Public high schools are failing to prepare students for freshman year of college, professor warns

‘College freshmen are being asked to produce four times as much writing as most did during their last year of high school…in one-third of the time.’

I have spent a lot of time looking at how our collegiate system works. I have a son of college age who stepped away from higher education to pursue a vocational path instead. Some of that was just the way he was wired, preferring to work with his hands and solve problems rather than sit and recite facts. Yet another part was that he got sick of the odd focus on issues like diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) over just trying to help people learn.

The problem, however, doesn’t just start in college, either. We hear similar tales of high schools worrying about whether students’ pronouns are being respected, yet it seems many simply aren’t being prepared for whatever happens after high school.

And yet, according to one college professor, many high schools are doing a poor job preparing students for their freshman year of college. University of Houston Professor Adam Ellwanger writes for Campus Reform

“I work at a large, urban university in Texas, where a high proportion of our students are from minority groups. As the freshman course begins each semester, I ask the students for the total number of polished, revised, typed pages of writing they produced during their entire senior year of high school. In the years prior to the pandemic, the answers typically ranged from 10 to 20 pages across all their courses over 9 months of schooling. Students admitted after the beginning of COVID-19 have reported even less: generally between 4 and 12 pages.

Anything less than 40 pages of formal, revised, graded writing over the course of the senior year will probably ensure that a student struggles with the workload of the freshman year of college. In practice, college freshmen are being asked to produce four times as much writing as most did during their last year of high school…in one-third of the time.

And on top of all that, many American high schools adopted policies that banned penalties for late work in the wake of the pandemic. This ensured that the minimal writing that high school graduates have done over the past few years was completed piecemeal and at their leisure.”

In other words, many high schoolers don’t do the kind of preparatory writing they need to succeed at the college level. And, for this current crop, it’s even worse because of changes in grading during the pandemic.

However, it would be easy to dismiss this as purely a writing issue. It’s not.

Colleges often use the SAT or ACT exam as a test to see how prepared for college a student is. While the metric is far from perfect, it does provide a glimpse at how high schools prepare students for higher education.

According to Inside Education, though, composite scores for both dropped for the class of 2022. While it would be easy to chalk this up to difficulties stemming from COVID-19 and lockdowns, which surely contributed, it was the fifth straight year for a dip in the ACT score, the lowest since the 1990s.

In October, the National Assessment of Education Progress noted that test scores showed the steepest decline in math and reading scores for fourth and eighth-grade students also since the 1990s, which suggests that it’s not even a purely high school phenomenon.

And yet, think about the last year or two. What stories about schools have permeated the media?

It hasn’t been a renewed focus on academics. There hasn’t been a lot of chatter about preparing students for trades, either. It’s been on things such as identity politics, with teachers and politicians doing all they can to exclude parents from the process. So, too, it was months of lockdowns followed by more months of masking policies that have contributed to setting students back even further.

The rot from DEI-focused academics has trickled down to the high school level and beyond, but while it’s argued that such efforts could potentially lead to positive outcomes, the fact that so much attention is focused there instead of on actual academics is the great sin here.

Especially since so many alternatives, such as charter schools and vouchers for private schools, are routinely derided as diverting essential funding from public education. That may or may not be true, but since public education isn’t getting the job done, it’s time to try a different approach. 

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Tom Knighton
Tom Knighton
Tom Knighton is a Navy veteran, a former newspaperman, a novelist, and a lifetime shooter who has increasingly focused on Second Amendment issues. He lives with his family in Southwest Georgia.