Friday, May 24, 2013

"High school teachers and college professors differ on college preparedness of freshmen." A Linked Article With a TINY Bit of Commentary. What Else Do I Have to Do Today?

Do any of us really know what our high schools are doing? I swear that if I could talk to high school seniors a bit before they came to college, that I could at least prepare them a bit for the kind of stuff "we" do.

I know high school teachers have their hands full; I wouldn't do that job if you put a gun to my head.

But at the same time, college-prep high schools should be doing things that actually prepare students for college.

I find so much of my freshman class is spent breaking bad habits and undoing insane "rules" that have been taught in high school. "Mrs. Grundy said I couldn't use the word 'think.'" "Mr. Baxter told me that I was supposed to use footnotes."

An article from the Long Beach (CA) Press-Telegram caught my eye this morning:


Yes, they're ready. No, they're not. A new survey shows a wide gap between high school teachers and college professors when it comes to the question of whether incoming freshmen are prepared for higher learning.

Just 26 percent of college instructors believe students are well-prepared for first-year courses, compared to 89 percent of high school teachers, according to the ACT National Curriculum Survey.

"We've seen for a number of years that there have been gaps between what skills colleges say are most important for students to learn and what high school teachers and school districts are teaching," said Ed Colby, spokesman for ACT. "There doesn't seem to be enough collaboration between local schools and colleges."

David Dowell, vice provost for academic affairs at Cal State Long Beach, said that was certainly true in the past.

"One of the findings from the California work was that high school English teachers focused on expressive writing in reaction to literature," Dowell said. "Colleges

expected fact-based expository writing. (Students) were doing well in their writing, but it was a different kind of writing. "ACT produces the report every three to five years. The survey looks at what is taught in schools and what is expected for student success at the college level when it comes to math, science, reading, writing and English.



  1. Many of my students were recent high school graduates. I found their basic math skills appalling. Simple concepts and methods that I learned in junior high in the late 1960s, such as factoring and solving quadratic equations, were completely foreign to them.

    Who on earth thought that this was considered adequate preparation to attend an educational institution such as the one I taught at?

  2. I wonder how much of this "gap" is produced by the fact that many K12 teachers were *not* the best college students.

    As a corollary, I wonder if the best K12 teachers *were* good college students, thus know better how to prep their students.

  3. My campus is dead this afternoon. Dead dead dead. Like Good Friday afternoon. Why am I even here? The people who are here are not doing a damned thing.

    I guess this is one way that high school teachers are different from proffies: The former probably have to spend Friday afternoon pretending to do productive "lesson plan" things, while the latter are already home asleep.

    We don't need no education!

  4. Tell your admissions offices to stop using AP courses as a factor in acceptance. If colleges really, meaningfully pushed back against the AP program, high schools could ditch those ridiculously shallow courses for offerings with true depth that develop the writing and analytical abilities that humanities professors expect.

    I teach AP Hamsterology to high school seniors at a very good private school. Annually it breaks my heart to spend the school year with a group of bright, capable, and thoughtful students who are systematically beaten into intellectual submission by the death march of AP "content coverage."

    My school will not toss out any AP classes because the college admissions office is afraid that doing so would hurt our college acceptance rates and prestige levels.

    My tenth grade, non-AP class is much more interesting to teach, and probably prepares the students for college Hamsterology better than the AP class.

  5. A few posts back was a question about what job you wouldn't do even if paid. I wouldn't teach high school. The kinds of constraints put on high school teachers today are ridiculous, regardless of who is to blame for how those constraints were put into place.

  6. No .. the majority of high schoolers are not ready.

    I began my teaching career with grades 7 - 12 and was constantly wondering how students had passed the year before. My state had standardized testing before it became popular so I could (and did) determine how well students did in the feeder classes before mine.

    I would deliberately ask questions that students had to know how to answer to pass the qualifying exam from the previous classes. That is when I learned how often students just crammed the night before the "big" test and still managed to pass. (I had been educated in a location which had no such exams so the coping strategies were unknown to me.)

    Eventually I was able to ask teachers from all the lower grades about preparedness in their grades. Who was dropping the ball?

    In high school, students were still grappling with intermediate reading and math skills, making higher order critical thinking little more than a buzz word.

    The middle school teachers said don't blame them, students were pushed through elementary schools and hadn't mastered the basics there.

    But the elementary school teachers reported that they spent their time helping students master the pre-school skills the families had left untouched for the child's first 4 - 5 years of life.

    So ... basically ... the pooch is screwed from the get-go.

  7. I was thinking along the same lines as A&S. The problem may be not so much that students aren't being taught what they need to know for college (both skills and content) (though I take Surly's point about APs, which makes me sad, since my experience of AP classes in a similar setting, many moons ago, was excellent; perhaps the "coverage" mania has emerged more recently?), as that they're not, for a wide variety of reasons, absorbing what they're being taught.

    1. When I took AP in the late 1990s, it was definetely way too much content for the equivalent of a 1 semester college course. As an example, the US History exam covered the entirety of US history. I distinctly remember getting to World War 1 before the exam, which covered through the Cold War. =/