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Technical Education Consortium (NASDCTEc)

Community Colleges in the Spotlight

This week, the National Center for Education and the Economy released a new report at a day-long event in Washington, DC. The report – “What Does It Mean to Be College and Work Ready?” –  explores the first-year expectations for students across nine different disciplines (Accounting, Automotive Technology, Biotech/Electrical Technology, Business, Criminal Justice, Early Childhood Education, Information Technology/Computer Programming, Nursing, and General Studies) in mathematics and English Language Arts, and finds that there is a misalignment between what students learn in high school and what they need to know for success in their first year at community college.

Specifically in mathematics, the report finds that the first-year expectations are rarely above the Algebra I bar and largely focus on mathematics taught in middle school. The report identifies some key content areas that are typically untaught in high school, namely schematics, geometric visualization, and complex applications of measurement. One recommendation is to refocus K-12 mathematics instruction so students can gain a deeper conceptual understanding of the foundational knowledge and skills in elementary and middle school mathematics rather than rushing them to, and through, advanced course-taking in high school.

In English, the report finds that while the texts assigned in the first-year of community college programs are at the 11th and 12th grade level, the assignments and tests demand little from students by way of reading comprehension or writing – or, in other words, there is high text complexity but low test rigor. The Common Core State Standards’ focus on discipline-specific literacy, reading informational texts, and writing from evidence should help shore up students’ abilities in these areas, but community colleges will need to adjust their instruction in kind.

Over the course of six panel discussions, a number of topics were explored, but two themes came up time and again, the first being the tradeoff between community colleges shifting their mission away from providing open access to all students to the accountability-driven goal of retaining students. The question was raised, but largely unanswered, of whether this shift has led community colleges to lower their expectations and standards for incoming students to ensure more stay enrolled and complete. On the other hand, remediation has long been an issue among community colleges and hasn’t dramatically improved since institutions have begun to focus on completion.

The other major theme discussed was the need for more curricular pathways for students in high school, particularly in mathematics. While the report recommends that Algebra II no longer be required for all students, most of the panelists agreed that Algebra II still had value to students, but that there need to be more contextualized learning opportunities for students, based on their learning styles and post-high school interests.

What struck me about the event is that Career Technical Education (CTE) has long been tackling the challenges and opportunities raised in the report and event including building partnerships between K-12 and community college and between community colleges and employers, and offering contextualized learning pathways to students. While CTE was barely mentioned (explicitly) over the course of the day – and is not mentioned at all in the report – it is a major component of any strategy to address students’ readiness for college and careers.

Click here to read the report and watch video from the release event.

Kate Blosveren, Associate Executive Director

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