Sunday, July 25, 2010

Prichard shooting the messenger

Over the past few days I’ve been discussing a new “The College Completion Agenda, 2010 Progress Report” from the College Board (which creates the SAT college entrance tests and runs the AP program).

Among other things, this College Board report takes some well-aimed shots at things our K to 12 education community needs to improve if we are going to repair the United States’ serious decline in higher education accomplishment compared to the rest of the world (in the past four decades, the US has fallen from first to 12th place for persons holding higher education degrees).

Inevitably, the College Board’s comments about what K to 12 education needs to do brought out a sharp response from the choir director of the “KERA Amen Chorus,” Kentucky’s very own Prichard Committee for Academic Excellence.

Prichard yells at the college types for trying to tell K to 12 how to improve while saying little about how colleges supposedly need to change. Prichard charges the College Board’s recommendations are “…a plan for educating without educators, and an approach to students that literally calls for never approaching the students.”

Well, Prichard is way out of line on this one.

At least in Kentucky, colleges already go far above and beyond to try and accommodate the very poorly prepared product coming out of the state’s K to 12 system.

That K to 12 product is so poorly educated that the Kentucky Council on Postsecondary Education (CPE) reports that 45 percent (yes, nearly half) of Kentucky’s recent high school graduates who go on to higher education need to take at least one remedial course as soon as they walk in the college door. And, as this graph shows, the trend has hardly improved over the period of time that the CPE has data to report.

Basically, Kentucky’s postsecondary system already bends over backwards to try and accommodate the problems it inherits from Prichard’s beloved K to 12 system. Kentucky’s college system has been doing so for some time.

How much more (expensive, I might add) coddling would Prichard have the colleges provide to students who are no longer elementary school babies, though they may continue in too many cases to act that way?

Significant remediation is reported in other states, as well (see page 66 in the College Board’s report).

Let’s really put some emphasis on this. Dr. Ed Hughes, the president of the Gateway Community and Technical College in Northern Kentucky, tells me that when his school started up around 15 years ago, it only needed to offer one remedial course in math. Now, Gateway must offer three different levels of remedial math, reaching much farther back to cover material students should have mastered well before the 12th grade. Again I must ask, how much more coddling does Prichard want?

It seems obvious that Prichard would just like to forget the fact that none of this is really a mystery to Kentucky’s legislators.

The Bluegrass State’s legislators figured this out several years ago. That is why they threw out the CATS test in 2009 along with its non-college-aligned standards that did not aim the K to 12 education community in the right direction for postsecondary education (Standards are yet another K to 12 problem item mentioned in the College Board report that Prichard overlooked). The impetus for the new law recognized that the CATS test, which Prichard defended to the end, was providing us ever inflated images of the progress in K to 12 at the same time the CPE was assembling the sobering data in the graph above.

With all of that said, I think there is one area where colleges need to shape up.

The quality of our college programs for teacher preparation is just horrible.

The Ed school dons don’t know how to do decent research (Even Newsweek magazine and many others agree), so the ed school types keep on concocting and falling for new education fad ideas that they then pour down the unquestioning, too often poorly educated gullets of their teacher candidate students.

Those poorly researched ideas then go on to live for decades in our K to 12 schools as those ill-prepared teachers use them with still more of our students, creating a vicious cycle that insures the sort of continuing, inadequate preparation problems that the graph above highlights.

To close, I want to make this very clear. There are indeed very significant education problems in this country. The vast majority of those problems are not being caused by our postsecondary education system. They are a direct consequence of massive problems within our K to 12 system, with the teacher education system – and with some of the blind supporters of those systems who will not come to grips with reality and start pushing for real change. The Bluegrass Institute knows it, our legislature knows it and so does the College Board.

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