a bit optimistic with this percentage, are college ready.

  19. Thought provoking and much needed. Interesting to note how difficult it is to talk about “why are we so mistaken about students’ readiness” without getting sucked into the gravitational pull of “why are students not ready.” (Dan Meyer describes a similar conversational black hole about whether teaching a skillset is a necessary part of a teacher’s job… possibly for the same reasons.)
    Maybe part of the reason it’s so difficult for us to accurately assess students’ readiness is that it is partly an assessment of ourselves and our teaching (or at least, we believe/worry that it is). My response about that got too long for a comment, so I posted it here — I’d be curious to know your thoughts, especially about the Foundation for Critical Thinking study that identified a related issue among college faculty.

  20. Depth of knowledge is (at least in my subject, mathematics) best viewed as a ladder or a series of steps. Secondary math teachers spend much of their class time devoted to developing the basic skills one would need to start looking at higher leveled material. One cannot ask deep, thought provoking questions without the necessary lower DOK abilities. I find that if students better understood that retention was the goal, and not a score on an assessment, then high school and college professors would both be happier with the skill set of their incoming students.
    Our current aim in 9-12 is the transformation of class time to one of greater student centered and led instruction. Many of the best and brightest are working on making students more engaged with the content (Dan Meyer, and many many others). By your thinking we should really just return to a less rich and engaging method of instruction because that is what the top 20% will see in their freshman college classes.
    The point has been made, and seemingly ignored repeatedly, that colleges see GPA, classes attempted and ACT/SAT scores and choose to accept students who they later complain are ill prepared for what they’re selling. I have no illusions that colleges view students who require remediation as a monetary resource. My 2 roommates in college both had to take numerous remediation classes, which they paid for and received no credit towards their graduation credits. Have you googled the statistics for graduation rates among students who took 2 or more remediation classes upon arriving at college? Admitting students who require such remediation could be argued to be a thinly veiled money making scheme for colleges. Shake your fingers at high school teachers if you’d like, at least we are not saddling our students with debt and no earned skills to relieve them of that debt (and to think the material taught and paid for, is nothing more than a rehashing of material the students most likely had the chance to learn previously, in a more engaging setting)

    • I don’t follow your logic. I am a great advocate and have been for decades of HS math classes being far better than they are now – see my 100th post on algebra as one example. I have worked my entire career to focus on more engaged, thought-provoking courses – including in college! So, my plea is not at all about teaching less creatively. That argument is independent of getting kids ready to handle more rigorous work; about having kids know what will be expected of them in college. And, yes, I am shaking my fingers because the very remediation rate you decry is due to the myopia of HS teachers when they design their courses and (especially) design their tests.

  21. There is also the possibility that we HS teachers are told, over and over, by students, parents, administrators to stop taking our subject matter so seriously, that it’s the leadership skills developed by extra-curriculars that really matter in life anyway, so just lighten up and make sure they are all eligible for their sports teams. Eventually, hearing it often enough, you tend to think, “Good Enough”.

  22. Our local community college uses the Accuplacer exam, after students are admitted. For reading, the students are required to read selections similar to a standardized test and then answer questions without the ability to look back at the text of the reading. Not only do I feel that is a poorly designed test, unless you are testing for memory, it is also a format that students have no experience with. Should I start giving assessments that way so they are “better prepared” for college, or should I continue to design assessments that encourage students to revisit the text over and over again to support their claims? This same school then offers eight different remedial reading and writing courses for students who fail to meet the standards of this test that they pay for but do not fulfill any requirements. So money for nothing. Magically, after taking those courses, students are now prepared for college… although I’m fairly certain that they do not retake the test to achieve a passing score once the magic college professors have undone all of my subpar work. It has always felt like a scam to me, although if I’m wrong about that I’d love to know so that I wouldn’t have to feel so bad for the students. You can be exempted from taking the placement test if you achieve a 500 in a subject area on the SAT and a corresponding score on the ACT. There is no exemption from the written placement exam, however.
    I think vertical articulation is an extremely important endeavor. Beyond that, I wonder about students’ abilities to transfer what they’ve learned in high school (as you spoke about in your most recent academic reading post) to their new college assignments. I also think we do a terrible job of preparing students with the time management and study skills they will need to survive in college because we’re so caught up in “content.” However, I have question the integrity of many higher education institutions who have become quite adept at keeping students for more than four years (at significant cost to the student and profit to the school) and then pointing fingers back to their high school teachers, who have nothing to gain from pretending that students are prepared when they are not in an anonymous survey, except maybe not hurting their own pride.
    So if everyone is maybe lying a little, then the truth can be found somewhere in the middle? If we are willing to say that some high school teachers are overestimating the college readiness of their students… shouldn’t we also be willing to say that some college professors are underestimating the college preparedness of students in the interest of job security?
    That said, I’ve reached out to the local community college to see if they will share with me the syllabi of their remediation courses in reading and writing so that I can help my department better prepare students for college life and hopefully help eliminate the need for such courses in the future. I’m very interested to see if and how they respond.

    • Thank you for taking the time to spell this out. You might also want to check out my recent post on how HS fails to prepare kids for college, a few weeks ago – some additional points, and some interesting comments back.

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