Magazine article Black Issues in Higher Education

THE LAST WORD: A Case for Higher Academic Standards

Magazine article Black Issues in Higher Education

THE LAST WORD: A Case for Higher Academic Standards

Article excerpt

THE LAST WORD: A Case for Higher Academic Standards.

A recent University of Chicago study found that only 42 percent of eighth-graders from low-income families expect to earn college degrees, compared with 89 percent of their wealthier counterparts. Yet all of these youngsters will soon be competing in a market where two out of three new jobs will require some post-secondary education, according to U.S. Department of Labor statistics. In this era of diminished hopes for the undereducated, the poor will continue to face dead-end jobs and inadequate public services. And while their better-educated peers may enjoy higher-paying jobs, they, too, will confront the consequences of continuing economic fragility and dislocation.

The Shape of New Reforms

Educators bear a major responsibility in averting this scenario. By raising academic standards and focusing on teaching skills that directly prepare students for jobs, we can offer the opportunity to build the brain power that is the basis of a decent, self-sufficient life. Such reform would be based on a clear curricular alignment between all grade levels and across all educational segments. The heart of the initiative would be higher, performance-based standards. Its results would be good jobs and useful learning opportunities that would advance our nation's traditionally underserved students.

The new and higher standards would, first and foremost, mean rethinking how we educate. They would rest on mastery of core foundations: reading, writing, and math in the lower grades; technology, critical thinking, and appreciation of language, arts, and culture at the upper levels. Universities would determine the competencies needed for entry-level work at their institutions. And a high school diploma would actually reflect its bearer's work skills and readiness for college courses.

Such standards would also transform the dynamic between teachers and students. In a climate focused on building work skills and higher academic attainment, each new mastery would be viewed as its own achievement, opening a door to new educational attainments. Such an approach would go a long way toward relieving the frustration of failure experienced by so many of today's minority students.

If we were bold and daring, we might even consider abandoning course units and focus instead on measuring performance. We would consider adopting new ways to "credential" our students' knowledge and skills. We would apply learning more directly to the real world and require students to be more accountable for their own learning. Educational segments would jointly measure the effectiveness of teaching. …

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