Wednesday, July 8, 2015

The Common Core applies to college

It used to be that K12 schools were supposed to prepare students for college. But increasingly it's colleges who are supposed to prepare for students.

Colleges are supposed to prepare, in particular, for the radically different students now graduating high school under the banner of the Common Core Standards. At least, that's the position taken by Harold G. Levine, the dean of the school of education at the University of California, Davis, and Michael W. Kirst, the president of the California state board of education and a professor emeritus of education at Stanford University.

In an April article in Edweek (I'm way behind), Levine and Kirst argue that colleges shouldn't be so focused on the degree to which the Common Core reduces the need to provide remedial level courses--after all, given how high the Standards are, and how deeply they've improved student learning, it goes without saying that such remediation needs will vanish. Rather:

As common-core implementation continues to expand and evolve in the K-12 system, how are the thousands of higher education faculty members who teach freshman and sophomore courses in English and mathematics (and the sciences, of course) preparing for their newly admitted students (roughly 3.3 million first-time freshmen projected for 2016), who will almost certainly have different expectations of what and how they learn and are taught? It is worrisome that we do not yet see the broad-based discussions, let alone planning initiatives, among either higher education leaders (including deans and department chairs) or, especially, their faculties and academic senates, to alter the curriculum or the pedagogy for all those introductory courses to take advantage of the new style of learning and teaching engendered by the common core.
Of course, the Common Core Standards are supposed to be pedagogically neutral. We know this because, whenever someone like me worries out loud that the Standards favor Constructivist principles like collaborative, inquiry-based, interdisciplinary, hands-on learning, or math that de-emphasizes algorithms in favor of "concepts" and "real-world application," a Common Core defender is quick to remind us all that the standards are pedagogically neutral. Nonetheless, according to Levine and Kirst:
What will be characteristic of common-core students entering college are learning experiences featuring more inquiry-based learning and collaborative problem-solving, sequenced skills by grade level and learning across the curriculum, and more hands-on work. In addition to the essential skills in math, students will focus on "conceptual" math, that is, understanding the reasoning behind the correct problem solution rather than the algorithm. They will also have experienced applying mathematical concepts to real-world problems, and will have been focused on fewer subject areas.
However pedagogically neutral these K12 "learning experiences" are, colleges, worry Levine and Kirst, are far from embracing them:
These are not likely to be the skill sets or course-taking experiences called for in the majority of today's college-level freshman and sophomore courses. Rather, these tend to be large-enrollment, minimally interactive, and textbook-based. For the sciences, there is likely to be a lab section, but as an adjunct to the lectures and where the experiments have known outcomes. Memorization of materials in the arts and sciences at the college level is critical to performing well on tests, as is performing procedures.
But the Common Core Standards offer hope:
We believe that with the support at the classroom level by university faculty and departments, and more concerted efforts toward the alignment of K-12 standards with higher education admission and "knowledge and skill" requirements, the common core that is implemented in our public K-12 schools will lead to a far more meaningful college learning experience for generations to come. It's now time to ensure that when the common core creates more "college ready" students, the colleges they enter are ready for them—and what they know and don't know, and how they have been taught to learn.
I've said it before, but I'll say it again now. For generations, parents and students the world over have clamored for admission into American colleges and universities. But how many are clamoring to get their kids into our elementary schools, junior highs, and high schools? People come to America for plenty of other reasons, but few, I'm guessing, come here for what's uniquely American about our K12 classrooms--whether it's first-generation Constructivism... or Common Core-inspired Constructivism 2.0.


Karen W said...

If the Common Core ensures that students are college ready, why do colleges need to change at all?

SteveH said...

This is another case of K-12 educational pedagogues trying to push their un-reality directly into the face of the reality of the real world. K-16 is driven from the pedagogues upward. Their assumptions of education are not based in reality so they have no ability to change. In fact, they think that real world competition and dynamics can be changed by what's in their heads. Just get that college piece of paper and everything will be great. That is unreal.

There seems to be two worlds in education. One is just talk and ed school philosophy and another actually teaches the (high school) classes that properly prepare kids for college. Why don't those teachers ever speak up? Perhaps, like me, the only thing to say is that they are completely wrong.