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New Study Reveals Gaps in US Education

The National Center on Education and the Economy (NCEE) has just released a new study titled What Does It Really Mean to Be College and Work Ready? which explores the levels of English Literacy and mathematical knowledge students need to be successful in their first year of community college. The study was “guided by a panel of leading experts” in seven diverse states, and their findings reveal that the state of US community colleges – and high schools by extension – is in desperate need of reform. However, the NCEE says it’s not just a matter of raising standards and increasing the rigor of the curricula: “Our first priority should be to enable all high school students to succeed against the current community college standards before we raise the bar even further.”
So, what steps need to be taken to enable these students? High schools and community colleges need to be more vertically aligned. According to the study, much of the higher-level mathematics taught in high school does not help students succeed in college. In fact, the researchers propose that more time should be spent learning the basics of math in middle school, which is the foundation for Algebra I, and that Algebra II should not be considered a prerequisite for college success. Most first-year community college courses do not cover the content found in Algebra II, and the study shows that most of the programs offered by community colleges do not require students to be well-versed in Algebra II. Therefore, a stronger foundation in the basics of mathematics would be more beneficial to student success than an escalating series of higher-level courses.
The case for better English education is just as alarming. According to the study, high school students entering community college are struggling to comprehend their textbooks because they are not used to reading and evaluating books at such a high level. This is due to the fact that high school reading and writing standards have steadily declined over the years, whereas the demands of college texts “are holding steady or increasing.” It is also due to the failure of non-English Composition professors to require their students to read and write critically. These failures, coupled with the misalignment of mathematical instruction, have hampered the success of high school and community college graduates, leaving them underprepared for the working world.
There is good news, though. The researchers of this study believes that the Common Core State Standards are a “promising first step” in the right direction to correcting the shortcomings of our current education system, but they also say much more work needs to be done. “It is not unusual for researchers… to call for more research, but we do believe that, in this case, more research could pay large dividends.”