In yesterday's Trenton Times retired teacher Frank Breslin took aim at one of the many debasements of public education created by well intentioned but misguided public policy, a debasement that has had a profoundly negative impact on our colleges, high schools, and the students caught in the middle.
I am glad to see other voices out there in the "reform community" challenging one of the most destructive "truisms" in education today, that being the so-called "right" of everyone to go to college. Now obviously everyone has a right to college in the sense that there can be no justification for discriminating against anyone who qualifies for college, but this belief that college is the necessary ends of high school if one is to have a "better life" has had a dumbing effect on education from the college level on down.
Colleges are now faced with the need to provide ever more remedial courses to incoming freshmen. Remedial courses!!?? The high schools are facing a similar problem in its curriculum, as the "right" to take honors and AP courses, mainly due to the ridiculous policy of "parental overrides," has diluted these courses and negatively impacted the rigor and quality of many course offerings, with the most damning effect being on the students at the "upper end of the curve."
The reasons for this primacy given to a college education range from the colleges themselves to our political leaders to economists to academia to parents, to name but a few. This truism has led our State Department of Education to tailor all of its efforts, namely the Core Curriculum Content Standards and the HSPA exam for graduation, not towards "life after high school" for all students but towards preparation for college. THEY ARE NOT THE SAME THING! As a consequence, both of these conscripts fail in meeting their true purpose of making sure that graduates have truly learned the important information they need to be healthy, financially literate, law literate, computer literate, consumer literate, grammatically literate, and historically literate with the ability to think creatively and critically and with the skills to read, write, speak, and research.
This false promise that college is a necessity has had its worst effect on inner city students. Of course telling inner city students that college is not necessarily the road to travel will at first smack of racism, of telling inner city minorities that they aren't "good enough" for college. The reality is that our education has failed to develop comprehensive vocational programs that will prepare graduates for the type of jobs that aren't at the mercy of international flows of labor and capital. These are skilled service jobs, the kind of jobs that in historical terms were those learned through apprenticeships taught by masters of the trade. It also includes those type of jobs now offered in certificate programs at community colleges.
The point, one that I've been constantly trying to advance, is that inner city high schools and suburban high schools are fundamentally different and should not be playing by the same rules. The needs of the majority of their students differ, and thus the goals of these schools will necessarily differ as well.
Until we reject this obsession with college as the be all and end all of high school, that its purpose is simply as preparation for college, we will never truly be able to offer inner city students the education they really need. We can add this to the list of failures of our education system, and in terms of its spillover effect, it should be at the top of the list.