I’m eager to jump into my sophomore year of college (just one week left of summer!), yet I’m still taken aback at how much more academically rigorous it is than high school. When I speak to peers, professors and others about education, we share similar concerns: college readiness and high school grad rates. Minnesota’s grad rate nears 80 percent. That’s average for the nation, especially the Midwest–let’s think about what this means.
College “ill” readiness and grad rates
Of the five players on each Minnesota high school basketball team, one of those students won’t graduate. That’s only partially my focus today; I also want to address the other four players, the ones who do graduate and maybe enroll in college. Here’s a difficult question: What can we do to get all students to graduate from high school–and prepare them for college success?
It’s not what we’re doing right now. Don’t take my word for it–look at the statistics:
According to MinnCAN’s 2013 ‘State of Minnesota Public Education’ report, “only 8 percent of black students are college-ready across all four subject areas, compared to 39 percent of white students.” There’s a great disparity among race, and also the fact that no group is statistically prepared for college. Let’s think back to those five athletes (students) on that basketball team. Statistically, even if all the players are from Minnesota’s highest-achieving subgroup, only two of the five are college-ready. Two out of five!
It gets worse.
The Minnesota Daily reports that of the Minnesota students who went to college in 2008, 40 percent needed remedial courses. Many of these students attend a public university, which means that taxpayers too often fund the same courses twice–in high school and in college.
What can we do?
My mother would say, “Reading is the magic key; it takes you where you want to be.” I think she’s right. As I observe my peers at college, reading is what we do. A foundation in critical reading helps students complete high school also helps them succeed in college.
Valuing high expectations, reading and learning
As students, we need high expectations and rigor to succeed.
For example, teachers can further emphasize reading to achieve this. My best high school teachers were the ones who best prepared me for college. They supported reading about their subject not just from a textbook, but for leisure, too. They often recommended articles and journals to read. They challenged me and I’m still thankful for their efforts.
But being proficient by state reading and math standards only means so much. Some proficient students–who went through “the motions” in high school–struggle to adapt to the demands and pressures of college. And the students whom I’ve observed thriving at college are more than excellent readers. Simply put, they love to learn. Parents, teachers and communities that focus on piquing students’ intellectual curiosity can instill this love of learning.
It also comes down to responsibility. As a state, if we expect our students to succeed, we must promote a culture where education is the priority. The TV should be turned off, at home and at school (I haven’t watched movies in college classes). Sports should be viewed as less important than schoolwork: that means a good test grade–an academic victory–should be rewarded more than an athletic victory. School trophy cases should be lined with profiles of successful students more than with the trophies of a conference championship 20 years ago. An English teacher should compliment a student on her math grade more than on her track performance.
That is what it takes: a shift in the culture.
Let’s think back to the Minnesota high school basketball team. The shooting guard is ready for college. But the center needs remedial math courses. The forwards aren’t college ready. And the point guard isn’t going to graduate.
Is our system working? Is everyone “just doing his or her best?”
What if your son is really good at basketball–if that’s his only way into college or a career (i.e., the pros)?
Well, according to CBS, just over 3 percent of senior high school boy’s basketball players end up on teams in college. And .03 percent eventually end up drafted by an NBA team. (For context, one would have a better chance of getting a hole in one in golf.)
My advice is simple: turn off the TV, make school more important than sports and pick up a book.
Ben Davis is a School Reform Blogging Fellow.