Academic journal article Phi Delta Kappan

College Knowledge: An Interview with David Conley: Almost Everything the U.S. Is Doing Right Now to Connect Students with College Is Probably Necessary-But It's Not Sufficient If We Want More Students to Be Successful in College

Academic journal article Phi Delta Kappan

College Knowledge: An Interview with David Conley: Almost Everything the U.S. Is Doing Right Now to Connect Students with College Is Probably Necessary-But It's Not Sufficient If We Want More Students to Be Successful in College

Article excerpt

KAPPAN: How did you come to be interested in college readiness?

CONLEY: It was a nonlinear journey with different pathways that converged. In the late 1960s and early 1970s, I helped set up and run a couple of different public multicultural alternative schools and really learned a lot about the capabilities of students whom the system had identified as not being particularly able or successful. But when I worked with these kids, I realized what incredible talents they had. I came away from that with a belief that we needed higher expectations and higher aspirations for those students. But I didn't really know how to do that.

In those schools, you tend to wear a lot of hats, so I was both a teacher and an administrator. Discipline and attendance were the big focus and, in one school, that often meant going to kids' houses to find out why they weren't in school. That got me into their homes and their neighborhoods and really introduced me to the ecology of their lives. That influenced me powerfully.

In the 1980s, I held a number of administrative positions in school districts before I made the transition from being an assistant superintendent into higher education in 1989.

At that point, I had 20 years in public education on the K-12 side and a real feel for the issues and challenges there. When I went into higher education, the disconnect between those systems became really obvious and very striking to me.

Then, in Oregon, I started working on high school reform legislation, and I learned that the postsecondary system had not JOAN RICHARDSON is editor-in-chief of Phi Delta Kappan. been a party to those discussions. Part of my work was trying to connect the high school reforms with college admissions. Oregon's mastery certificates assumed students would have high knowledge and skill levels. Why not align the certificates with college entrance skill levels and admit students who demonstrated the necessary proficiencies? This would theoretically give all students a clearer and more direct road to being college ready.

The tie back into my earlier experiences in alternative schools was that it was really obvious to me that the goal should not be just to prepare kids who already were going to go to college. But the goal should be to have more students end up going on to college by aligning what they did in high school with what they needed to be college ready. The goal was to get more kids ready. To do that, you had to have a system that was more transparent, that made it clearer what all kids had to do to be ready, but particularly those who hadn't seen themselves as "college material."

COLLEGE KNOWLEDGE

KAPPAN: You use the phrase "college knowledge" to describe what students need to know before they head to college. What do you mean by that phrase?

CONLEY: It means several things. First, it means having an understanding of the key content knowledge that prepares them for entry-level courses. Not every detail, necessarily, but the big ideas and core concepts. Second, and perhaps most important, they need a set of key cognitive strategies that allows them to apply in complex ways what they know and are learning. They must be able to select strategies to formulate a problem, conduct independent research, interpret conflicting explanations of a phenomenon, and express themselves appropriately in writing and speech. Third, they need to be able to manage themselves. This means setting goals, studying individually and in groups, managing their time, and being persistent with challenging tasks. Finally, they need to know everything involved with the process of selecting a college, applying, securing financial aid, and then getting along with professors and students with diverse opinions and backgrounds once they get there. These are the four major dimensions of college readiness. Students who master these have strong "college knowledge."

DISCONNECTING EDUCATION

KAPPAN: You argue that the disconnect between the K-12 system and the higher ed system is one of those structural issues that stymies many students whose families don't have experience with a college education. …

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