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College and Career Readiness

May 10, 2012

The new old mantra with the current leadership at the SDE is that schools need to make students more college and career ready. I think we can all agree that this is a worthwhile goal. Nobody wants to see children who fail to reach the end of high school or who reach the end of high school without a plan for the future and the skills to achieve that plan.

A favorite speaker of the SDE is Tom Vander Ark, who after visiting Oklahoma recently, wrote about the conference he attended in a blog post. He wrote that “about one third of our students are really college and career ready (and that may be a generous estimate).” He may have been speaking of Oklahoma specifically, or the nation in general. It’s hard to say.

Here’s what the facts tell us. Using 2010-11 data as a reference point, we can see that the 4-year dropout rate for the state of Oklahoma is 10.2 percent. Of the 89.8 percent of students who do not drop out, 97.9 percent graduate at the end of their senior year. Of the students who graduate, 54.4 percent go to college. That gives leaves us with 47.8 percent of students who should be graduating then attending college.

We know of course that college isn’t for everybody; many students participate in Career Tech programs in high school. The most recent data show that 53.8 percent of seniors did in 2010. While many of those students aren’t necessarily career ready, some are. And some of them may be the same students who go to college.

In any case, clearly the number is greater than we’re being told. And still, it’s not high enough. That’s where I agree completely with reformers of the past and the present. We need to be preparing students to do something meaningful the day they finish high school.

Throwing out a statistic such as “a third” and then deflating your own estimate by calling it “generous” is a great way to stir the public. If you make your living by (1) writing and speaking about taking education from the classroom and moving it to the computer; and (2) investing in learning content platforms, you have a vested interest in perpetuating the myth that public education has failed. This is one reason why the education reform movement itself needs reforming.

Those of us who work with students every day know that the complexity of their lives is a variable not often considered by the SDE officials who haven’t put the hours into instruction. We also know better than they that in promoting reforms that ignore those issues, they will create a system that will be less likely to level the playing field. I suspect they know this too.

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