Posts published in April, 2009

Be Careful What You Wish For In Linking K-12 to Postsecondary Education

I presented my standard speech on the need to align k-12 curriculum more closely with the  academic standards needed by colleges. This speech emphasizes the need to provide  financial incentives to colleges to enhance completion of degrees and certificates. These fiscal incentives will help stimulate colleges to work with k-12 to increase preparation for college. The Gates foundation and Obama administration are considering these fiscal incentives for college student persistence and completion -such as paying more for students who stay in college beyond their first year , and bonuses for degree completion.

But one of the questions I got after my speech continues to concern me. What if colleges lower their academic standards closer to the high school level in order to collect the bonuses? In effect, colleges become more like high schools. College administrators will figure out how to beat the fiscal incentive system by not changing much except their standards for completion. This seems to be a real danger , and someting the new college completion designs need to solve.

 Ohio is typical of curent state formulas and pays schools for enromment after the 14 th day of the start of a new academic semester. Ohio legislature will be voting on whether to pay for the number of individual courses that students successfully complete. Course completion expectations would be adjusted for the institutions number of at risk students.

Historical Divide Persists between k-12 and Postsecondary Education


In recent years the deeply-embedded chasm which uniquely separates K-12 from postsecondary education in the United States has received unprecedented attention.

Policies for curriculum assessment, alignment, finance, data, accountability, and coordination are separated by a K-12 and postsecondary education disjuncture.

Major foundations such as Lumina, Gates and Carnegie, influential governmental organizations such as the National Governors Association, and diverse, important entities such as the Southern Regional Education Board, Achieve, and Education Trust have focused upon the national stake in bridging the dysfunctional divide which exists between the educational levels. This salient issue encouragingly is receiving a great deal more attention but this attention has been largely rhetorical and superficial in nature. The interlevel divide persists despite these recent efforts and the deterrents to better integrating K-16 continue to be very formidable and historically deeply rooted..

Many state universities started as teachers colleges that were much better connected to  k-12. Community Colleges were junior colleges that were part of k-12 education systems , and provided 13th an 14th grade. Now they are basically separated from k-12 with little conversation about policy and curriculum alignment.

International Comparisons OF USA College Completion Have Big Problems

  Much media attention has followed President Obama’s concern about the drop from 1st to 10th in  OECD international country comparisons of  completion of college certficates and degrees-see prior blog. Obama set a goal of US becoming first again by 2020. But two highly respected analysts- Art Hauptman and Clifford Adelman have writen articles exposing serious flaws in the method OECD uses to rank countries for college completion. These flaws may understate USA college attainment. For example, Hauptman stresses that OECD enrollment ratios include older students and overseas students in the numerator and not the denominator; this tends to overstate participation in college. Adelman points out that countries with population declines benefit from a higher percent of completion compared to the USA where population is increasing. Go to publication International Education at

Obama’s Postsecondary Goals Will Be Hard To Meet

Meeting President Obama¹s Challenge:

One Year of College for All

Below is a direct quote from President Obama:

And so tonight, I ask every American to commit to at least one year or more

of higher education or career training. This can be community college or a

four-year school; vocational training or an apprenticeship. But whatever

the training may be, every American will need to get more than a high school

diploma. And dropping out of high school is no longer an option. It¹s not

just quitting on yourself, it¹s quitting on your country ­ and this country

needs and values the talents of every American. That is why we will provide

the support necessary for you to complete college and meet a new goal: by

2020, America will once again have the highest proportion of college

graduates in the world.

President Barack Obama Education Call To Action

Address to Congress, February 24, 2009

To meet President Obama¹s challenge that all Americans attain at least one

year of college, states and school districts must have the tools, resources,

and strategies that drive implementation of high quality high schools that

prepare all young people to a college-ready standard.

With the recovery and reinvestment funding now flowing, many states will

have great ambitions to further implement their high school reform agendas,

raise high school graduation rates and send a greater number of

well-prepared students on to postsecondary education. However, few states

have the capacity at the state or district levels to design, plan, and put

in place the programming and policy conditions that will ensure effective

and sustainable implementation of new options and pathways while

simultaneously managing to stabilize current investments and maintain

current efforts.

With the new discretionary dollars available over the next several years,

Secretary of Education needs to consider initiatives that

help states and districts put in place the conditions required to carry out

effective reforms, beginning now but sustainable when the stimulus dollars

disappear. Non-profit intermediaries and public/private partnerships can

play a key role in supporting capacity building among SEAs and LEAs. These

organizations are nimble, focused on results-driven school development, and

accustomed to meeting short time lines and implementation challenges.

Initiatives that further develop and build upon the strengths of these

organizations can dramatically increase the quality and scale of high

quality college-ready options for all young people, particularly those who

are low-income and underrepresented in higher education.

Cut Scores For College Remediation Are All Over The Map

 A new study of placement test cut scores to determine whether a student needs community college remediation indicates there is no consensus across 14 states. Jobs for the has published “It’s Not About The Cut Score.” Jff found ranges on Accuplacer  from 81 in Conn. to 68 in math in Mass. for reading comprehension, and 58 in  Conn. elementary algebra to 82 in Mass. These 2 states have statewide cut scores.  Cut score samples of community colleges in states without statewide cut scores for reading were- 85 in Washington to 64.5 in Pa. Why such big differences?  There seems to be no central tendency across states about placement performance standards for remediation.

Performance Funding For College Outcomes Has Failed In The Past

  A paper session at AERA explored the design and impact of state financial incentives for colleges to increase student persistence and completion. The current systems mostly pay for full time enrollment , not any student outcomes. Performance or outcome based funding declined from 29 state 20 years ago to 14 now. A very small amount of funding is provided for performance -often 2 % of total state aid to colleges. Republican legislators championed this idea ,but colleges were unenthusiastic. Business support for performance funding is weak, and it cannot be sustained when political champions leave state office. College teachers are rarely aware of performance incentives. Universities felt there was a lot of data requirements and uncertainty for very little money.

 In sum, performamce funding is gaining support from the Gates foundation and Obama, but new designs are needed if it is to succeed. For papers go to

New Community College Completion Studies At AERA

 I am at the convention of the American Educational Research Association where several studies by the Teachers College Community College Research Center reveal that:

Colleges lose students very early in their remedial sequence, usually after the first 2 developmental courses, but

More students leave because they do not enroll in developmental courses, compared to those failing remedial courses- students need to take developmental courses early and not postpone them.

 Nevada is an example of another set of problems. The cut score for remediation is high – below 500 on the SAT means remediation.

25% ot the students who took pre -calculus in their senior year ended up in remediation

Almost all 4 year colleges have shifted remedial courses to the community colleges , so students must attend college in two locations.

 In sum, remedial courses and policies need to be rexamined if the college completion rate is to increase.

College Completion More Likely If Students Start At Four Year College

Two eminent economists have studied the advantage for  high school students of enrolling at a 4 year rather than 2 year college.  Within six years, students who begin at a four-year college are twice as likely as those who begin at a two-year college to earn a degree.  And those students who have not yet completed a degree are much more likely to still be enrolled in college if they started at a four-year college than if they started at a two-year college. Ceceilia Rouse who is now  on President Obama’s Council of Economic Advisers writes :

Our human capital investment perspective underscores two key areas for policy consideration.  First, the idea of students making “investment” decisions when choosing whether or not to enroll or persist in college brings a customer orientation to the issue.  The human capital framework highlights how the needs of two-year students differ from those of their four-year peers, indicating that students at the two types of postsecondary institutions will not benefit from the same strategies regarding curriculum, teaching and learning, and student support services.  Second while there is arguably a need for increased funding for financial aid and institutional environment interventions, there is a lack of evidence of their effectiveness.  A publicly funded, aggressive research agenda for evaluating the effectiveness of interventions specifically targeted at two-year colleges and their students is therefore a must.

For the full report ,as an expansion of these direct quotes, above see

Best Practices For High School/ College Dual Enrollment Programs

More students are taking college credit courses while they are high school students. Sometimes students go to a college campus. Other times the college instructors come to the high school.For example, Middle College High Schools
(MCHSs) and Early College Schools (ECSs) offer
comprehensive dual enrollment programs. They use
similar intensive supports, partnerships with
postsecondary education, and dual enrollment offerings to prepare underserved students
for postsecondary education. Exemplary comprehensive dual enrollment programs
include the following kinds of practices to reach and support underserved populations:
! All high school students and their parents, including those from underrepresented
populations, receive information and opportunities to plan for dual enrollment;
! Participating students are provided with an aligned, scaffolded sequence of rigorous
high school coursework leading to capstone college courses (earning high school and
college credit), with consistent and jointly established eligibility for college courses;
! The college courses, which are taught on high school or college campuses, are
focused on core instructional areas;
! All coursework is accompanied by a range of support services to increase and sustain
student success;
! Mechanisms are in place for monitoring and assessing the quality of courses offered
and the effectiveness of the program; and
! Partnerships between high schools and colleges clearly define the roles of the
respective institutions through memoranda of understanding and ongoing

Senior Year In High School Is Complex But Lacks Impact on College Persistence

  The Consortium for Chicago School Research has been conducting intensive studies of the Chicago public schools senior year of high school through both quantitative and qualitative methods. They are presenting several new papers at AERA in San Diego next week. Here is a preview of one of them by Eliza Moeller and Karen Riddie.



The picture of senior year in the Chicago Public Schools that emerges from this work is confusing. Several findings stand out from this analysis. First, the level of challenge and engagement experienced by students in our qualitative sample is overall quite low, though there is also significant variation in students’ experiences. Second, with the exception of students in the Advanced College Prep category, having a transcript with more advanced courses in senior year does not appear to be related to the level of challenge and engagement a student feels in his or her classes. Third, while English courses appear to provide students with at least one challenging course and math courses can range from very challenging to not challenging at all, Career and Technical Education coursework contributed significantly to students’ perception that senior was the easiest year of high school. Finally, students’ perception of challenge and engagement both within and across their courses senior year appeared to be strongly associated with the school students attended – more so than the coursework they completed.


Though these findings are counter-intuitive in many ways, they may help shed light on the findings from the first paper in this series. Specifically, that analysis concluded that though taking more advanced courses in senior year had a significant impact on students’ access to college, it had less of an impact on college persistence. If it is indeed the case that students who took more advanced coursework did not experience a more challenging senior year, then it may also be the case that these students – though appearing more qualified on paper – did not actually engage in a deeper level of skill-building that would have prepared them better to succeed once enrolled in college. Further analysis is being conducted on these findings, and this will be the subject of an upcoming report by the Consortium on Chicago School Research.