Are High School Grads Well-prepared for College?….Well…(Cough)

One of
the purposes of Common Core, the
initiative to draft new standards for math and English, was to align secondary
curricula with the demands of college.  The presumption was that high
school expectations simply fell short of first-year college coursework and the
standards it set.  Further evidence of mismatch came out this week in
a survey
of high school and college teachers by ACT that uncovered a glaring division of
opinion. While 89 percent of high school teachers declared their students “well
prepared” or “very well prepared” for college in the subjects they teach, only
percent of college teachers agreed.

ACT’s recommendation is for high
school teachers to receive more professional development that familiarizes them
with actual college-readiness benchmarks.  That means, however,
challenging some of the popular pedagogies of high schools today, for instance,
the preference for topical contemporary readings over traditional offerings of
ancient and modern classics (broad reading of works spanning the ages produces
more cultural literacy of the kind presumed by many college courses), the
emphasis on collaborative projects (one finding of Academically Adrift
was that the more students study by themselves, the higher their achievement),
and more “core” courses and fewer electives (according
to the College Board

SAT takers who reported completing a core curriculum
performed better on the SAT than those who did not complete a core curriculum”).

Given the
investment many secondary educators have in these popular pedagogies, college
readiness may serve as an effective constraint.  Instead of saying, “Well,
we should assign more contemporary novels, not old classics, because they are
more relevant to the students,” college-readiness forces them to ask, “Which
books will best prepare them for U.S. history 101, freshman comp, Survey of
Western Philosophy, Ancient Art and Architecture, and other common first-year


  • Mark Bauerlein

    Mark Bauerlein is a professor emeritus of English at Emory University and an editor at First Things, where he hosts a podcast twice a week. He is the author of five books, including The Dumbest Generation Grows Up: From Stupefied Youth to Dangerous Adults.

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