Thursday, January 2, 2014

Do Colleges Know Best

Recently, we invited back ten recent graduates to discuss their college experiences with our students. As a byproduct of the forum, several teacher began discussing how we can better prepare our students for college.

Among some of the ideas being bounced around:
  • Never accepting late work
  • A no excuses policy
  • Morphing 6 AP Government sections into 1 large, college-like lecture

As a high school teacher, I know I’ve said to students, “When you get into college…”

Do colleges know what’s best? No.

Should our educational decisions be shaped or dictated by colleges? Sometimes. Without a doubt, we must prepare our students for colleges and careers and far too many college freshman have to take remedial classes. But far too often educational decisions made by college professors are not based on educational research and learning.

Two examples of poor educational practices highlighted by our recent graduate panel include the use of lectures and college assessment practices. Lectures/direct instruction prevail at most colleges, but research proves that they are far from the most effective means of instruction. Secondly, many college classes rely solely on one or two exams or papers to calculate grades, but study after study shows that numerous short assessments given over time are a better indicator of learning (Ainsworth and Viegut, 2006).

The college admissions process has become so warped and hyper-competitive that students scratch and claw to get ahead of their peers. At the heart of this unhealthy competition: poor grading practices. The bell curve, commonly used in higher education, compares student performance against other students rather than their mastery of the content. In terms of the admissions process, most colleges insist on GPA ranks, leading to grades being used to ranking and sorting students. Is it any wonder why grades, instead of learning, become the motivation?

Unhealthy competition isn’t limited to just grades, however. Students—and educators—feel compelled to participate in and offer multiple résumé enhancers. Honor societies, clubs, and other extracurricular activities have proliferated. None of this is inherently bad; as a matter of fact, it’s important that we do provide as many extracurricular activities as possible for our students. But, when students spread themselves so thin with the idea of padding their application that they become overly stressed, sleep-deprived robots, we’ve gone too far.

Sadly, far too often higher-education policies have trickled down into our high schools. It’s as if institutes of higher learning are the tail and secondary schools are the dog.

Isn’t it time for the dog to wag its own tail?

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