In the spirit of Punxsutawney Phil, Chancellor Glen Johnson and his fellow members of the Oklahoma State Regents for Higher Education will soon emerge from their stately offices to issue their edict on the college- and career-readiness of our state academic standards.
If the PASS standards cast a shadow, the Regents will retreat back into their offices, and the Arne Duncan-imposed “NCLB Winter” for Oklahoma will persist for at least 18 more months.
On the other hand, if the standards are deemed fit for student consumption, spring will come early and we will be able to reapply for an extension of our ESEA waiver.
On September 3rd, Chancellor Johnson released the following statement regarding the Regent’s role in certifying our PASS standards College- and Career-Ready.
At the State Regents’ meeting today, I provided an update on our goals with respect to higher education’s timeline to complete a comprehensive and efficient review of the K-12 Priority Academic Student Skills (PASS) standards, as required by HB 3399. Under the provisions of the legislation, the State Regents are tasked with the responsibility to certify whether or not the PASS standards for English and Language Arts (ELA) and math meet college and career readiness standards.
To discharge their responsibilities under HB 3399, the State Regents have assembled groups of campus subject matter experts with experience in developing and reviewing ELA and math standards to assess the alignment of PASS standards with the ACT College and Career Readiness Standards. The team reviewing the math PASS standards initially met on July 21, 2014. The team reviewing the ELA PASS standards initially met on July 29, 2014. These teams are conducting a thorough analysis, which will include the identification of any deficiencies and recommended improvements, if needed.
As a part of this process, the State Regents are currently engaging consultants from the Southern Regional Education Board (SREB) to participate in the review, to provide additional expertise, and to validate the process and recommendations.
As the standards review process continues to unfold, the findings and recommendations of the committees and consultants may identify additional work that could require more time. HB 3399 does not direct the State Regents to meet a particular timeline. Each step of this review will be executed as efficiently as possible without compromising the integrity of the process.
Our goal is to complete the review process and present a final report to the State Regents for consideration and approval at their October 16 meeting.
I am not optimistic about the outcome of the Regent’s efficient and integrity-filled process.
To me, there is too much pressure on the Regents to admit that our standards are lousy so we can justify the time, effort, and money to develop Oklahoma’s new, incredible, super-duper rigorous, world-class, grade A, best standards EVER. And, off course these new standards will be written by Oklahomans, for Oklahomans, and reflect Oklahoma values…whatever the hell all that means.
I have already written extensively about the seemingly amorphous and ambiguous definition of “college- and career-ready.” What is clear is that U.S. Secretary of Education, Arne Duncan, is not very impressed with the current state of education in Oklahoma, essentially accusing our state of “dumbing down” our standards for political expediency back in June.
The Oklahoma example is a pretty interesting one. Just to give you a couple of facts — and I think sadly, this is not about education; this is about politics. So in Oklahoma, about 40 percent of high school graduates — these are not the dropouts — 40 percent of high school graduates have to take remedial classes when they go to college. Why? Because they weren’t ready — 40 percent. About 25 percent of Oklahoma’s eighth-graders in math are proficient — 25 percent. And other states locally are out-educating Oklahoma.
We are partnering with folks who have high standards. If people want to dummy down standards, that’s a very different thing. We partner with states whether they’re in Common Core or have their own high standards. But where we will challenge status quo is when states dummy down standards.
If they do not have high — again, I’m repeating myself. What we’re asking is that standards be high — college- and career-ready — not certified by us, but certified by the local institutions of higher education. And what we want to make sure is that our high school graduates — we got a dropout problem we got to deal with. We want to make sure our high school graduates aren’t having to take remedial classes, burn up Pell grants, burn up student loans taking non-credit bearing. And right now, roughly 40 percent of those graduates in Oklahoma are having to do that. We don’t think that’s good for those young people, their families, or for the country.
Secretary Duncan and others believe that adoption of CCSS or similarly “rigorous” academic standards is the panacea for America’s future success. According to Duncan and other reformers, if our standards are adequately rigorous, and we refuse to water them down for anyone, then everyone will be guaranteed educational equity. Thereby, by fiat, everybody will achieve equal excellence.
To reformers, it works like this: if a child struggles to clear the high bar at five feet, we can turn her into a world-class jumper by raising the bar to six feet and yelling, “jump higher.” This is a ridiculous proposition, but at the very least, the reformers will be able to use her poor performance to punish her coach. Again, standards assume that all kids are essentially the same. This is a fallacy.
Let me move on to kick another horse. As shown by his comments above, Duncan’s primary proof of the awfulness of our current standards is the 40% remediation rate for Oklahoma’s college freshmen. In short, because we have dummy downed our standards, our college freshmen are now so dumb that they need undumbification classes just to be in college. Therefore, this is proof that we must do something, with “something” defined as whatever Arne says it is.
So, let’s take a quick look at what the numbers reveal. According to an article in the Daily Oklahoman on September 2nd, 2014: “Many Oklahoma students start college taking remedial classes.”
Nationally, 32 percent of all high school graduates who attend college take at least one remedial course, according to the National Center for Education Statistics. That compares with about 39 percent in Oklahoma, or about 7,530 of the 19,000 college-bound students who graduated from 465 Oklahoma high schools in 2012, the latest year for which figures were available.
Overwhelmingly, students needed help in math. Of those Oklahoma students who took at least one remedial class, 90 percent took a math course, 41 percent took an English course and 24 percent took a reading course, according to data from the Oklahoma State Regents for Higher Education. Only 3 percent enrolled in a remedial science course.
College remediation rates are not as simple as presented here. These figures vary greatly depending on what level of college we are talking about. As you would expect, the remediation rates for highly selective four-year universities are much lower than it is for community colleges.
Does anyone else find it odd that the remediation rate for math is 30 times higher than it is for science. I would like to see an explanation for this. Is this because our high school science standards are so exemplary or because of the way that college science courses are structured? The majority of college-bound students take at least Algebra II in high school. Is the fact that many students have to take remedial math a result of low standards or because they chose to skip math their senior year of high school—or a myriad of other plausible reasons? At the very least, these figures scream out for deeper analysis, and not just a wholesale abandonment of our academic standards.
What is also true is that this is not a new phenomenon. Colleges have always blamed high schools for students who arrive on campus unprepared or unmotivated. High schools then blame middle schools. Middle schools blame elementary schools. Kindergarten teachers blame Pre-K teachers. Pre-K teachers blame parents. Parents blame their partner’s substandard gene pool.
Jack Herron posted an interesting article published recently in the Tulsa World, and by recently I mean 77 years ago!
I’ll make a prediction. No matter what we do with our state academic standards, 77 years from now, Mars University will point the finger at Earth’s high schools for doing a crappy job of preparing kids for interstellar space travel.
I’m not a scholar in the field. But as a twenty year educator, I have lots of anecdotal evidence and theories that might explain this long-standing trend.
Explanation #1. The college admissions process.
We used to tell our students, “You need to take college prep classes and do well in them if you want to get into college.” We still tell them that, but they laugh at us as if we had just told them that teenage girls love boys who are clean-cut and follow the rules.
They laugh because every one of them knows somebody who barely passed non-college prep classes who was still cheerfully accepted into a college. This is due to the reality that the college-age market is shrinking dramatically across the nation, and colleges are suffering dire financial straits because they can’t find
enough parents to cut tuition checks enough seekers of higher knowledge and wisdom.
Instead of lecturing us about how ill-prepared our high school graduates are, maybe colleges should take a look at their admissions policies. After all, they have full access to the student’s transcript and test scores. They know exactly what they are getting, yet complain when they get what they got. If I see bread with mold on it at the supermarket, I don’t buy it.
Explanation #2 College fund-raising.
The interesting thing about remedial courses at most colleges is they don’t count for graduation. Students still have to pay for them though. Moreover, many students have to enroll in an additional semester or two to complete their requirements, hence more money for the colleges. Some students refuse to take the remedial course and do just fine in the next course with a little extra work and academic support.
Like high schools, maybe we should make colleges provide remedial courses for free, just to help their students succeed. Let’s follow the enrollment numbers then. I bet they go down significantly. At that point, you can get back to me. In the meantime, remedial coursework is a great moneymaker for cash-strapped colleges.
Explanation #3 Marketing
We’ve been telling everybody that they just have to get a college education no matter what. It’s not true, yet it is great marketing. Many young people would benefit from additional courses in career tech, technical apprenticeships, service in the military, computer training and a wide range of other career options. America continues to need welders, plumbers, electricians, health care workers, machinists, hair stylists, bank tellers, and many other careers that require no college whatsoever.
What we have now is a system that pushes kids into college to earn degrees that often have little value, so they can move back in with mom and dad while they do hourly work to pay back student loans. Let’s also not forget that the student loan business is now a very profitable multi-billion dollar industry in our country.
The bottom line is we should be honest with kids and help them identify and capitalize on their unique, individual strengths. Not every one should go to college, but then we go back to number one above. College is big business and needs a continuous influx of new students to support their multi-million dollar capital improvement projects, which are then used to recruit more students…and thus the cycle continues.
Finally, I want you to ask yourself why reformers only seem to be concerned about rigorous college- and career-standards for math and language arts. Why is there not a similar push for higher standards for the sciences, arts, music, history, philosophy, technology, world languages, citizenship, character, or good old-fashioned job skills? Who exactly decided that completion of college algebra was more vital to success in life than any other course?
Our high school graduates are not dumb. Far from it. However, if we only focus on our students’ deficiencies, we will never adequately prepare them for successful citizenship in the 21st century.
Maybe what we need to do is redefine dumb.
Dumb is telling all students they must go to college to be successful. Dumb is doubling down on a paradigm of high stakes testing and an outdated model for education that has changed little in fifty years. Dumb is raising academic standards for struggling students with the stated goal of reducing the achievement gap. Dumb is punishing students and teachers for low test scores instead of adequately addressing the inequities caused by poverty and segregation in our schools. Dumb is creating for-profit charters that skim off the best students while expecting the other schools’ test scores to go up. Dumb is stripping away teacher autonomy while expecting greater accountability. Dumb is disparaging educators and paying them low wages while saying we want the best and brightest to enter the teaching profession. Dumb is reducing funding for public schools while passing new unfunded mandates, administrative requirements, and setting higher expectations. Come to think of it, most of what the reformers are trying to perpetuate on our system of public schools is rather dumb.
Dumb is as dumb does.