College preparation gap closed

Perhaps you, like me, were shocked to learn that Lucy Kulkins, one of the country’s most influential literacy experts and longtime champion of “whole language” reading instruction, rewrote her syllabus to embrace phonology. As the New York Times puts it, “After decades of resistance, Professor Calkins has made a major retreat.”

Many critics now cite the introduction of full language instruction by many education colleges and school districts, and its successor, the adoption of “balanced literacy”, as a major contributor to inequality in socio-economic reading scores. The title of such an article puts it this way: “How a flawed concept is teaching millions of children to be poor readers.”

Of course, it’s hard not to read the rather suffocating coverage of the “reading war” in the Times or the Washington Post, and don’t be surprised if controversy over language instruction has become another battleground in the current debate over efficiency. It is no secret that a large section of the population is skeptical of professional advice (for example, on school lockdowns) and does not accept expert opinion as internally credible and reliable.

Since teaching skills are critical to academic success, the fact that 65 percent of 4th graders in the country fall below the level of proficiency and 35 percent below the basic level is a terrible scandal. Up to 8th grade, the situation remains largely unchanged, with only 34 percent skilled and 27 percent below basic. To make matters worse, between 2017 and 2019, the rate of reading skills decreased.

Surprisingly, children in Florida, Texas, and Mississippi perform better than those in California, Connecticut, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New Jersey, or New York, controlling race, poverty, and special education and English learning conditions.

Not surprisingly, but no less boring, the rate of proficiency in history and geography is even lower than the reading rate, and the gaps between the various socio-economic variables are wider.

If this nation is to close the gap between imprisonment, college graduation, and adult employment and income, we must reduce this inequality and increase achievement as a whole.

In their 2022 book Can college level the playing field? Higher education in unequal societyEminent economists Sandy Baum and Michael McPherson, president of the Spencer Foundation Emeritus, make a compelling argument that differences in the level of college readiness – family income and wealth inequality, early childhood education, parental wealth, neighbors, K-12 are rooted in school, and so on. Opportunity – Equity represents a major barrier to progress in higher education outcomes.

Those gaps are not irresistible. Selected institutions can admit significantly more meritorious students from financially disadvantaged houses. But, as Baum and McPherson have noted, this is not enough to truly move the needle on social mobility.

Extensive access colleges that cater to a large number of low-income home students can do more to alleviate inequality by adopting evidence-based best practices, including intrusive counseling, co-requiring remedies, structured degree pathways, and smooth transfer policy.

But establishing these best practices requires public policy that significantly reduces the funding gap between electoral and less electoral institutions.

In the author’s view, the best policy prescription is not for free colleges for everyone (which will benefit disproportionately richer families) or for extended online education (with a mixed record of student success, especially among disadvantaged students), but to improve quality. In broader access institutions, strengthening academic and career counseling, prioritizing need-based financial support, covering non-tuition costs for low-income students, and providing financial incentives to those institutions that are most successful in graduating low-income students with high-value degrees. And degree time reduction.

I wholeheartedly agree. I am also in favor of other initiatives that will help organizations create new student-majority first-generation college students, community college transfer students, adult students, students with disabilities and students who travel, work full time and work as family caregivers.

1. Take on-boarding more seriously.
Many graduates, and not just first-generation students, are unfamiliar with college terminology, expectations, and requirements. As a result, many rely on erroneous or misleading advice from peers. The answers are straightforward: Use new student adaptations more purposefully and offer credit courses to better prepare students for academic and postgraduate success.

2. Explain to students major and career options starting from admission
For better or worse, most undergraduates are professionally thoughtful, and look for a higher education that will lead to a meaningful career, often applied in cases that 4-year institutions have largely ignored in the past.

Twitter can make fun of seemingly impractical majors who seem to be pandas to the stupid and disoriented, for example, in brewing, sports, food studies, hip hop studies, peace education, sports management, and viticulture. But colleges and universities need to do a good job of identifying and preparing areas for real employment growth, such as applied mathematics, arts and museum management, biomedical engineering, cybersecurity, data science, financial technology, game design, health administration and other medicine. -Relationships, industrial automation, risk management, robotics, social entrepreneurship, social media and sustainability.

3. Emphasize more on basic academic skills.
Colleges and universities need to do more to strengthen students’ written and oral communication skills. One or two courses in rhetoric and composition are completely inadequate. For all the discussions about writing across the curriculum, we need to do more, which will require much more important feedback.

4. Take on more responsibilities to help students develop the necessary life skills.
A narrow academic education is not enough. Students need more opportunities to acquire “adult” skills, including ways to manage stress, formulate and budget, create a resume, apply for a job, resolve conflicts, deal effectively in professional and online settings, and navigate intimate relationships. To do.

5. Review the requirements to ensure they provide the desired skills and knowledge.
As more and more students pursue vocational or pre-professional majors, I think it would be understandable to deviate from the general requirements of the arts, humanities, and social and natural sciences that are more inclusive and focus more on methods and conceptual frameworks that apply across many domains.

6. Create opportunities for more advice.
We live in an abnormally age-divided society and will benefit from more interaction with students who are of different generations and who can introduce them to different perspectives and different experiences. Supervised research, intensive seminars and study courses, practice, and mentoring internships and service education can provide those opportunities.

7. Expand access to experiential learning.
To blur the boundaries between college and career, integrate real-world and transferable skills into the classroom and give students more opportunities to earn industry-recognized certifications.

8. Wrap wrap, accept 360-degree student support.
Data-driven, proactive advice. One Stop Support Center. Center for Education in Mathematics, Data, Science, Foreign Languages ​​and Writing. Extended peer tutoring. Complementary instruction section for higher DFW courses.

All of these measures will help. Yet as Baum and McPherson point out, without much focus on pre-college preparation, such efforts can only have a limited effect. Many policy proposals to bridge that gap will sound familiar to the author’s advice. Institute child allowance to reduce the number of children growing up in extreme poverty. Extend access to high-quality pre-school. Invest more resources in subsidized schools that serve the lowest income students. Good train high school counselor.

However, as Baum and McPherson acknowledge, the emphasis on pre-college preparation gaps puts higher education institutions at risk of being hooked. It should not be a matter of buck passing or fault redirecting.

This is why I think colleges and universities need to take on much more responsibility for pre-college preparation. Successful models exist:

Afterschool programs such as school-initiated Columbia Philosophy and Neuroscience that give doctoral students the opportunity to lead special afterschool seminars.

Saturday academies such as those offered by the Guilder Lehrmann Institute for American History offer free academic advancement. Humanitarian Summer Enrichment Program sponsored by the Tegel Foundation’s Knowledge for Freedom project. Opportunity to offer research and advice, such as the Mellon Foundation-funded summer undergraduate research program. UTeach, where undergraduates work as teacher assistants in neighboring schools. OnRamps, a statewide teacher training, curriculum development, and guest lecturer initiative in Texas that helps improve teaching in high-need schools.

Many organizations, of course, already have moderate outreach programs, but token initiatives are no longer sufficient. Such programs need to be taken into consideration.

I understand the objections: Colleges and universities lack skills in many of the challenges that K-12 schools face. The K-12 turf has some patronage about intrusion or intrusion. Such initiatives are functional and do not fundamentally transform the opportunity structure.


Here’s my answer: A “deck all hands” response is needed to reduce the preparation interval If our colleges and universities are truly committed to equity, then their pre-college preparation should be considered as one of their important responsibilities.

Steven Mintz is a professor of history at the University of Texas at Austin.

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