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Monday, March 06, 2006

What's the Difference? High School Teachers and College Profs Disagree About Student Preparedness


According to surveys conducted by the Chronicle of Higher Education, there is a large gap between the perceptions of student preparedness of high school teachers and college faculty. Most notable is the assessment of writing skills, with a plurality of surveyed college faculty noting students are under-prepared, versus a majority of high school teachers who feel they're graduating kids that are well-prepared for college.

The results of the surveys were posted in a story by the Chronicle (here, no subscription required) on March 6.

Rather than analyzing the gap statistically, it might be helpful to ask a more fundamental question: What are the criteria for judging preparedness? Do college professors have the same standards as high school teachers? Probably not. But there must surely be some common ground.

Click the link to read the full post ... )

More and more, we hear about a "K-20" approach to education. The Chronicle's survey points to a distinct gap in the continuum, however. Where high schools are focused on meeting state and federal graduation requirements, institutions of higher education are more focused on students' work product. The K-12 space, being more and more regulated and standardized, may be failing to prepart students for what lies beyond the cap and gown.

Part of the Chronicle's analysis of their studies points to a decline in student preparedness over the past five years ... roughly the same timeframe as an increase in standards-based K-12 instruction. Could it be that the governing bodies who establish curriculum standards in the high school space are not looking beyond graduation, to the relative rigors of collegiate study? The article by the Chronicle would appear to illustrate that very point.

The fundamental question is simple: How do we reconcile K-12 standards with college instructors' expectations? Also, if there's a gap, what's the best way to address it? Do we rewrite the high school writing standards? Do we introduce a more introductory writing course in the college/postsecondary career? Lowering expectations, "dumbing down" the collegiate rigor, would be counterproductive. It would only delay student acquisition of the required skills. Sooner or later, kids need to know how to crank out four-to-five-page essays with cogent arguments and well-constructed language. The technical skills of writing need to mesh with the critical thinking skills of higher learning, such that students are less focused on "how" to write a paper and more focused on the subject of that paper. These skills can be taught, but they must also be exercised to gain mastery.

The good news is, someone has identified the problem. The challenge now is to address that gap and better prepare students for their post-high-school study.

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