Top Students, Too, Aren't Always Ready for College
Chronicle of Higher Education (subscription)
What's changed is that today, college readiness is more often a hot topic for educators and policy makers focused on at-risk students.
"...They have the grades and the test scores to be here," said my colleague, director of undergraduate studies in math at the Johns Hopkins University. "What they don't have is a deep understanding of why the techniques they've been taught work, the actual underlying mathematical relationships. They walk into to my classroom in September and don't have the study habits or proper foundation to do the work."
"....His concerns don't come as a complete surprise. As a former college professor, provost, and president, I've been hearing faculty and administrators at top undergraduate institutions quietly complain for more than three decades about the declining quality of student preparation.
Evidence suggests that academic talent is quite specifically diminished, not developed, by the school experience. A Fordham Institute study of how young American students testing in the 90th percentile or above fared over time found that roughly 30 to 50 percent of these advanced learners lost ground as they moved from elementary to middle school, or from middle to high school. And the focus on low-achieving students in public schools has disproportionately left more smart minority and low-income kids behind, creating a well-documented "excellence gap."
It's easy to understand why such data are ignored; resources are needed elsewhere, most people believe, and many of these bright students shine. Indeed, the lucky ones have amazing pre-college opportunities.
Visit a summer program for talented and gifted students, and you'll see contradictions of claims that today's students aren't as well prepared as we were. But as I've come to understand, such programs continue to grow and thrive precisely because the kind of engagement, enthusiasm, and active group learning they provide is so hard to find in most classrooms. Yet supplementary work may not be enough, even for the fortunate few who qualify for accelerated, intensified programs and have, or are given, the means to participate...."