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Why college is the new high school

“College,” Connecticut Education Commissioner Stefan Pryor told a business group the other day, “is the new high school,” because in a few years as many as two-thirds of jobs in the state will require higher education. According to The Day of New London, which reported Pryor’s remarks, the commissioner explained that the purpose of the state’s new “Common Core” educational initiatives is to increase academic achievement and make sure that students are ready for college and careers.

This is a polite way of saying that Connecticut’s schools are often not succeeding, or, really, that many students are not. Indeed, the commissioner noted a recent study’s finding that nearly 70% of Connecticut’s community college and state university freshmen were requiring remedial courses in high school math or English or both — that is, that probably most Connecticut high school graduates have not mastered high school work.

Indeed, even as the commissioner spoke school systems throughout Connecticut were releasing their results on the latest state mastery tests, and in many schools, like those in Manchester, a largely middle-class suburb, they were disappointing and even appalling, with most students failing to perform at grade level and some scores even declining from last year’s. Other schools, particularly in cities, lately have been reporting horrible truancy rates.

State government’s response to the study on remedial needs in college was primarily to make sure that no such study ever embarrasses the state again. The General Assembly passed and the governor signed a law to forbid such remedial classes and to require college teachers to provide remediation within regular classes so that remediation might be hidden rather than quantifiable in the future.

The “Common Core” initiative aims to address the decline in primary education in Connecticut with more rigorous evaluation of teachers, “early childhood education,” and expanded curriculums in math and English.

That’s something, but it’s not likely to accomplish much for students who don’t even come to school reliably, don’t take education seriously, don’t get encouragement from parents or don’t really have parents in the first place, don’t perform well, and yet still get promoted from grade to grade and then are given diplomas and even college admission and then diplomas there too, only for employers to find them uneducated and unemployable.

So is the decline of education really a matter of curriculum? Or is it, as is implied by the occasional discovery of seemingly tough graduation tests from decades ago, a matter of the failure to enforce standards grade by grade?

Are teachers in Avon and Weston really so much better than those in Hartford and Bridgeport, or is the grotesque difference in student achievement between those school systems mainly a matter of student demographics?

And why should students take school seriously when they will be promoted and given diplomas regardless of their performance, when Connecticut Voices for Children will defend their right to disrupt everyone else’s education, and when they know that they will qualify for various government subsidies throughout life even if they acquire no more marketable skills than their mothers had when, outside marriage, they began having children they couldn’t support on their own?

Yes, with menial jobs having departed for the developing world, Connecticut’s businesses need better-educated workers. But that alone is not why “college is the new high school.”

College is the new high school because of a long-standing public policy of educational inflation, whereby 12 years of schooling have been stretched to 16 at great cost but without any gain, because maintaining standards in education would require not just remediating social disintegration but reversing it — that is, would require political courage.


Chris Powell is managing editor of the Journal Inquirer in Manchester.

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