Friday, February 18, 2011

Turning the Titanic

The answers to "Why Change?" are pretty clear. U.S. college graduation rates declined from second to fifteenth in the developed world between 1995 and 2006. Close to 25 percent of all students in NYS two- and four-year colleges require remedial coursework, which in turn lowers their likelihood of graduating by a significant amount. Seven out of ten of the fastest-growing occupations require a post-secondary degree.

So our Regent, the Deputy Commissioner, and several top State Ed folks came to Ithaca to brainstorm reactions to some policies and strategies they have developed for our high schools. On the table are ways to increase graduation requirements with increased flexibility about how to get there.

State Ed is looking at requiring four years of science and math. NYS is one of the few states left that does not do this. They're interested in enabling some career- and-college-ready credits to be in CTE (career and technical ed) courses, but they're also very interested in allowing college courses, AP courses, and IB (International Baccalaureate) courses. They're talking about increasing passing scores on English and math to a level that has been proven to promote success in college (75 ELA, 80 math), and they want to extend the school day and year.

To get here, they hope to allow flexibility in middle school coursework, some of which is truly stupid and time-wasting, and they want to allow students to earn additional credits through a demonstration of competency rather than seat time (testing out, for example, or independent study).

The general response to all of this was: Great, but show me the money. Extending the school day/year was roundly applauded, but there's no money to do so. Our table thought that increasing passing scores made no sense when state ed's in the middle of changing tests to correlate to national standards. Most people in the room agreed that there needed to be alternative paths to graduation, with flexibility via distance learning, collaboration with community colleges, etc. Some people worried that increasing requirements meant more trouble for teachers who are now going to be evaluated based on their students' scores. And although it was touched on only briefly, the elephant in the room was teacher training--how to bring teaching colleges up to speed so that they're producing teachers who are actually able to teach science and math at a college-readiness level. We also talked about writing and world languages as critical skills for 21st century college and careers.

To learn more, and to complete a survey (must be taken by midnight tonight) about your response to State Ed's ideas, go to the State Ed college and career readiness site.

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