April 10, 2007

High school failing to teach right subjects

This isn't surprising. At all.

What students learn in high school doesn't match with what they need to know as college freshmen, according to a national study released yesterday.

Professors believe high school teachers should cover fewer topics with more depth to prepare students for college. That is one of the findings of the survey by ACT, a nonprofit educational and testing organization.

But aren't college professors looking for creative students? Apparently, not.

“A really common complaint from (college) faculty is students not being able to put together a complete sentence properly,” said Erin Goldin, director of the Writing Center, which provides tutoring at Cal State San Marcos.

“When students come in here, . . . I try to explain the rules, but they don't seem to have learned the structure of a sentence.”


In writing, college instructors place more emphasis on the fundamentals – basic grammar, sentence structure and punctuation – than their high school counterparts.


Both groups agree on the critical reading skills needed to enter college. However, the survey found a general lack of reading instruction in high school. More attention to reading complex texts is needed, according to the study, not just in English and social studies, but also in math and science.

No, they just want them to be able to write a coherent sentence--something they can't do.

What about math and science? Don't college professors want students who can think outside the box and who have higher order thinking skills? Er, no.

High school teachers valued exposure to advanced math content to a greater degree than college faculty, who placed more emphasis on understanding the fundamental underlying math skills and processes.

High school teachers rated knowledge of science content as more important than understanding the science process and inquiry skills. College faculty valued the reverse.

Well, at least they agreed on a few things.

The ACT survey, which was completed by 6,568 middle and high school teachers and college faculty nationwide, showed disagreements in virtually every college-preparatory subject.

Or, not.


Anonymous said...

"What students learn in high school doesn't match with what they need to know as college freshmen, according to a national study released yesterday."

And how many times have I said the same thing?

"But aren't college professors looking for creative students? Apparently, not."

And how many times have I said the same thing?

"Don't college professors want students who can think outside the box and who have higher order thinking skills? Er, no."

And how many times have I said the same thing?

Anonymous said...

Students required to have reading ability in math? You mean, they want students that can read and understand a technical exposition?

The selling point of some publishers is this...

The easy to understand lessons speak directly to the student and are written in clear language (not "Mathese")

Here's some context. The consumers of these kinds of programs intentionally choose a math curriculum that limits the technical vocabulary of the student. I am talking about high school students, not second graders. After all, learning to read an explanation that uses proper terminology constitutes an activity reserved for the "gifted and talented."

After being exposed to the phrase "cross out the excess x's" about 3,000 times, is it any wonder they don't recognize the phrase "multiplicative inverse" or "multiplicative identity" when they get to college? Clearly the solution to this problem is for college textbook authors and instructors to recognize the fact that not everyone is going to be a mathematician and write using the same clarity and precision that is found in high school texts.

Anonymous said...

"is it any wonder they don't recognize the phrase "multiplicative inverse" or "multiplicative identity" when they get to college?"

One of the courses I taught was an intensive Excel course for freshmen, covering all the financial and statistical functions, but beginning with the assumption that students have never seen Excel before, so we spend the first couple of weeks doing formatting and basic functions and formulas. I found a few years ago that I could no longer say about using parentheses, "It works just like order of precedence in math," because they didn't know what I meant by order of precedence.

Anonymous said...

Prof, I hope Ken forgives me for hijacking this thread for just a moment. After reading his post above I went to a modern algebra text to see how they handled technical language. Sure enough, they justify a particular rule by having the student "observe a pattern" (flipping the sign when multiplying both sides of an inequality by a negative number)...so I went to Allen and Pearson's 1966 Algebra I text to see how they handled this. And in fact, it's given as a theorem, the proof of which is left as an exercise for the reader. I'd love to do a blog entry on this comparison but the different approaches are too foreign for anyone with less than a math degree to understand.

The irony is that the text with the "observe the pattern" approach is promoted as giving the student a "conceptual" understanding. But in general the multiplication properties of inequalities are not considered underlying "concepts" but rather mindless formalism.

In science the opposite seems to be true. They fill the book with formal terms and definitions but have the student do only superficial work with the concepts. I don't understand how it is that parents are pleased when their children come home with worksheets with big words such as endoplasmic reticulum, but when hit them with math vocabulary and they protest...unless it's invented math vocabulary. That's okay."Excess x's" is okay.

Anonymous said...

The lack of leadership from school principals here is appalling. We've got plenty of data and solutions, but they don't have the will to implement them. If they want to start closing these curricular gaps, they'd better get comfortable with saying "no" to some groups and "yes" to others. It isn't easy, but it's necessary.

Anonymous said...

There's a very simple division of labor here when it comes to educating students:

* K-12 schools are to make sure that students have solid mastery of the basic elements of academic subjects -- forming coherent sentences, doing basic arithmetic and algebra, etc.

* Colleges and universities are to make sure that students move beyond those basics toward higher-level understanding and creativity (including the application of basic ideas to new problems).

It ought to be painfully obvious that higher-level understanding and creativity is functionally impossible without mastery of the basics. Hence, K-12 comes before college. And there is nothing about this division of labor that makes K-12 inferior to college; the two kinds of education simply do very different things.

But what we're seeing these days is a complete reversal of roles. The K-12 people are abandoning the basics to teach higher-order thinking and creativity, and the college people are spending time doing triage on students who don't know the basics. Is it any wonder things are such a mess?

Mr. McNamar said...

Did I wake from a dream? I feel like I have been telling my pre-college english class these truths all year. In fact, I had one student tell the class, after I had an actual college professor score an essay, that if he had a professor who was that picky, he would drop the class and find a new teacher.
K-DeRosa, does direct instruction have a script I could read for that kid? Just make sure they edit out the profanity!

KDeRosa said...

Sounds like he needed the scripts back in elementary school.

I can send you an article on how to convert a content area subject into a DI-like class. Shoot me an email, its given in my profile.

You might want to check out the sixth grade levels in Reading Mastery (which covers literature) and Reasoning nad Writing. My first grader is probably putting together more coherent paragraphs than some of your students.

harriska2 said...

So why are the numbers taking remedial math at Oregon State Univ (remember, these are the kids *prepared* for college) increasing?

Not ready for college?

By Mary Ann Albright
Corvallis Gazette-Times

Evidence of lagging students has some at Oregon State hypothetically raising the question: Should the university boost its minimum GPA requirement?

What are the best ways to measure a high-school student’s readiness for college?

It’s more than just an academic question: Students entering college unprepared, admissions experts say, require more remedial classes, are more likely to leave after their freshman year and take longer to graduate.

Bill Bogley, Oregon State University math professor and associate dean of the University Honors College, said he and his colleagues have noticed a troubling increase in incoming students not able to handle an introductory college math course. Students also are lagging behind in other basic skills, including reading and writing, he noted.


“We all have experiences in the classroom that suggest that students’ abilities to come to campus and take college-level courses is slipping,” he said.