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10.01.2008 0

Why arent students ready for college?

  • On: 10/22/2008 11:42:14
  • In: School Choice
  • More and more, it looks like public school students are increasingly unprepared for college.

    In a recent column, “Is college worth it?”, economist and college professor Walter Williams gives us the bad news: “only 40 percent of each year’s 2 million freshmen graduate in four years; 45 percent never graduate at all.”

    Believe it or not, it gets worse: “76 out of 100 students who graduate in the bottom 40 percent of their high-school class do not graduate from college, even if they spend eight-and-a-half years in college.”

    Had enough? Still worse yet: “Only 23 percent of the 1.3 million students who took the ACT college entrance examinations in 2007 were prepared to do college-level study in math, English, and science.”

    Based on these ominous statistics, it is very clear that students are woefully underprepared for college. While Professor Williams questions the cost-effectiveness of higher education and whether it is even worth it—something ALG News has done with its piece, “Higher Education: Boon or Boondoggle?”—an important question should be asked: Why aren’t students ready for college?

    A hint may be revealed in data recently released by the South Carolina Department of Education. The Spartanburg Herald-Journal criticized the state’s education chief for misleadingly reporting as a headline that SAT scores in the state were improving, even though public school students’ scores had worsened by five points in a single year. The fact is: The overall two-point gain was actually achieved with a 41-point increase among students in independent schools and a six-point rise by students in religious schools.

    In other words, private schools were the ones that improved, and the public system got worse, suggesting that students from public schools are less likely to succeed in college.

    How much less likely is hard to ascertain, as comparing public and private K-12 schools is bedeviling even for astute education analysts. And it is even more so for policymakers who have to make decisions about what to do with school choice initiatives.

    There exists no comparable data from anywhere—including government agencies tasked with gathering such data—on graduation rates of public schools versus private schools. Whereas, one can only find data on senior graduation rates for private schools. For public schools, the government measures 9th graders who go all the way through 12th grade and graduate.

    This all leaves policymakers and parents with three very important problems: 1) making decisions about whether to pursue school choice initiatives is more difficult because there is no apples-to-apples comparison available between the two systems; 2) students overall are clearly unprepared for college; and 3) with such dismal graduation rates from colleges, it is clear that that system is hurting badly, too.

    Therefore, to help alleviate these problems, ALG proposes the following: 1) governments should gather apples-to-apples comparable data between public and private schools; 2) policymakers should apply that data to see which systems are preparing students adequately for college and which are not, and make decisions about school choice initiatives based on the results; and 3) governments should reevaluate the curricula used at colleges to see if students are being prepared for their careers adequately, and answer the question, “Is college really for everyone?”

    Because, if it is not, then it almost pointless for public school K-12 education to set as its goal to prepare students for college—especially since it rarely reaches that goal anyway.

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