Posts published in December, 2009
Systemic Incentives for High School Senior Slump
Now that the senior year of high school is ending its first half, it is an appropriate time to examine its impact upon college preparation and college completion. The American educational system does little to discourage high school seniors from focusing on matters other than academic work. Rather than using the senior year to complete their secondary education and continue to prepare for postsecondary education, many seniors take less demanding courses and pay less attention to them. Some students use this time for goofing off; others earn money for college or complete nonpaid internships.
For the 70% of students who go on to postsecondary education directly after high school, the primary academic tasks for senior year are, in their view, to graduate on time and to secure admission to college. The first of these tasks may be accomplished by taking the easiest courses that meet the school’s graduation requirements. The second of these tasks usually does not require any effort after the first semester of senior year, since college admissions decisions do not rely on second-semester grades and colleges rarely withdraw an admissions offer to a prospect whose grades drop sharply.
Indeed, the college admissions calendar encourages college-bound students to work hard in their sophomore and junior years—since those grades are reviewed by admissions officers—and provides no incentives for continuing to study hard or take challenging courses in their senior year. It is not unusual for the highest-achieving students to take AP courses in their junior year in order to gain admission to a highly selective college and then drop challenging courses after receiving early admission in the fall of senior year.
The students’ view is, of course, shortsighted. But it is hard for students to see beyond the twin goals of high school graduation and college admission. And in their minds, these goals are not only sufficient but discrete: They do not realize that meeting their high school graduation requirements does not mean that they are prepared for college (ACT, 2000). Nor do they think about using their senior year to prepare for the placement exams that may await them when they enroll in college.
One result is that many students who received good grades in high school spend part of their freshman year in college enrolled in remedial writing, math, and science classes. For example, 56% of the students admitted to the California State University campuses fail a placement test and must take a remedial course; at the more selective University of California campuses, almost a third of freshmen fail the writing exam.
Among those who fail college math placement exams are students who took math courses during their junior year in high school, but took no math their senior year. By the time they arrive on campus, they have forgotten their algebra, geometry, and trigonometry. Instead of moving on to college-level work, they must revisit topics they studied in high school. Remediation is a particularly acute problem for low-income students who proceed directly from high school to postsecondary education (ACT, 2000).
The colleges know this—they know how many of their freshmen fail their placement tests, how many are on academic probation, and how many drop out because they are not academically prepared for college-level work. But most colleges, like their applicants, have been more concerned about access to higher education—about admissions—than about academic preparation. For example, most community colleges have an open admissions policy, which fulfills their mandate to provide access. But community colleges send weak signals to high school students about the knowledge and skills they need to acquire in high school in order to succeed in college. Only when these students arrive for orientation or registration do they discover that they will not be allowed to take for-credit courses until they have passed the college’s English and math placement exams.
The fault, of course, does not lie solely with higher education. Part of the problem is that the high schools view their curriculum more as a set of discrete courses than as a coherent program that culminates in the senior year. Seniors continue to accumulate the units needed for graduation with little guidance about the knowledge and skills they will need to succeed in their next endeavor, be it college or a vocation. Despite the cliché about viewing high school graduation as a commencement, the high schools largely treat the completion of senior year as an end in and of itself.
In addition, the senior year has been left out of the accountability movement in the K-12 schools. New York’s state K-12 assessment includes the senior year; other states stop by the 11th grade and most stop at the 10th grade level. The K-12 assessment movement has no strategy for accountability for the senior year.
From this perspective, senior slump appears to be the rational response of high school seniors to an education system in which no one claims the academic content of the senior year as a basis for further education. Neither the K–12 system nor the postsecondary system provide any incentives for high school seniors to work hard. To understand this institutional disinterest in senior year, we must look at the almost total disjuncture between K–12 education and postsecondary education.
The Woodrow Wilson National Fellowship Foundation through its Early College program has provided a useful toolkit.
|The Woodrow Wilson National Fellowship Foundation is pleased to share resources for promoting a college-going culture in the middle school years: Developing a College-Going Culture in a Middle School: A Toolkit by Su Jin Jez.
Students who enroll in college start working towards that goal before high school, much before they ever start thinking about college applications. But how can schools make the most of the formative middle school years to promote students’ college readiness?
The Toolkit grew out of a study of the college-going culture in one middle school that was grounded in UCLA Education Professor Patricia McDonough’s nine components of a college-going culture.
The Middle School Toolkit provides schools with an array of tools and resources to assess, understand, and improve their culture in ways that help middle school students take concrete steps towards college success. Resources include surveys and interview guides, an example case study from an early college school, and a list of educational resources for teachers, students, and parents.
This resource was developed by Su Jin Jez, formerly of WestEd, and the Woodrow Wilson Early College Initiative. Currently, Dr. Jez is Assistant Professor of Public Policy and Administration and Associate Director of the Education Doctorate Program at California State University, Sacramento.
|Link to Middle School Toolkit|
John Fensterwald, formerly of the San Jose Mercury News, has a blog on California education policy that has content well ahead of other media outlets-www.educatedguess.org. Here is a sample that is relevant to my blog.
The California State University system is about to send a harsh message to this year’s high school seniors and community college students aspiring for a four-year degree. In spite of record applications, CSU will admit 7 percent fewer students next year to its 23 campuses, while likely raising tuition yet an additional 10 percent. And, seniors, don’t think about straying too far from the nest: Depending on your field of study, you may be limited to attending the CSU closest to your home.
CSU Chancellor Charles Reed gave the grim assessment at a press conference Tuesday. He made it clear that his recommendations pained him. “Denying students access to the California State University is just about the worst thing I can do during a recession. But we have to provide a quality higher education to students and we cannot educate more students with less.”
The Legislature cut $564 million from the CSU budget this year, leading to furloughs and a 30 percent increase in fees. Cutbacks in admission over two years will reduce the 450,000 students in the system by 40,000. A quarter of that will happen this year, mainly by eliminating, for the second straight year, mid-year transfers from community colleges. The remaining 30,000 will result from fewer freshman admissions and fewer transfers in the fall of 2010.
The Mercury News offered a look <http://bit.ly/1nL5tO> at how one CSU campus will do the downsizing. San Jose State, with 30,000 grads and undergrads, will be allotted 2,500 fewer slots next year, on top of the 3,000 cut this year. Admission for the most popular majors – business, nursing, engineering, psychology – will go only to students from Santa Clara County, and will require higher grades and scores. Students outside the local area will be able to compete for spots for less popular majors, like biology, chemistry and computer science. Only those local and non-local qualified students willing to study aviation and chemical engineering – among the least popular majors – will be assured admission.
Applications to the most impacted campuses, such as San Jose State, are due Nov. 30. The early deadline may be one reason why, as of Oct. 1, there already were 266,152 applications to the CSU system, up 53 percent. Freshmen applications had increased by a third.
Reed will ask trustees to approve a 2010-2011 budget seeking $838 million more from the Legislature, restoring university funding to the 2008 level. Of that, $110 million would come from increasing student fees about an additional $500 – to more than $5,300. With midyear state budget cuts coming, and at least a $7 billion gap projected for next year, getting more money from legislators is a moon shot.
But legislators have also balked at cutting the $10 billion prison budget as much as the Gov. Schwarzenegger requested and experts for years have urged. As Reed said, it’s also a matter of priorities.
Most college remediation is in math where students need to take up to three remedial courses to reach a beginning transfer course to a four year college. Most do not survive this path. According to the Carnegie Foundation, about 65% cannot pass these developmental courses and reach the first transfer class. Carnegie proposes to develop a one year math sequence ending with a statistics course that will count toward 4 year transfer credit. This new course would contain statistics, data analysis, and quantitative reasoning rather than just algebra.
This sounds like a good idea, but will the universities accept this different math content, and is there an ample supply of statistics teachers? For the article see San Jose Mercury News on December 1.
Associated Press analysis shows surging proportions of low-income students and increases in federal financial aid are ending up at for-profit schools. Last year, the five institutions that received the most Pell Grant dollars were all for-profit colleges, collecting over $1 billion among them. In the first quarter after the maximum Pell Grant was increased last July, the government paid out 45% more than during the same period a year ago. But the amount of dollars heading to for-profit, or “proprietary,” schools is up 67%. (Boston Globe, 11/29/09).