Defining ‘College Ready,’ Nationally

From Insidehighered.com: “That too many young people come out of high school ill-prepared for college or the work force is little disputed. The questions of why that’s so and how to fix the situation, however, have too often resulted in finger pointing, with many college faculty members complaining that high schools are asking too little of their students and high school officials saying that colleges send mixed signals about what they want students to be able to do.”

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Today represents a milestone, though, for a potential breakthrough that could have major implications for higher education. The Council of Chief State School Officers and the National Governors Association will release common standards for core curriculums in mathematics and reading and writing that, because of a confluence of events, could create a set of widely embraced national (but not federal) standards for what high school students need to know to be “college ready” or to have the skills to enter the work force.

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“This is the first time the K-12 people have stood up and said, ‘College readiness is our goal,’ ” says Kati Haycock, president of Education Trust, which advocates for low-income students. “Higher ed people ought not to underestimate how big a deal this is.”

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That effort has received a big push from another source: the Obama administration. Although direct involvement by the federal government could be a death knell for many school-based initiatives, given the pushback from local school boards against involvement in curriculum setting, the administration has lent its weight to the project with its favored tool: money.

As part of the economic stimulus legislation that Congress enacted last winter, Education Secretary Arne Duncan agreed to set aside $350 million (as part of the administration’s Race to the Top fund) for states to develop new tests and other measures tied to the Common Standards initiative. More fundamentally, the rules for states to participate in the $4.35 billion Race to the Top fund (which is designed to stimulate innovation among high schools) require that states join the Common Standards effort to tap into the federal money.

The tight timeline for distributing the federal stimulus money has sped up the process for implementing the core standards initiative. The second draft of the standards (which update earlier drafts for mathematics and reading/writing and were developed by panels of educators, including some university professors) will, upon their release today, be reviewed by panels quickly convened by the American Council on Education based on advice from the Modern Language Association and the Conference Board of the Mathematical Sciences.

From the Comments:

Interestingly, the board that developed the draft national standards in mathematics, for example, includes only one person who has had any K-12 classroom experience (not current), and is heavy with people from Achieve, ACT and the College Board. They wrote the draft on a very tight timeline with almost no input from outside their echo chamber. I suspect that the “standards” will not have much relevance to the actual intellectual requirements of entry-level college study, but that they will provide a bonanza opportunity for the testing companies.

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