Ever wonder how it works that our country has hundreds of great colleges admired all around the world, and yet has high schools and grade schools that are routinely disparaged in comparison to those of other countries and constantly said to need reform (and more money)?
As mentioned in an earlier post, up to 50% of the students admitted to elite colleges are placed in remedial classes in their freshman year. Keep in mind, these are kids who sport GPAs well north of 4.0, have taken many ‘college prepatory’ AP classes, and have spent thousands of hours doing homework – and they need remedial help to do basic college-level work.
So, how can it be that these kids a) have not mastered what the college considers basic reading, writing and math skills, yet b) are decorated veterans of high school, the best of the best?
A couple of ways to look at this:
– First, that high school doesn’t teach the skills you need for success in college;
– Second, that, for many students, this lack of skills isn’t damaging to their future academic success. Haven’t seen any numbers, but I imagine that the remedial classes do meet with some success – that at least some of the students who arrived on campus academically unprepared take the remedial classes and go on to succeed (at the very least, the college would be heavily invested in making sure that happens).
The important note here is that elite colleges routinely succeed in a year or less in teaching skills that 12 or more years of schooling before college – including successfully completed advanced placement classes – failed to teach.
There are a number of reasons colleges succeed at what are alleged to be the same tasks at which high schools, even and especially *good* high schools, routinely fail, even when we’re talking about elite students. So what’s so different about how colleges teach things than how high schools teach them?
– Ratio of in-class time to out of class time: The most fanatical high school students approach 1:1 – 6 hours of class time to 6 hours of study outside of class in a typical day. College students run more like 1:3 – 2 – 3 hours of class a day, with 6 – 9 hours of studying for the more ambitious students.
– Flexibility: High school students are expected to put in their 6 hours of class time a day every day for 4 years. College students can adjust their loads and arrange their schedules to meet personal preferences and needs. The 5 and even 6 year college plans are available if need be.
– Freedom: High schools student have minimum freedom in their choices of what to study, with many required classes and few really free choices. College students have much more freedom to study what interests them.
So, to ask the obvious question: instead of endlessly tweaking pre-college educational models, why don’t we replace them with the tried-and-true college model that is the envy of the world? Way less time in the classroom, way more freedom and responsibility. This would also have the benefit of actually preparing kids for college, which the current model demonstrably fails to do.