New goal: ‘Community college ready’

(Academic) college isn’t for everyone, wrote Fordham’s Mike Petrilli in Slate. Some students who are failing in college might succeed if they pursued job training, he argued.

It sparked a huge response. Many argued that students need college prep and career prep.

Others accused Petrilli of “the soft bigotry of low expectations” for low-income and minority students.

“Community college ready” should be the minimum goal for all cognitively able students, responded Sandy Kress, an aide to George W. Bush. That means high school graduates should be prepared to take academic or vocational classes at a community college without the need for remediation.

Kress “prays” that “CTE advocates make these courses as rigorous and valued as they promise they will, and not just a dodge for them to avoid teaching and learning in the so-called old fashioned courses.” In the past, dead-end vocational education has been a “trap” for low-income and minority kids, writes Kress.

Preparing Today’s Students for Tomorrow’s Jobs in Metropolitan America, edited by Penn Professor Laura Perna, looks at the gap between school and the workforce.

Check out “Nancy Hoffman’s excellent chapter on career and technical education,” advises Liz McInerny on Education Gadfly. Education and training for a specific calling  would keep students in school and on track for decent jobs, Hoffman writes.

CCs launch Workforce Credentials Coalition

The Workforce Credentials Coalition, led by the California and North Carolina community college systems, held its first meeting this week at the New America Foundation. More than 20 states and industry and professional certifying bodies will share job-readiness data.

Colleges need to track credential attainment data, says R. Scott Ralls, North Carolina Community College System president. The coalition hopes to “move toward a secure, accessible national credential data warehouse.”

Currently, students don’t know if a community college program will help them pass a certifying exam and community colleges don’t know if they’re preparing students to meet industry requirements.  “We are hoping with this coalition to tell the story on how validated credentials are beneficial to our students entering the workforce,” says Renah Wolzinger, who works for the California community college system.

California also is rolling out LaunchBoard, which tracks student outcomes and job skills development.

A case study about the credentials coalition is in included in a new Workforce Data Quality Campaign report, Credential Data Pioneers.

Six years of high school (with job training)?

President Obama’s visit to Brooklyn’s P-Tech spotlighted the idea of combining high school, community college and job training, reports the New York Times. After six years at P-Tech, graduates are “first in line” for jobs at IBM, which helped create the school. Some have earned an associate degree.

Is P-Tech the wave of the future? asks the Times‘ Room for Debate blog.

P-Tech ties school directly to an interesting job, writes Amanda Ripley, author of The Smartest Kids in the World.

Very few U.S. students attend “high-quality vocational programs tightly aligned with industry needs,” she writes.

In Switzerland, Norway and Denmark, vocational students spend half to three-quarters of their schooling in work placements.

That kind of vivid experience helps kids see into the future; they can connect the dots between what they are doing in school and how interesting their lives can be.

.  . America abandoned vocational high schools for good reason, decades ago: too many were second-rate warehouses for minority and low-income kids. But now that all decent jobs require higher-order skills, there’s an opportunity to get this right. American employers want higher-order skills, and American teenagers want more interesting work. The sooner they get together, the better.

Aiming at a moving target like the job market is dangerously short-sighted,” warns Zachary Hamed, a computer science student at Harvard.

IBM’s Stan Litow calls for P-Tech-like options for students on the Shanker Blog.

“Young people who enter the workforce with only a high school diploma are expected to earn no more than $15 per hour, and many will earn less,” he writes. Yet only 25 percent of high school graduates who enroll in community college complete a degree in six years.

IBM analyzed a community college freshman class. “Nearly 100 percent of community college freshmen who required two remedial courses—with one of them being math—failed to complete even one postsecondary semester,” Litow writes. A majority of these students dropped out of college within two months.

Employers: Grads aren’t prepared for work

Most employers say college graduates aren’t prepared for work, reports Bridge That Gap: Analyzing the Student Skill Index, a Chegg survey.  Half of college students said they felt very or completely prepared for work in their field of study. Thirty-nine percent of employers said recent graduates they’d interviewed were well-prepared.

Students overvalue their mastery of “business basics,” according to employers, notes Inside Higher Ed.

Those include “creating a budget or financial goal” and “writing to communicate ideas or explain information clearly” (each show a 22 percentage-point gap), and “organization” (25 percentage points). In the widest gap, at 27 percentage points, 77 percent of students but only half of hiring managers reported preparation for “prioritizing work.”

Students fared the best at “making a decision without having all the facts.” About 47 percent of students said they were prepared to do that, and 37 percent of hiring managers said the same of recent graduates.

More than 90 percent of hiring managers are looking for graduates who’ve shown initiative and leadership. They also look for extracurriculars, internships and work related to applicants’ field of study. Only a third of college graduates have spent time gaining experience in their field.

Chegg also looked at “Office Street Smarts” by asking five questions:

1. Can graduates make a persuasive argument to convince others to adopt their ideas?
2. Can they write to encourage action or make a specific request?
3. Were they able to communicate with authority figures and clients?
4. Can they collaborate with people from diverse backgrounds?
5. Can they complete a project as part of a team?

Again, students “have an over-inflated sense” of their communications and collaboration skills.

STEM graduates were “slightly better prepared” to explain information and solve problems through experimentation, employers said.

After 12th grade, it’s back to middle school

Community college means a return to middle school for many students, writes Kenneth Terrell in The Atlantic, citing a recent National Center on Education and the Economy report on college and career readiness. “A large fraction of students are leaving the 12th grade with a high-school diploma, and they’re about to begin a course of studies at the 8th grade level,” said Marc Tucker, president of the NCEE.

NCEE randomly selected one community college in each of seven states, then examined eight of the most popular programs–accounting, automotive technology, biotech/electrical technology, business, criminal justice, early childhood education, information technology/computer programming, nursing, and the general education track. NCEE researchers examined the programs’ textbooks, assignments and exams to see what math and English skills truly were necessary to succeed.

While the researchers found that “the reading and writing currently required of students in initial credit-bearing courses in community colleges is not very complex or cognitively demanding,” the report’s math findings are even more striking. The report also states that middle school math–”arithmetic, ratio, proportion, expressions and simple equations”–were more central to the community college math courses than the Algebra II most high schools emphasize in college readiness programs. “What really is needed in our community colleges–and really for the majority of Americans in the work that they do–is middle school math,” Tucker said.

Raising admission standards would exclude most would-be community college students. And for what purpose?  Only a few “will ever need to use advanced math skills in college or the workplace,” according to NCEE, which equates requiring advanced algebra to requiring Latin. ”It looks like we’re denying high school graduates the opportunity to take credit-bearing courses because they can’t master math that they don’t need, and that seems very unfair,” Tucker said.

North Carolina OKs readiness diplomas

In a few years, high school graduates in North Carolina will earn diplomas showing their readiness for university, community college or careers, reports the Raleigh News & Observer. Each seal requires a minimum 2.6 grade point average, basically a C+.

To earn the community college readiness seal, graduates must have completed Algebra II or integrated math III.

In February, the community college board decided graduates with a minimum 2.6 GPA can skip placement tests and start in college-level courses. The system’s research showed that 20 percent of students placed in remedial courses could have succeeded at the college level. High school grades are the best predictor of college success, the study concluded.

To earn the career readiness seal, students must

take four career/technical courses, score well on ACT’s WorkKeys exam, or have an industry-recognized credential, such a car repair certificate, Microsoft suite certification, or SAS programmer credentials.

NCEE: Rethink readiness

What Does It Really Mean to Be College and Work Ready? Community colleges expect little of first-year students — and get even less, concludes the National Center on Education and The Economy.

The report paints a grim picture.

High school graduates have trouble reading textbooks written at the 11th- to 12th-grade level, so instructors provide study aids to help poor readers get by. Students do little writing. When they do write, ”instructors tend to have very low expectations for grammatical accuracy, appropriate diction, clarity of expression, reasoning and the ability to present a logical argument or offer evidence in support of claims.”

Despite taking high school algebra, geometry and often advanced algebra, most students are placed in remedial math. They’re not prepared for “college math,” which amounts to “Algebra 1.25,” basic algebra with a bit of geometry and statistics. Yet what students most need to succeed in college courses is mastery of “middle school mathematics, especially arithmetic, ratio, proportion, expressions and simple equations.”

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Community colleges enroll 45 percent of U.S college students: About half hope to earn a bachelor’s degree, while the rest are pursuing a vocational credential, NCEE estimates.

It’s not enough for community colleges to raise expectations, the report concludes.

We need to bear in mind that a very large fraction of high school graduates does not meet the very low expectations that community colleges currently have of them. The nation may have to learn to walk before it runs, which means that it is important, first, to enable our high school students to meet the current very low standards before we ratchet those standards up.

Common Core Standards, if implemented well, will help, eventually, the report concludes. But there’s a long way to go.

Researchers analyzed textbooks, tests, assignments, student work and grading at seven community colleges in different states. The study focused on general education and popular career programs: Accounting, Automotive Technology, Biotech/Electrical Technology, Business, Criminal Justice, Early Childhood Education, Information Technology/Computer Programming 1 and Nursing.

Only one program at one college required mastery of advanced algebra, the study found.

Increasingly, high schools are requiring students to take Algebra I, Geometry and Algebra II, with hopes they’ll make it to Calculus. That should be only one option, the report recommends.

Mastery of Algebra II is widely thought to be a prerequisite for success in college and careers. Our research shows that that is not so. . . . fewer than five percent of American workers and an even smaller percentage of community college students will ever need to master the (algebra to calculus) sequence in their college or in the workplace.

Students shouldn’t take algebra till they really understand middle-school math, the report advises.  If they wait till 10th grade, that’s OK. They can study statistics, data analysis, applied geometry and/or mathematical modeling to prepare for a range of careers.

States should “build alternative math pathways through the last two years of high school that are aligned with student interests and career plans,” says Harvard Education Professor Robert Schwartz. “If the Report’s assertion is correct —that only 5 percent of jobs require the mathematics embodied in the calculus pathway —then our education system should focus more on the mathematics that most young people will actually use in their civic and work life, e.g. statistics, data, probability.”

However, the path to 12th-grade calculus usually starts with eighth-grade algebra. At 12 or 13, students would have to decide whether they’re aiming for a university degree in engineering or science. Imagine a STEM-prep track for 5 percent of students — or even 20 percent — with everyone else preparing for a low-tech university degree or a community college job training program. The future engineers and physicists are likely to predominantly Asian-American, white, middle class and male.

An all-day conference on the report will be livestreamed today starting at 9 am EDT.

Oregon may require college credit in high school

Oregon may require all high school students to pass college-level classes, reports Diverse.

A bipartisan group of legislators has introduced a bill that would require college coursework as a condition of graduating from high school. The move would increase the number of students going to college, make their degrees more affordable and encourage students not considering college to continue in higher education, said Sen. Mark Hass, a Beaverton Democrat who is the bill’s chief sponsor.

Oregon students must pass 24 high school classes to earn a diploma. In its current form, Senate Bill 222 would require six of those classes earn college credit, starting with the class of 2020. It promises funding — how much is unstated — to train high school teachers to teach college-level courses.

It’s nice to know Oregon students are so accomplished that all can be expected to complete high school work in three years and move on to college work.

A North Carolina bill backed by Gov. Pat McCrory would create a “career ready” diploma in addition to a “college ready” diploma. The bill passed the Senate unanimously and is headed for the House. “Career and technical teacher licensing requirements also would be revised to help develop more teachers in those fields,” reports AP.

CC will evaluate ‘soft skills’

“Soft skills,” such as punctuality and teamwork will be factored into grades for many students at Asheville-Buncombe Technical Community College in North Carolina, reports Inside Higher Ed. Next year, the college will issue workplace readiness certificates in addition to traditional credentials.

Located in Asheville, N.C., A-B Tech, as it is commonly known, has developed a template that helps faculty members determine how to incorporate eight primary workplace expectations into grading, including personal responsibility, interdependence and emotional intelligence. Soft skills should count for 8 to 10 percent of grades in courses that adopt those guidelines, college officials said.

“We’re teaching our students to walk the walk,” said Jean B. Finley, an instructor of business computer technologies.

A-B Tech will grade students on how they work with classmates in study groups and interact with instructors in professionally worded e-mails.

The main goal is to encourage students to take personal responsibility and display a strong work ethic, said Melissa Quinley, A-B Tech’s vice president of instructional services.

. . . Quinley said local employers are generally pleased with the technical and academic accomplishments of A-B Tech students. But soft skills can be a problem. For example, she said the college recent held a focus group with welding companies, where some participants said A-B Tech graduates were talented and got the welding part, but that some showed up late for work too often.

Students don’t pick up “soft skills” by osmosis, writes Community College Dean. Teaching students “the rules of the game”  is the egalitarian thing to do.

I’ve been to more than my share of employer advisory boards over the last dozen years, at three different colleges.  They’re remarkably consistent; every time, the feedback is that we’re doing well with the specific technical skills, but that many students arrive with serious gaps in communication, presentation and general employee conduct.

Students need to understand the importance of punctuality, meeting deadlines and communicating frustration in an acceptable way in the workplace, the dean writes.  ”The odd blend of surface egalitarianism and deep hierarchy that defines many workplaces can be a minefield if you don’t know how to read it.”

Years ago, I did a series on welfare reform for the San Jose Mercury News. Two of the long-term welfare mothers we followed found jobs — and ran into trouble because they didn’t know unspoken workplace rules.

Disconnect puts top students in remedial ed

Despite California’s strong content standards, many high school graduates aren’t ready for college-level classes or careers, write Bill Tucker and Anne Hyslop in Education Sector’s new report, Ready by Design: A College and Career Agenda for California. They discovered a disconnect between what high school English classes are teaching and what colleges expect students to be able to do.

San Diego County’s West Hills High School has many of the hallmarks of a solid school. Its middle-class students consistently master state standards, perform well on state achievement tests, and graduate at a high rate. But four years ago, school leaders realized they had a big problem. A stunning 95 percent of the top students in senior English courses who were headed to nearby community colleges failed the colleges’ English placement tests.

. . . Alarmed, West Hills’ teachers joined with faculty at the Grossmont-Cuyamaca Community College District to see what had gone awry. They investigated years of student transcripts, exchanged lesson plans, and shared curricula.

They discovered high school students who’d done well in literature classes weren’t prepared for college classes that required “argumentation skills, analytical thinking, and writing clearly to inform, persuade, and describe.” (When I was in high school, we did nothing but expository writing, but that was before the invention of the journal.)

High school teachers revamped their English classes and persuaded local community colleges to let A and B English students skip the placement test and start in college-level courses. Success rates are high –86 percent — for West Hills graduates.

California needs to assess whether high schools are preparing students to succeed in college — not just enroll — and in careers, the report ecommends. The state’s Academic Performance Index looks only at test scores and graduation rates.

In addition to test scores, Florida measures participation and successful completion of advanced coursework like AP, IB, and dual enrollment, and industry certifications and performance on college entrance exams, Tucker and Hyslop write. “Although these additional measures are only predictors of preparedness, they are more closely related to desired outcomes than state test scores alone.”