Posts published in September, 2009

My Concerns With State Common Core Standards Draft

Statement of Michael W. Kirst, Professor Emeritus, Stanford University : Draft of State Common Core Standards (September 2009)

My concern is the assertion in the draft that the standards for college and career readiness are essentially the same. This implies the answer is yes to the question of whether the same standards are appropriate for 4 year universities, 2 year colleges, and technical colleges. The burden of proof for this assertion rests with CCSSO/NGA, and the case is not proven from the evidence presented in the draft.

The ELA standards hedge this issue by saying “the evidence strongly suggests that similar reading, writing, speaking, and listening skills are necessary for success in both the college and workplace.” There is no similar wording preceding the math standards. I have reviewed the sources included in the draft, and cannot follow how the panel deduced that college and career readiness standards are the same.

Some basic underlying assumptions used by the panel are unclear. For example, what level of jobs in the O*NET job zone classifications of 1-5 did the panel use in its deliberations? For example, preparation needed for zone 4 jobs is mostly the same as a 4 year college standards, but this is not true for ONET zone 2 jobs.  Another issue that needs to be clarified is whether the panel endorses a multiple pathways concept that a career and technical education in secondary school needs to keep the option open for  all students to obtain a 4 year degree.

I have worked intensively with some states in the college/career readiness issue. Policymakers find it difficult to understand why the standards are the same for the flagship state university and their technical college system (e.g. Georgia, Texas, etc.).


For example, if you examine closely the math requirements in Kentucky for specific occupations for a technical program like welding, there are very specific  secondary school preparation differences for 3 programs offered in specific community and technical colleges : the Associate of Applied Science (ASS), diploma, or certificate program. The latter two programs may not need to meet the mathematics proposed in the common core draft. Each separate terminal award (A.S.S, diploma, certificate) utilizes a different set of math courses for completion. I am unclear whether the panel had these distinctions in mind as it prepared this draft.

The methodology utilized for comparing university and career technical standards (cte) can influence conclusions and recommendations. I chaired the National Assessment Governing Board Technical Panel on 12th Grade Preparedness Research. On pages 18-23 of our final report, we present our strategy for funding needed research for discovering the academic standards for workplace preparedness. Our approach seems  different from those embedded in the sources consulted for career readiness in the draft.

The NAGB technical panel pointed out that many occupations do not have a consistent training core. Some occupations require substantial geometry, while others may focus more heavily on algebra, or simple numerical computations.

The NAGB panel crafted a research strategy to identify examples of occupations deemed most informative for estimating the entry-level reading and mathematics requirements for multiple sections of the labor force. Then we support identifying job training programs targeting jobs in the exemplar occupations. The next step would be to identify ELA and mathematics training performance standards for entry into each occupation. This would include interviewing personnel who actually prepare CTE workers in the exemplary occupations.

This seems to be a more valid and precise method of discovering CTE standards than the usual methods of employer surveys, test linking, or examining very large clusters of jobs used in the draft standards. Some studies that claim college and CTE preparations is the same start from what experienced workers are doing in their current jobs. This could exaggerate skill requirements to begin the academic preparation needed for an occupation at postsecondary education institution.

I hope there comments will be useful in the next stages of the common core standards.

Innovative Way To Structure And Pay For Remedial Courses From American Enterprise Institute

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AEI Education Policy AEI Education  Outlook, September 2009: “College by Subscription” Thu 9/24 38 KB 

College by Subscription

By Burck Smith


Many students taking remedial courses in college are not doing well in them. A better approach is needed that will benefit not only students, but also taxpayers and the students who are footing the bill for unsuccessful instruction. A subscription-based model in which students can work at their own pace and get help from readily available faculty could improve outcomes and reduce costs.


About one-third of all incoming college students had taken at least one developmental education course when the academic year ended in June.[1] In some community colleges, this number was twice as high. These courses, also known as remedial courses, are required of students who have graduated from high school but have been deemed unready for college-level math, writing, or reading. Of students taking developmental courses, data suggest that 40–50 percent will not complete the developmental sequence.[2] Of those who do, only 29 percent will complete a bachelor’s degree.[3] According to these numbers, any student who places into developmental education has only a 13 percent chance of eventually receiving a bachelor’s degree. The other 87 percent will be stuck with considerable debt and no degree, precluding them from many career opportunities and a likely bump in wages.


In addition to their questionable impact, developmental education courses are costly to students and taxpayers. According to one recent report, the cost of offering these courses exceeds $2 billion a year, of which approximately $800 million is borne by students and families in tuition and fees.[4] To control costs, states have enacted a slew of cost-cutting measures. For instance, some states restrict the number of developmental classes a student can take, require four-year colleges to push all developmental education to community colleges, and limit funding for developmental education courses. Though these policies may succeed in cutting costs, they also harm those who most need help by reducing access to and support within higher education.


In addition to targeted cost-cutting, colleges are engaged in a wide variety of experiments. For instance, some colleges have tried requiring on-demand online tutoring, additional small-group meetings called supplemental instruction, concurrent credit-bearing courses, condensed developmental sequences, study-skills courses, and automated educational software. Some have even begun to allow students to self-select into remedial courses. While many of these remedies have proven successful and are worth implementing more widely, the overall impact on developmental pass rates has been modest. The limited impact of these academic interventions may be because many students do not complete courses for nonacademic reasons. For instance, a survey of San Diego community college students in 2001 showed that 31 percent of students who withdrew from class cited conflicts with work schedules as the reason. Twenty-one percent cited personal reasons. Only 14 percent cited dissatisfaction with instruction.[5]


While improving success rates of those who take remedial courses is a laudable goal, it represents only half of the developmental education equation. Given the relatively small impact of developmental education interventions, policymakers and education leaders should ask whether we can keep success rates constant or increase them while reducing the cost. If significant cost savings are feasible, these dollars could then be used to address budget shortfalls and the nonacademic barriers students encounter. Rather than implementing targeted cost-cutting measures within the existing institutional staffing and pricing framework, perhaps policymakers and administrators should rethink the way developmental courses are staffed and priced. 


Flat-Fee versus Subscription Pricing


In a typical college class, an instructor is assigned a cohort of students and a fixed time frame for the course. That cohort is usually fifteen to forty students, and the duration varies depending on how many credits the course is worth and the format of the course. In this instructional model, a college must estimate the number of students it will have at the start of the course, assume that these students will stay in the course for the entire semester, assume that no more students will be added, and hire the appropriate number of faculty to teach the course. Because the college must commit to faculty members and facility usage for an entire term, students must pay the full tuition regardless of whether they pass, fail, or drop out. This flat-fee tuition model makes sense given developmental education courses’ current cost structure.


In the current staffing model for developmental courses, a student who decides in the first month that the course is too hard or too time-consuming or that he is not ready must pay the same amount as a student who succeeds. The student who drops out must pay the same amount even if he stops coming to class, using the school’s facilities, and using the instructor’s time. Conversely, a student who is able to move more quickly and who would consume less facility and instructor resources is forced to progress according to the predetermined format of the course. Because of the fixed costs inherent in such a model, both the students who drop the course and those who excel are “punished.” Those who excel and those who drop out must pay the full fee despite using very little of the instructor’s time and the college’s facilities.


What if a student and state could pay for developmental courses on a monthly subscription basis? A subscription model provides an incentive to succeed quickly and limits the cost for those who fail. If such a model could keep outcomes constant or even improve them, a subscription pricing model could reduce taxpayer expenses, student loan burdens, and college infrastructure use and might even encourage failing students to return later to the postsecondary system. Furthermore, savings could be reinvested in support services that help with nonacademic barriers to student success.


How to Get There: Necessary Modifications to the Traditional Model


In a traditional one-to-many, cohort-based instructional model, the student effectively “rents” a spot in a classroom and a portion of a professor’s time. Because students are progressing through the class as a group and the professor’s time must be allocated to support the material being taught at a single point in time, this spot cannot be used by a different student midway through a semester. Accordingly, if a student drops out or succeeds more quickly, his portion of instruction and facilities cannot be reallocated. Therefore, colleges use a per-course, flat-fee model, also known as tuition.


To build an instructional model in which instruction and facilities can be reallocated, students would need to be allowed to move at their own pace. At most colleges, self-paced courses come at a cost. Self-paced instruction creates greater flexibility and is less costly but lacks significant instructional support. If comparable instructional support could be provided to students in a self-paced course, then instructional time and facilities use could be allocated much more efficiently. Students could be charged based on how much time they spend using facilities and how much instruction they use rather than on a flat-fee basis.


Can comparable instructional support be provided for developmental courses? To do this, a course would need to be supported by a group of similarly trained instructors who could be available at any time for any student at any point in the course. Though this sounds revolutionary, a wide variety of industries use this model every day to serve a large pool of customers with a defined set of problems. This is a call-center staffing model–although with education there would be no “call,” as the interaction would take place online, nor any “center,” as course instructors could be located anywhere that has Internet access. In call-center staffing, the service provider knows what the demand for its services should be at any given moment, the likely margin of error in that prediction, the average call length, the variance of the call lengths, and the appropriate staffing necessary to hit predetermined service levels. Indeed, call-center services are frequently charged on a per-use basis. The application of such a staffing model to higher education would enable per-use pricing for academic labor in the courses in which such a staffing model is possible.


SMARTHINKING, the company I cofounded, is one of several companies that provide exactly this staffing model for secondary and postsecondary math, writing, science, and business subjects. These services are purchased by hundreds of colleges and high schools. For SMARTHINKING, live, on-demand service is provided twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week. Indeed, this service is purchased by colleges and consumers in blocks of hours from which time is deducted as students use services. All tutors, like a college’s teaching assistants, are trained and monitored for quality control. Over 90 percent of tutors have master’s degrees or PhDs.


Putting the Pieces Together


With the advent of prebuilt course materials available from major publishers, multiple learning management systems, and on-demand tutoring services, whole courses can be pieced together and delivered under an a la carte or monthly subscription model in which the student pays only for the educational resources used. Interestingly, colleges have built hundreds of courses like this already but under a flat-fee model rather than a subscription model. The National Center for Academic Transformation (NCAT) has helped hundreds of colleges reduce the cost of general education courses while maintaining or improving student outcomes.[6] The core principles of NCAT course redesign are as follows: 1) Students should engage with content rather than being lectured to by professors. This content will often be delivered digitally; 2) Students should have on-demand academic help; 3) Students should progress through the course based on mastery, not time; and 4) Colleges should use people who are less costly than full professors for basic course management tasks like answering nonacademic questions, ensuring course completion, and other course management functions.[7]


Though currently charged on a flat-fee basis, the NCAT course redesign model is well suited to a subscription pricing system. Combining these proven models with the modifications to the pricing and staffing structure suggested above fundamentally alters the way colleges offer their developmental courses, benefiting taxpayers, instructors, and students alike.


Where Are the Savings?


The key to realizing savings via a subscription model is the ability of overwhelmed students to drop out quickly and of proficient students to complete quickly. Take the following hypothetical example: suppose that one hundred students need to take a given developmental course; the total cost to taxpayer and student is $500 per course (flat fee) or $100 per month (subscription), and 40 percent of students do not complete the class. As table 1 shows, under a traditional flat-fee model, the total cost for one hundred students would be $50,000. In a subscription model, because students can drop out or pass quickly, substantial savings can result. 


Table 1 assumes that most dropouts will occur early in the course and that 12 percent of the original one hundred students will pass each month. Based on these assumptions, a subscription model can deliver savings of over 50 percent, and many students who would otherwise be $500 poorer with little or nothing to show for it will have spent only $100 to test the postsecondary waters. Given that the per-course cost is frequently greater than $500, this may be a conservative estimate.


Will Student Outcomes Be the Same?


Research from NCAT course redesign efforts has typically shown greater rates of student success and lower costs.[8] The dearth of subscription-tuition pricing limits our ability to evaluate the model; however, initial evidence suggests that a subscription model has the potential to do as well as, if not better than, traditional developmental courses. For instance, subscription-priced courses are online and self-paced–two factors assumed to be barriers to developmental education success–but the subscription model offers on-demand academic help, which has been shown to increase student success.[9] The amount of help a student receives in a typical course is limited by how much time the professor has available, but in the subscription model, the amount of help is limited by how much help the student needs and is willing to pay for. In addition, courses can be started and stopped at any time and therefore offer flexibility to accommodate the demands of a diverse array of students.


Subscription-priced courses need not, and should not, be a replacement for traditionally delivered courses. They can be a powerful complement to existing modes of delivery, instructional models, and pricing models. By combining different models, postsecondary institutions can offer students a wide variety of course options. Students can then choose the one that best meets their needs. Subscription-priced courses could be enhanced to create more structure and stronger learning communities–elements thought to increase student success rates. Though the courses are self-paced, deadlines could be chosen that are either voluntary or enforced. These deadlines could be different for every student. Virtual or physical study groups could be offered in conjunction with these courses to provide additional community support. Lastly, and perhaps most important, this format gives states and colleges tremendous flexibility in pricing and limits. Students could be given a certain number of months to complete the courses after which the student must purchase instruction independently. States could also choose to subsidize a portion of the cost for a finite period of time, providing an extra incentive for students to finish in a timely manner.


Third-Party Course Provision and Accreditation


Because the delivery of subscription-based courses requires a call-center staffing model, which requires significant scale to be viable, most existing colleges have neither the student volume nor the management expertise to offer courses like this. For now, colleges and states desiring to offer subscription-priced courses will need to look to third parties. At first blush, asking a college to look to another entity to provide courses to its students seems fraught with all sorts of dangers. For instance, is the third party accredited? Will contracting for these courses reduce enrollment, revenue, and faculty jobs at a college? How does the college ensure quality in the contracted courses? How can common course standards be assured?


While many colleges and academics assume that college courses must be delivered by accredited institutions and that a college’s faculty must teach all courses delivered by a college, this is not so. Many regionally accredited colleges–with their accreditor’s approval–contract with for-profit and not-for-profit entities to deliver individual courses and complete degree programs to their students. Course providers include Bisk Education, Gatlin Education, Ed2Go, Regis University’s New Ventures program, StraighterLine, and others. In fact, regional accreditors specifically provide authority to the institution to determine what is credit-worthy.


Opponents of third-party course provision fear enrollment and revenue decline. However, college students already have myriad ways in which to earn college credit and have it recognized by a host college. For instance, colleges award credit for Advanced Placement test scores, College Level Examination Program test scores, dual-enrollment programs for high school students, “life-skills” credit, transfer credit from other institutions, and credit received from coursework approved by the ACE-Credit system. Colleges agree to award credit for deserving students because it helps to attract new students who might go elsewhere if their past academic work is not recognized.


Moreover, recent budget cuts have left state policymakers and institutions of higher education looking for ways to reduce the cost of developmental education courses. Many of these cost-cutting strategies have been incremental and have the potential to harm those students who need remedial education the most. A subscription model may become an increasingly attractive option as budget deficits deepen and administrators search for an economical and effective solution to the cost-cutting quandary.  


When seen one way, the prevalence of alternative ways to receive credit seems like a recipe for degrading quality. However, in other industries, very few entities provide all of the inputs necessary to build a product. For instance, a car company does not build all the elements of every car. It purchases parts from other manufacturers and combines them to make the final product. Likewise, the explosion of distance-education alternatives makes it easy for students to choose the courses and prices that make the most sense for them. Increasingly, colleges are being asked to be the guarantor of quality, not necessarily the provider of it.


Most, but not all, of the entities that provide turnkey courses and programs are for-profit. Given that most colleges are not-for-profit entities, this makes some administrators and faculty wary. Their wariness stems from the assumption that for-profit entities will be driven by the profit motive to cut corners on quality or on student oversight. While for-profits may do just that, they are no more likely to do that than not-for-profits. All colleges, no matter their tax status, have incentives to increase enrollment. However, if a course or degree provider is shown to provide low-quality courses, they will lose the partnerships that allow them to be in business. Similarly, if a not-for-profit college loses its accreditation, it can no longer offer financial aid to its students. Though there is bias against for-profit providers of education, this type of college is well established and is the fastest growing segment of higher education.




Technology has long held the promise of lower costs, better outcomes, or both. Such results, however, can only be realized when typical course-cost elements are reorganized and reassembled to take advantage of technology’s cost efficiencies. Colleges already reduce their per-student infrastructure costs by offering distance-education programs. In other industries, cost savings and quality improvements are realized when infrastructure changes are combined with personnel changes. To truly change the cost structure of online courses, colleges must be willing not only to offer courses with different cost structures, but also to price courses in ways that more closely match their costs.


Burck Smith is the CEO and founder of StraighterLine, a company that provides online general education courses to college students.


See AEI website for footnotes.

State Common Core Standards Validation Panel Announced

WASHINGTON—The National Governors Association Center for Best Practices (NGA Center) and the Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO) today released the names of the members of the Validation Committee for the Common Core State Standards Initiative. This committee will immediately be tasked with reviewing and verifying the standards development process and the resulting evidence-based college- and career-readiness standards. The standards are intended to be research and evidence-based, aligned with college and workforce training program expectations, reflective of rigorous content and skills, and internationally benchmarked.

For the college- and career-readiness standards, the Validation Committee will:

  • Review the process used to develop the college- and career-readiness standards and recommend improvements in that process. These recommendations will be used to inform the K-12 development process.
  • Validate the sufficiency of the evidence supporting each college- and career-readiness standard. Each member is asked to determine whether each standard has sufficient evidence to warrant its inclusion.
  • Add any standard that is not now included in the common core state standards that they feel should be included and provide the following evidence to support its inclusion: 1) evidence that the standard is essential to college and career success; and 2) evidence that the standard is internationally comparable.

Members of the validation committee were nominated by states and national organizations, with a group of six governors and six chief state school officers in the participating states selecting the final committee membership. The six governors were Colorado Gov. Bill Ritter; Connecticut Gov. M. Jodi Rell; Delaware Gov. Jack Markell; Georgia Gov. Sonny Perdue; Vermont Gov. Jim Douglas; and West Virginia Gov. Joe Manchin. The chief state school officers were: Maine Chief and CCSSO Board President Susan Gendron; Michigan Chief Michael Flanagan; Pennsylvania Chief Gerald Zahorchak; South Carolina Chief Jim Rex; and West Virginia Chief Steve Paine. After the college- and career-readiness standards and process have been validated by the committee, the NGA Center and CCSSO will begin the process of developing the K-12 standards.

The 25 members of the Validation Committee are:

  • Bryan Albrecht, President, Gateway Technical College, Kenosha, Wisconsin
  • Arthur Applebee, Distinguished Professor, Center on English Learning & Achievement, School of Education, University at Albany, SUNY
  • Sarah Baird, 2009 Arizona Teacher of the Year, K-5 Math Coach, Kyrene School District
  • Jere Confrey, Joseph D. Moore Distinguished University Professor, William and Ida Friday Institute for Educational Innovation, College of Education, North Carolina State University
  • David T. Conley, Professor, College of Education, University of Oregon CEO, Educational Policy Improvement Center
  • Linda Darling-Hammond, Charles E. Ducommun Professor of Education, Stanford University
  • Alfinio Flores, Hollowell Professor of Mathematics Education, University of Delaware
  • Brian Gong, Executive Director, Center for Assessment
  • Kenji Hakuta, Lee L. Jacks Professor of Education, Stanford University
  • Feng-Jui Hsieh, Associate Professor of the Mathematics Department, National Taiwan Normal University
  • Jeremy Kilpatrick, Regents Professor of Mathematics Education, University of Georgia
  • Barry McGaw, Professor and Director of Melbourne Education Research Institute, University of Melbourne; Director for Education, OECD
  • James Milgram, Professor Emeritus, Stanford University
  • David Pearson, Professor and Dean, Graduate School of Education, University of California, Berkeley
  • Stanley Rabinowitz, Senior Program Director, Assessment and Standards Development Services, WestEd
  • Lauren Resnick, Distinguished University Professor, Psychology and Cognitive Science, Learning Sciences and Education Policy, University of Pittsburgh
  • Andreas Schleicher, Head, Indicators and Analysis Division of the OECD Directorate for Education
  • William Schmidt, University Distinguished Professor, Michigan State University
  • Catherine Snow, Henry Lee Shattuck Professor of Education, Harvard Graduate School of Education
  • Christopher Steinhauser, Superintendent of Schools, Long Beach Unified School District
  • Sandra Stotsky, Professor of Education Reform, 21st Century Chair in Teacher Quality, University of Arkansas
  • Dorothy Strickland, Samuel DeWitt Proctor Professor of Ed., Emerita, Distinguished Research Fellow, National Institute for Early Education Research, Rutgers, The State University of NJ
  • Martha Thurlow, Director, National Center on Educational Outcomes, University of Minnesota
  • Norman Webb, Senior Research Scientist, Emeritus, Wisconsin Center for Education Research, University of Wisconsin
  • Dylan William, Deputy Director, Institute of Education, University of London

Please click here for biographical information on each of the Validation Committee members. Also, for more information on the Common Core State Standards Initiative and to comment on the draft college- and career-readiness standards, please visit


Founded in 1908, the National Governors Association (NGA) is the collective voice of the nation’s governors and one of Washington, D.C.’s most respected public policy organizations. Its members are the governors of the 50 states, three territories and two commonwealths. NGA provides governors and their senior staff members with services that range from representing states on Capitol Hill and before the Administration on key federal issues to developing and implementing innovative solutions to public policy challenges through the NGA Center for Best Practices. For more information, visit

The Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO) is a nonpartisan, nationwide, nonprofit organization of public officials who head departments of elementary and secondary education in the states, the District of Columbia, the Department of Defense Education Activity, and five U.S. extra-state jurisdictions. CCSSO provides leadership, advocacy, and technical assistance on major educational issues. The Council seeks member consensus on major educational issues and expresses their views to civic and professional organizations, federal agencies, Congress, and the public.

Case Studies Of 38 Succesful High Schools For College Readiness

Creating College Readiness
by the Educational Policy Improvement Center

As part of its ongoing mission to promote the college readiness of high school graduates, the Educational Policy Improvement Center (EPIC) visited 38 high schools across the country that demonstrated success in preparing underrepresented students for higher education. The chosen schools represented a diverse cross-section of the nation’s education system, including alternative, charter, comprehensive, early-college, magnet, and private institutions. EPIC staff conducted on-site observations and interviews throughout 2007 and compiled profiles highlighting the programs, strategies, and philosophies that contributed to the effectiveness of each school. These profiles were recently published online under the name Creating College Readiness.

Creating College Readiness is now available for download, free of charge, from the Educational Policy Improvement Center. This publication is recommended reading for teachers and administrators interested in college-ready techniques with proven success in the real world. It can be found at

New Adolescent Reading Report Provides Right Direction For College Success

Inability to  read complex technical content is a major reason for college academic failure . The report below has the right ideas to remedy the problems.

Carnegie Corporation of New York
Report on Adolescent Literacy
September 2009
Executive Summary

Our nation’s educational system has scored many extraordinary successes in raising the level of reading and writing skills in younger children. Yet the pace of literacy improvement in our schools has not kept up with the accelerating demands of the global knowledge economy. In state after state, the testing data mandated by No Child Left Behind reveals a marked decline in the reading and writing skills of adolescent learners.

School systems are now grappling with the fact that promising early performance and gains in reading achievement often dissipate as students move through the middle grades. As a result, many young people drop out of high school or perform at minimal level and end up graduating without the basic skills that they need to do college-level work, get a well-paying job or act as informed citizens.

The truth is that good early literacy instruction does not inoculate students against struggle or failure later on. Beyond grade 3, adolescent learners in our schools must decipher more complex passages, synthesize information at a higher level, and learn
to form independent conclusions based on evidence.

They must also develop special skills and strategies for reading text in each of the differing content areas (such as English, science, mathematics and history)—meaning that a student who “naturally” does well in one area may struggle in another.

We have a strong knowledge base of reading instruction for grades K-3. However, literacy supports for adolescents present greater instructional challenges and demand a range of strategies. Middle and high school learners must learn from texts which, compared to those in the earlier grades: are significantly longer and more complex at the word, sentence and structural levels; present greater conceptual challenges and obstacles to reading fluency; contain more detailed graphic representations (as well as tables, charts and equations linked to text) and demand a much greater ability to synthesize information.

Also, each content-area has its own set of literacy skills that students are required to master before they can move fully from “learning to read” to “reading to learn.” Adolescents who fail to master these more complex tasks in their learning process are likely to become unskilled workers in a world where literacy is an absolute precondition for success.

Luckily, the deterioration of literacy skills in adolescents is not inevitable. States that have invested in adolescent literacy initiatives are already seeing positive benefits for their efforts. Adolescent literacy must now be made an overarching national priority.

To reach the goal of providing quality literacy instruction for all our nation’s adolescents, we must systematically link instruction to the growing knowledge base on literacy and inform it with up-to-date data relating to outcomes and best practices.

We must also find and support good teachers and provide them with the right professional development opportunities. Schools, districts, states, and federal policy-makers all have vital roles to play in the process of re-engineering the nation’s schools to support adolescent learning. Accordingly:

1. The Vision: Literacy for All draws on up-to-date research showing that adolescents need a higher level of literacy than ever before, both for college-readiness and employment in the new global knowledge economy, and goes on to describe how our current state of knowledge already equips us to re-engineer schools to support quality adolescent learning.

2. The Challenge: What It Will Take to Get Our Adolescents College and Career Ready details the specific literacy needs of adolescent learners and shows how these needs can best be met in our nation’s schools.

3. The Keys: Underpinnings for Successful Reform shows how professional development for teachers and the effective use of data are the keys to improving adolescent literacy and realizing the ambitious goal of “literacy for all.”

4. The Agenda: Re-Engineering for Change At All Levels sets out a national agenda for fully supporting adolescent learners, using case-studies to show exactly how schools, districts, and states can help to re-engineer the experience of adolescent learning.

5. A Call To Action: Where To Begin summarizes the main points of this report by setting out specific action steps for school leaders, district leaders, state leaders, and federal policymakers. Our common goal must be to ensure that all students receive the support they need for active citizenship, college and career readiness, gainful employment in the global knowledge economy, and lifelong learning. The time to act is now.

How To Measure Four Year College Graduation Rates

Many students need to stop out of college to work or have health and family problems. Other students transfer and cannot get the courses they want after transfer. Some statistics count transfers as dropouts from the sending college.

But the big arguement is whether college completion shouldbe measured by a standard of 4 ,6,8,or 10 years. I favor using 6 years and 10 years. Six is a reasonable expectation, and after that students are losing time and money to not have a degree. But 10 is needed because studies like Cliff Adelman’s  The Toolbox Revisited demonstrate a significant number of students persist to 8 years to graduate at the less selective 4 year colleges. Some take 10 years to complete and I expect more will in next decade. Adlemans study is 10 years old and more students are stopping out longer and swirling among many colleges.

College Dropout Conference In Colombia

Speaking here today and surprised how similar the problems are to USA in the high incidence of college dropouts as enrollment expands. Colombia has national high school tests and a student assessment at the end of college based on college major. Their dropout rate is 45% from college so they have assembled experts from around the world to devise solutions.

Much of the conversation is about building quantitative risk factors for each student and then intervening in the first year of college. Student support systems must be backed upwith building student study in groups and friends to help struggling students. Conference is needed on this topic in USA. OECD stats show USA college dropout rate is second highest, beating only Italy.

Community College Remediation: A Bermuda Triangle For Students

In the September Washington Monthly  Camille Esch has a beautifully written overview of the the endemic problems of community college remediation- eg few students are ever heard from again. This quote about Sacramento , Ca. City College is a small sample:

” Only 60 percent of the community college’s 3,000 remedial students pass their classes with a C or higher.  Those who go looking for help at Sacramento City will face a melange of disconnected programs and services.  The college’s academic counseling center is badly understaffed, and most of the tutoring available on campus is provided by other students.”

Community colleges get funding based on the number of students they enroll, not the number of students that finish. Community colleges receive much less per pupil than 4 year colleges. It will be a challenge for Obama’s 12.5 billion proposed program to overcome these obstacles.

Why Do Qualified Secondary Students Not Complete College

A puzzle surrounds the static percentage of college completion despite burgeoning college enrollment in the past 20 years.  In our book, From High School to College, Andrea Venezia and I speculated about how college non-completion was caused by different factors such as preparedness, cost, time management, personal commitment and so on.  We know a lot of non-completion is caused by a lack of preparation, but how much?  No one knows this, but there is an interesting new study on college costs by the Advisory Commission on Student Financial Assistance, a nonpartisan panel that advises Congress.  They concluded that in the 1990s between 800,000 and 1.6 million low and moderate high school students who were both academically qualified for and intent on attending a four year college did not earn a bachelor’s degree.  Note the study tried to include only students who were well prepared.  All of the students in the study completed algebra II or trigonometry.  These mathematics courses are crucial predictors of college completion in studies by Clifford Adelman, formerly with the U.S. Department of Education.  Moreover, all the students in 10th and 12th grade planned to get a bachelor’s degree.


.  Even though students fail to move through the higher education  system for many reasons,  this  study includes only students for whom finances were the deciding factor in not getting a  4 year degree. 


I am not sure this study controls for all factors that cause non-completion, but inadequate finance is clearly a major factor. Now we need a study that examines how many students do not get degrees because of inadequate academic preparation. This also will be hard to measure precisely because student commitment to study and persevere is also an important factor in college completion. Subsequent blog entries will discuss even more factors that make up the puzzle of college completion.

New Book On College Completion: Two Issues To Consider

  The new book, Crossing The Finish Line by William Bowen and Michael McPherson will be released today , but some previews raise two issues to for me . The authors have records on 200,000 students at 68 colleges and correctly question whether the entire USA 4 year college system is the best in the world.  Their evidence  on college graduation clearly supports the notion that US leadership is confined to very selective colleges that are known worldwide. They look at a range of 4 year colleges from most to least selective, and focus on “undermatching”. For example students who had a 3.5  Grade point average and could have gone to a selective college, but chose to go to a less selective college with a history of low graduation rates.

  Here are two things to watch for when the book comes out. The control variables in the september 9, 2009 NY Times review are GPA. The authors compare college graduation rates for students with aa 3.5 GPA in selective and less selective colleges. But we know it is much easier to get a 3.5 GPA at some high schools than others. So , the less selective colleges may be enrolling weaker students and this is a significant cause of their higher drop out rates. This would weaken the control variable, and impact the outcome analysis.

 Second, they use 6 year graduation rates, but Cliff Adelman in his book, The Toolbox Revisited found that at the less selective institutions a significant number of students take more than 6 years to finish for a variety of reasons. What would  10 year graduation rates show?