Saturday, September 7, 2019

The College And Career Ready Scam Continues

ESSA requires schools to pick another measure of success, and many have gone with some version of gauging college and/or career readiness, but the results, as described by EdWeek, are a "hodge podge." But here come the folks at Achieve, the same folks who brought us all the beloved Common Core, with a state by state hodge-podgy guide to just how states are measuring the Common Core compliance college and career readiness. It highlights beautifully why the whole CCR business is a scam, a snare and a delusion, a room full of smoke and mirrors, and a web of moonbeams and unicorn farts.
We're ready for what, now?
The table version really does provide a useful state-by-state compendium of who is doing what (mostly-- some states are a big ole blank). But the real fun is in the Data Explorer, a collection of hyperlinked graphics that take you to all the various measures. I'm honestly not sure who, exactly, this is for, though EdWeek Marketplace did a piece about it which suggests somebody thinks there's money to be made here.

The Data Explorer starts by laying out the challenge:

Though all states collect data on student outcomes, the measures they track differ from state to state—differences like which students are included in each indicator, which assessments are used, whether data on student subgroups are reported, and how indicators are constructed. Furthermore, the data states report are often found across a number of websites, and some states publicly report more information than others. Each of these factors makes it hard to know how well-prepared students are for their next steps after high school.

There is, of course, a big whacky assumption there, which is that knowing how well students are prepared for post-high school life is a knowable thing. Achieve settles on seven key indicators-- let's see if those indicators would be useful in determining such a thing.

4-Year Graduation Rate

This has always been a stupid piece of data, because it assumes that a student who drops out of school should count the same as a student who stumbles, repeats a year, and then gets his act together and graduates. I have enough anecdotal data (and so do most high school teachers) to know that that's just not so. I know that this is not news to anybody who spends time around young humans, but fourteen year olds are not super-mature, but then, as they get older, they sometimes figure things out. The chemistry slows down, the brain grows a few more anterooms, and they figure things out. But sometimes they take a few detours first. The notion that they are only ready for college or career if they spend exactly four years in high school first is just, well, dumb.

CCR Coursework Completion

Achieve thinks that students have completed proper CCR preparation if they take math and ELA courses that are aligned with Common Core "state-adopted CCR standards." The problem here is, which we will return to a few more times, is that there's no shred of research, evidence, support, or anything other than David Coleman's dreams that says that the CCR standards are aligned with life or college or careers or anything.

9th Grade on Track

Checking to see if 9th graders have enough credits to be on track for graduation is just another way of playing the four-year completion card, and it's equally balonified. I mean, it's a useful piece of data to have, but it doesn't tell you anything about CCR stuff.

CCR Assessments

This is based on the percentage of students who score at the CCR level on the Big Standardized Test. There are so many things wrong here. First, the CCR level is, of course, refigured by the states every year, and that refiguring has absolutely nothing to do with anybody saying, "Studies show that to be career ready this year, students need to score fifty points higher on the BS Test." But of course that cut score can float around year to year because nobody has any idea at all what the relationship between cut scores and future CCR might be. Well, that's not true-- actually, as Jay Greene (University of Arkansas Department of Education Reform) has pointed out repeatedly, there is ample evidence that there is no connection at all between BS Test scores and what happens to the student in life. In other words, CCR assessments, tied as they are to the standards, which are in turn tied to nothing but Yeti breaths, have no useful role in measuring college and career readiness.

CCR Measures

What we might call the kitchen junk drawer of CCR measures. AP classes, CTE courses of study, apprenticeships, "military readiness" (so, high school ROTC or a good score on the ASVAB?) and whatever else states have come up with. This indicator actually contains some useful ideas. Have you studied welding for three years at your tech school, done a work study with a fabrication plant, and passed some welding certification tests? Then you probably really are ready for a career in welding. Congratulations, and feel free to ignore every other indicator listed here.

Earning College Credits In High School

This includes both taking actual college courses and earning a 3+ on an AP exam. It's no guarantee (particularly since so many colleges will tell you not to bother taking an AP exam in the field you plan to actually pursue), but at least this one isn't flat out stupid.

Postsecondary Enrollment

This indicator rises to the level of the Kafka-esque. Remember, part of the entire argument in favor of Common Core college and career ready standards was that students were arriving at college unprepared to do the work there. In other words, it was turning out that getting into college was no guarantee that they were actually ready for college. So it makes no sense to use the number of students enrolling in college as an indicator of college readiness. Well, unless the original argument was just baloney.

For The Love Of God, Please Stop

Look, it would be a great thing if we could tell if students were ready for college or career. Mostly it's a bell curve-- some students we know are absolutely ready for anything, and some are not ready to do anything. In between, there's a vast grey area.

In that grey area, one of our actual jobs as educators is to help students figure out what college-or-career future best suits them, which one is the one they are, or can be, ready for.

But the notion that any standardized measure can tell us that a student is ready for any future, from carpentry to brain surgery, from deep sea welding to jazz drummer, from majoring in art at Harvard to studying accounting at community college-- well, that's just stupid. There is an infinite number of futures ahead of students, and there is simply no way to measure whether or not they're ready for every single one of them. "College and Career Readiness" is, in some ways, an excellent replacement term for "Common Core" because CCR more clearly captures the one-size-fits-all-ness" of the whole exercise. Folks who pursue this as a legitimate measure of education reveal a tiny vision, a failure to imagine all the rich, varied futures that await our students and the marvelously winding paths they will take to get there.

I get it. I understand the parent impulse that makes you want to know with certainty, to have a guarantee of ironclad knowledge that your child is, as Arne Duncan often put it, "on track for success." I totally get wanting that. But you can't have it, any more than you can have a clear guaranteed prediction that your child have a happy marriage or a nice house. All you can do is give her as many tools as possible, as many chances as possible, as much support as possible, and a system that doesn't short-change her by focusing on meagre piddly goals like "score well on this standardized math and reading test." She had have an education that helps her understand the world and her best self and how to be fully human in the world, not standardized test prep. Better that her school system focus on giving her that kind of educational experience rather than focus on giving government officials and education thought leaders the kind of paperwork and reports that they want.


  1. All we have to do is put 300 seniors in their HS auditorium (with their cell phones) at 8AM on a Monday morning or 3PM on a Friday; let them sit anywhere they want and have a guest college professor lecture them on thermodynamics; make sure that s/he speaks at a 10 decibel max with a heavy foreign accent while scribbling illegibly on a pull down chalk board. Test tomorrow!

  2. "...some students we know are absolutely ready for anything...."

    I'm not sure we can ever know that. A lot of students who look the best during and after high school fall apart soon thereafter - I was one of them.

    By all rights, I should have set the world on fire. I had a perfect GPA, high standardized test scores, college credit, extra curriculars, summer academic enrichment camps, a part-time after school job (which became a full time summer job), etc.

    Unfortunately, my "college readiness" got me as far as getting into college. Once I was there I had many "oh sh!t" moments when I realized I had no idea what I was there for. I'd been told all my life I needed to go to a good college, so I did. What I was supposed to do there and what I was supposed to get out of it was not anything anyone had told me.

    I did manage to graduate, but with a very expensive and mostly useless degree in psychology which led to years of stumbling through low-paying social service jobs and attempts at further advanced degrees. Ultimately, I ended up in the as a paraprofessional in the legal field making more than I was ever going to make in psychology. I'm still trying to figure out what i want to be when I grow up and I'm almost 50 years old.

    I think a lot of "superstar" high school students end up following similar paths later in life, whereas those who don't seem terribly stellar during or just after high school are the ones who really end up leading much more "successful" lives.

  3. One of the worst outcomes of the 4 year graduation rate scam is what happened when school scores were tied to that dubious measure of success. Students who are not “on time” are booted to catch up, on-line centers or they are passed through to the dismay of teachers who know the truth. How can kids be college and career ready when they never went to school? If schools were ever truly audited for class attendance vs graduation rate the nation would be stunned. Holding schools rather than students accountable for success is the very reason they’re not “college and career” ready. Showing up is a necessary first step for success.

  4. Vitally import point, Peter, which is the elephant in the room and almost universally ignored. More people, including high school kids, need to hear it. Many would feel so much relief from their unnecessary and often debilitating anxiety.

  5. Politicians and the so-called education EXPERTS pigeonholing America's students into this IN THE BOX thinking IS LEADING OUR COUNTRY to its demise in innovation and prosperity. Without those two things we will become just like every other country. THAT IS EXACTLY THE GOAL - OBAMA says it in his book - they want to "LEVEL THE PLAYING FIELD" in the world. To do that you must bring AMERICA down. This is all hidden in plain sight and they are counting on our fat and happy IN THE BOX thinking to keep our innocent children in the system so they can achieve this. WAKE THE HELL UP AMERICA. The graduates now are indoctrinated little socialists - do you think THEY are going to turn this ship around or sink it?