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Posted at 8:00 AM ET, 04/29/2010

What does being “college and career ready” mean?

By Valerie Strauss

Ensuring that all students who graduate high school are “college and career ready” by 2020 is one of President Obama’s key education reform goals. But what does that mean?

Is being ready for college right after high school the same thing as being ready to enter workforce training programs right out of high school?

As it turns out, the answer is “yes,” at least regarding knowledge and skills in English and math. That's according to the one organization that has been collecting and reporting data on students’ academic readiness for college for more than 50 years.

ACT, the non-profit organization best known for its college admissions ACT test, built its unique database by following millions of students into all types of postsecondary education to evaluate their success in college.

There is no consensus in the education world on a definition of “college and career ready,” but yesterday, Cynthia Schmeiser, ACT’s Education Division president and its chief operating officer, explained ACT’s view to lawmakers on Capitol Hill at a hearing about the reauthorization of the law commonly known as No Child Left Behind.

“ACT defines college readiness as acquisition of the knowledge and skills a student needs to enroll and succeed in credit-bearing, first-year courses at a postsecondary institution, such as a two- or four-year college, trade school, or technical school,” she said. “Simply stated, readiness for college means not needing to take remedial courses in postsecondary education or training programs.”

Most high school graduates, however, aren’t ready for college or career, she said. Look at these statistics:

Of the 1.5 million high school graduates who took the ACT during the academic year 2008–2009, 33 percent were not ready for college-level English, 47 percent were not ready for college social science, 58 percent were not ready for college algebra, and 72 percent were not ready for college biology.

Overall, only 23 percent were ready to enter college-level courses without remediation in any of the four subject areas.

As to whether a student who wants to enter college after high school or enter a workforce training program needs the same K-12 education, she said the answer is “yes.”

Here’s more of her testimony:

“Unfortunately, there are far too many in this country who believe that the level of achievement needed for high school graduates who want to enter workforce training programs is far less than that needed for those students who plan to enter some form of postsecondary education. ACT research shows that career readiness requires the same level of foundational knowledge and skills in mathematics and reading that college readiness does.

“According to our research, the majority of the jobs that require at least a high school diploma, pay a living wage for a family of four, are projected to increase in number in the 21st century, and provide opportunities for career advancement require a level of knowledge and skills comparable to those expected of the first-year college student.

“So the level of knowledge and skills students need when they graduate from high school is the same whether they plan to enter postsecondary education or a workforce training program for jobs that offer salaries above the poverty line.

“....Compared to high school graduates who are not college and career ready, those who are ready to enter credit-bearing college courses are more likely to enroll in college, stay in college, earn good grades, and persist to a college degree. And in our latest research study soon to be released, we found that gaps in college success among racial/ethnic groups and by family income narrow significantly among students who are ready for college and career.”

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By Valerie Strauss  | April 29, 2010; 8:00 AM ET
Categories:  No Child Left Behind  | Tags:  ESEA reauthorization, NCLB, Obama and education reform, college and career ready and obama, college and career ready,, what does "college and career ready mean"  
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I'd say that the ACT has it half-right: Some of the skills needed to go through an apprenticeship are the same as those needed to attain a bachelor's degree, but not all. I think we need to provide better career counseling & perhaps re-institute class tracking for our students. College always seems to be the answer for some educationalists, but let's face it-there's a reason why plumbers, electricians, & other skilled tradespeople are paid well, & that's because not "just anyone" can do what they do.

Posted by: clevin | April 29, 2010 9:46 AM | Report abuse

"College and career ready" has become a catch phrase in the political agenda of those who believe the purpose of public education is only to feed the colleges and satisfy employers who justify their own shortcomings by blaming perceived inadequacies in the U.S. workforce on lack of education.

Where is the research on what the real job skills and knowledge the majority of available jobs need? How much education does a person in the food service industry or retail really need?

Our young people are better educated today than at any time in our country's history. So why are unemployment rates so high for those in their early 20's?

Cognitive research has shown the brain continues to develop for almost a decade after kids get out of high school and some students are not developmentally ready for the abstract reasoning demanded in college prep courses. So why do we insist all students cross an arbitrary finish line at the same time? And out the other sides of our mouths proclaim that education is a life-long process?

Posted by: speakuplouder | April 29, 2010 12:57 PM | Report abuse

First, the emphasis on getting ready for college-entrance tests such as the ACT is one reason students aren't learning other things.

Moreover, why do we ask "How much education does a person in the food service industry or retail really need?" What's wrong with someone having more education than they actually need to make a living in their field? We all think it's snobbish to look down on a plumber because of what he does for a living, but isn't it just as snobbish to argue that he doesn't need to read literature or study philosophy because he's "just a plumber"?

Posted by: sideswiththekids | April 29, 2010 3:23 PM | Report abuse

There's nothing wrong with acquiring as much education as you aspire to, no matter what you do for a living. But saying a person is unemployable because the educational bar has been set artificially high is wrong and is a drain on our country's resources.

Our public colleges are turning away students for lack of space and there are surely college students enrolled who would rather not be but have bought the pap that it is the only path to success. Meanwhile apprenticeship programs get little publicity and public utilities wonder how they will replace their aging workforce.

Posted by: speakuplouder | April 29, 2010 6:13 PM | Report abuse

Why are "school" and "education" so easily confused for each other? NCLB ignores the huge number of paths toward college and career made possible by alternative schools, homeschooling, and unschooling. I profiled many such teens (and not only the wealthy or little Einsteins) who got into college (including the Ivy Leagues) in my book, College Without High School. Check it.

Posted by: blakeboles | May 3, 2010 5:09 PM | Report abuse

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