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No Child Left Behind embraces 'college and career readiness'

The current buzz phrase in education is 'college and career readiness.' It's even part of Obama's vision for a revised No Child Left Behind law. But what does it mean? Is it real progress in education reform?

By / Staff writer / March 23, 2010

Students work in a common area at Quincy College, in Quincy, Mass. Many schools have shifted their focus from graduation rates to career readiness.

Taylor Weidman/The Christian Science Monitor



Read any article on education these days, and chances are you'll come across the words "college- and career-ready." It's the catchphrase du jour – the goal of almost every education reformer on both the right and the left.

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It's also the aim of the Common Core State Standards for student academic achievement across America, a draft report released earlier this month by the National Governors Association and the Council of Chief State School Officers.

In addition, the Obama administration's recently released proposal for rewriting the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) Act of 2001 calls for doing away with the 2014 goal of 100 percent proficiency in reading and math in favor of getting all students college- and career-ready by the time they graduate from high school.

Many education advocacy groups have already shifted their focus from simply raising graduation rates to making sure that students who graduate are ready for the next step.

But it's not always clear how such a shift toward college- and career- readiness standards would change the current education system.

What does 'college- and career-ready' mean?

Loosely, it means ensuring that students are prepared for college-level courses upon matriculation, or for a job that can support a family.

Another definition, suggested by Marc Tucker, president of the National Center on Education and the Economy, is whatever skills are required to succeed in credit-bearing courses at the community-college level.

Shouldn't graduation from high school mean that students are ready for the next step?

Currently, between 30 and 40 percent of students enrolling in college require at least one remedial class. Such courses don't give credits, don't qualify for tuition aid, and contribute to America's abysmal college completion rate: About half of all students who start college never finish. In a survey that the standards-advocate group Achieve conducted several years ago, employers said that about 40 percent of the high school graduates they hired didn't have the skills to advance in their jobs.

Is there agreement on what the standards should be?

The Common Core standards are the ones with the most buy-in so far. They emphasize cognitive skills – such as the ability to analyze a text coherently; write clearly and logically; and demonstrate precise, strategic mathematical thinking – in addition to core subject knowledge.

Some educators say an even broader range of attributes is necessary to succeed in college.

Any true measurement of college readiness has to include self-management skills and knowledge about the culture of college – including how to choose and apply to the right one – as well as academic skills and content knowledge, says David Conley, director of the Center for Educational Policy Research at the University of Oregon in Eugene.