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?
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"What students need to know in high school is not every detail," says Professor Conley. "They need a structure of knowledge, big ideas, and large organizing concepts."Skip to next paragraph
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Is there a difference between college and career readiness?
It depends on whom you ask. The skills needed in college and at a job with a viable career path are very similar, says Mike Cohen, president of Achieve. This indicates, he adds, that high schools should be preparing every student for college-level work.
Others say there are some distinctions between college and job preparedness, although less research has been done on career readiness.
"They need to be a little more clear about what jobs they're really referencing," says Michael Kirst, a professor emeritus of education at Stanford University in California, who adds that the lack of specificity about "career readiness" is a weakness of the proposed common standards.
What progress has already been made?
Thirty-one states now have college- and career-ready standards, according to an Achieve report this year. That's up from the three that the organization counted five years ago.
Eight states, meanwhile, have signed on with Mr. Tucker's organization to begin measuring how well students measure up to such standards.
What tools do we have to measure college and career readiness?
Very few, which leads some critics to say that reformers are getting ahead of themselves. Almost everyone agrees that the current exams – generally computer-scored, multiple-choice tests designed for efficiency – are poor at measuring the sort of complex analytical skills and reasoning that are key to college readiness. The Obama administration has promised $350 million to help states develop good assessments.
Conley, of the University of Oregon, envisions a combination of teachers' assessments of skills that are hard to measure on tests and exams that require more sophisticated student responses, which will be graded partly by the teacher and partly by the state.
"It's harder to measure these skills, but it's not impossible," says Tucker. "The only way you can find out if students can write a decent 20-page history research paper is to ask them to write a 20-page research paper."
Is this a real change or just a repackaging of old goals?
Changing the standards without changing curricula, teacher training, and accountability would do little, but most advocates of college and career readiness hope it will eventually affect every aspect of the current system.
"Up until this time, our testing system has been designed as normative tests: Compare student A to all other students," says Tucker. "Now we're saying, here's a fixed standard and we have to get all or almost all kids to it. That's a shift of enormous proportions."
The change is much needed, says Conley. "If we don't get this right, I have a hard time seeing how the United States economy is going to maintain its place in the world. If we create two classes of people in this society – those who have access to these kinds of cognitive strategies and knowledge jobs and those who don't – the gap is going to continue to grow dramatically."