On TV, I saw an elementary principal being interviewed while standing next to a school bus. Instead of the name of the school, town, or county, the legend painted on the side of the bus was a motivational slogan. I don’t recall the exact words, but it was something like, “This bus is taking us to college.” The passengers were in the K-3 range.
Online, I read about a survey of high school students. Of the sampling, 87% said they hoped to obtain a college degree, but only 45% of the same group “feel positive about their college and career readiness.” About 10% of the latter may be overestimating their readiness for college.
According to the Eric government site, about 70% of college-bound high school students need some form of remediation; the most common problem is not that students cannot read words on the page. The problem is that they don’t know what the words mean.
The chief goal of elementary school principals and teachers working with grades K-3 is not to brainwash the little ones into thinking that they must go to college. It’s to ensure that children learn to read at their intellectual level by the end of third grade. The ones who do not will be academically handicapped from then on.
At the present rate, one of every four children who begin school does not finish high school. And of those who do manage to remain in school long enough to graduate, only about 35% are able to read at a high school level by the time they reach twelfth grade. Of those who go on to college, 40% do not finish.
As costs of college attendance rise, college enrollments decline. That is not necessarily a bad thing. The Web abounds in professorial complaints that entering college students “can’t write a complete sentence.” Perhaps colleges should limit enrollment to the college-ready.
For many reasons, not just economic, college is not for everyone. Constantly harping on the importance of “going to college” has the effect of making children believe that if they don’t go to college they are failures. This socially approved harassment goads students who are not academically inclined to put themselves in a situation that is both miserable and costly. It leads to a lowering of college academic standards in order to accommodate floods of unprepared, unmotivated students.
It also devalues the tax-supported formal education available in grades 9-12. I’ve had students in those grades defend their lack of application to their studies by assuring me that “when they get to college, they’ll straighten up.”
In the early grades, children should be given time to discover their interests and aptitudes while they are mastering the basic skills of reading, writing, and arithmetic.
By seventh- or eighth-grade, children will have some idea of what they want to do in life. Then’s the time to discuss post-twelfth-grade options, of which “college” is only one.
Even the architects of the Common Core Standards hedge the notion of “college for everyone” by linking the term career-readiness with college.
In previous generations, an eighth-grade education was sufficient to prepare young people for a variety of occupations.
A case in point is Chicago native Harry Selfridge. When he left school at 14, he was employable as a bookkeeper. With an eighth-grade education, he rose from poverty to marry into one of Chicago’s wealthiest families and went on to found the world-famous London department store that still bears his name.
Fully utilized, twelve to thirteen years of tax-supported education is enough to create the technically savvy workforce so desired by our corporate education patrons.
The key phrase is “fully utilized.” That means that teachers K-3 need to scrap such nonsense as “invented spelling” and provide all children with a solid foundation for literacy.
In Grades 4-8, non-academic activities should never require students to be absent from class on a regular basis.
In Grades 9-12, students should be able to pursue their interests by taking advantage of creative scheduling and online resources. Creative scheduling would make the following possible:
Athletes could opt out of classroom instruction and fit what academics they need between their hours of practice and travel.
Students not interested in an academic career could participate in work-study programs, acquiring experience that would make them employable as soon as they graduate with a high school diploma.
The college-bound students could take demanding courses appropriate to that avenue of study.
Every year, as soon as they reach school-leaving age, about a million young people drop out of high school.
Instead of filling the heads of children with dreams of “college” before they’ve learned to read and write at grade level, teachers in Grades K-8 need to focus on the fact that one in four of these children will not finish high school, let alone go on to college. Every teacher K-8 should teach their charges on the assumption that their formal education may end before they complete high school.
Not all of the children who begin first grade will go on to earn college degrees. But every single one of them will have a better life if they’ve acquired a level of basic literacy by the time they’ve completed the eighth grade.
Parents need to put their fingers in their ears and shut out the steady barrage of unrealistic hype about “every child going to college—especially when it’s directed at children under the age of fourteen. Basic eighth-grade literacy needs to come first.