Magazine article Black Issues in Higher Education

Thinking K-16

Magazine article Black Issues in Higher Education

Thinking K-16

Article excerpt

Once again, higher education and K-12 officials try to align standards.

WASHINGTON -- A group of 18 higher education leaders, most of whom are university system chancellors and presidents, joined with 10 state school superintendents last month to pledge that they will each do their part to ensure that all high school students are prepared for college-level work.

In a statement titled, "With Renewed Hope -- and Determination," the higher education and K-12 leaders said: "Our nation is not longer well served by an education system that prepares a few to attend college to develop their minds for learned pursuits while the rest are expected only to build their muscles for useful labor. In the 21st century, all students must meet higher achievement standards in elementary, secondary, and post-secondary schools and thus be better prepared to meet the challenges of work and citizenship."

The higher education leaders who signed their names to the statement (see Pledge, nextpage) hail from the West Coast to the East Coast, with several large systems in between. Along with their K-12 counterparts, they identified four commitments that will be necessary to make their goal achievable:

* All high school graduates must meet high standards.

* School systems will hire only teachers who can bring all students to high standards.

* Colleges and universities will accept only students who meet high standards.

* Colleges and universities will ensure that all teacher candidates are prepared to bring student performance to high standards.

By outlining those goals -- two of which are primarily the responsibility of higher education and two of which are the responsibility of K-12 systems -- the signatories say they recognize the "inseparable connections among the elementary, secondary and post-secondary sectors of the education system."

Among other things, the signatories call for all students to be placed in a competitive curriculum aligned with the standards for admission and placement in college.

Some of the signatories represent states that are fairly far along in aligning those standards. In Maryland, for example, Dr. Donald Langenberg, chancellor of the University of Maryland System, and Dr. Nancy Grasmick, state school superintendent, have said that within a few years the standards for high school graduation and university admission and placement will match. They have already aligned the course descriptions and requirements of community college and four-year courses in the core academic areas, for example.

However, the high school/college requirements remain misaligned. For example, Algebra II is not required for high school graduation, and many K-12 leaders publicly dispute that it should be. Yet, the covered material in that course is required before students qualify to take college-level mathematics in almost all public colleges. The result of this mismatch is that as many as half the students who go on to Maryland public colleges need remediation in mathematics.

"That is one of the great divides between us and them," Langenberg says in a phone interview. "College faculty know that Algebra II is necessary to be able to do college math."

When asked if he thought that requiring high school students to complete Algebra II would strain the resources of K-12 systems, Langeberg says, "A lot of things that have to happen will strain the resources. And those resources have to be enhanced. …

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