From the Editor

“The purpose of school [should be] college success.” This provocative statement was made recently by JB Schramm, CEO of College Summit, an American non-governmental organisation that partners with schools to boost a collegegoing culture among their students.

Made against the backdrop of the current US hoopla about teacher layoffs and evaluations, academic standards and student achievement scores, Schramm’s comment highlights the critical need for any nation to assess the relationship between its secondary and tertiary education systems. Only then, say many policy makers and researchers, can governments determine whether or not their schools are working.

College Summit works closely with the Data Quality Campaign, established by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation to help American states establish credible systems to track student academic progress post-high school. This is in response to Education Secretary Arne Duncan’s 2009 mandate to each school district to add college enrolment to the list of criteria by which to measure secondary school quality and success.

In 2010, the Data Quality Campaign found that all states are able to track the percentage of pupils who complete high schools; 41 states can deduce how many first-year college students will require remediation, and 34 states can pinpoint exactly which high school teachers consistently achieve the most progress ‘in-classroom’. Deloitte also weighs in annually on the research, finding in 2010 that 92% of American teachers say they don’t have enough data to understand or prepare for pupils’ college needs;  only 13% ever find out how their former pupils do after school, and 87% of those hear only anecdotal evidence from students themselves or from parents.

Deloitte’s Education Survey of 2009 also posited significant data: that 70% of high school graduates planned to go on to tertiary education. However, only 22% of that cohort was willing to concede that high school had prepared them adequately for higher education, and 28% of students who enrolled at college ended up having to take at least one remedial course in order to pass.

A more detailed understanding of the quality of the American education experience is obtained from another non-profit organisation, the National Student Clearinghouse, which tracks 92% of students at 3 300 colleges. School districts can pay the Clearinghouse to provide StudentTracker reports that identify how many students enrol at college within two years of completing high school, how many graduate from college, which colleges are the most popular, and how long, on average, students take to complete an undergraduate degree. The information – provided as raw data that can be disaggregated by race, ethnicity, gender and other breakdowns – is proving particularly useful to guidance teachers, who can use it to help current schoolchildren assess what knowledge and skills they’ll need to succeed in college.

Not everyone believes that high school students should naturally pass onto a tertiary education. While Deloitte says 42% of students from low-income American families believe that college preparation is the most important purpose of high school, it found that only 9% of teachers insist that schools exist only to prepare young people for college, while 38% of educators believe that the purpose of high school is rather to “help students master the subject [you] teach”, and 30% say it is to “teach students basic life skills”.

The next part of the debate must surely involve asking, in the current job-starved global climate, exactly what kinds of knowledge and which skills will serve school-leavers and economies best.

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Category: e-Education, Winter 2011

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