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Old 05-07-2009, 10:41 AM
439 posts, read 1,174,112 times
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I got a job as a part time instructor teaching college English to freshmen, starting this fall. I've done this before a few years ago, so I'm not concerned about how to handle it or what to teach or anything like that. Instead, my question is how well you feel high schools prepare students for college: your opinions as a parent, a HS/college student, a HS teacher, a college teacher, whoever.

When I taught freshmen the last time (2002 - 2006), I found that there seemed to be this huge disconnect between what was expected at college and what was expected in high school, even for the smartest most capable students. It's been this way for friends of mine at other schools too. Has this been your experience? Was the jump from one system to the next too big, or was it just a good challenge? What do you think is going on to make the transition difficult?

Signed, a renewed freshman English teacher
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Old 05-07-2009, 11:46 AM
Location: Los Angeles, Ca
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From my experience (graduated highschool in 96), I would say very low standards in highschool.

We interrupted a week or two to watch the OJ case, in 95/96. You look back on it now, its a joke. There's sort of a paper airplane, celebrity television standard set in highschool (at least in my experience), which is very different from a more serious college setting (especially advanced schools like the ivy leagues).

My highschool set the bar very low, you're not treated like a functioning adult (i.e. having to bring a parents note when you're 17 or 18, having to ask for permission for everything). It doesnt make much sense, when a year later you may be off on your own, making your own choices in life.

Also in college, its made up of people that want to be there. The smartest highschool kid can get dragged down by students that don't want to be there. It penalizes students that come from poor highschools.
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Old 05-07-2009, 12:27 PM
Location: Alaska
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I think for most kids, high school doesn't prepare them for college. If the student and parents are resourceful, then the student can get a leg up for college. You do this by finding classes geared towards college prep. One thing that parents may not realize that it starts in middle school. For example, there were two math programs at middle school, one I think called "Everyday Math" and the other I'll call "Real Math." What happened in high school is that the "Everyday Math" kids ended up taking a remedial math class in their freshman year, knocking them off the college prep track.

Another thing is that the college prep classes represent at most, 25-35% of the class, so a majority of students aren't prepared for college. Other schools may have higher percentage, but I doubt that many are over 60% college prepped.

One thing my oldest said is that high school did not prepare him on how to study, even though he took the college prep classes. I think studying require less in high school, so he didn't have the study habits needed in college. It took him a while to develop them. I think our youngest will find this out too, since he's a procrastinator. He was really shocked to learn that the average freshman takes only 4 classes in college (4 plus labs I think).
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Old 05-07-2009, 04:26 PM
Location: roaming gnome
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for most people... NO... even from h.s. to h.s. is different, I went to two of them. One was significantly better. Fortunately I took a few AP classes in 10th grade the other one didn't offer at all when I transferred (parents moved) and both schools had a gifted program... but still the quality at one was a lot better and had better teachers. I took one honors english class and even that was pretty bad, kids acting up, etc. And I got my only C in there because the teacher thought my papers were "weird"...even though I got a 6 out of 6 on that writing thing people have to do in h.s. (forgot the name) The rest of my classes were all smaller gifted or AP, but some honors classes at the 2nd h.s. which I was taking as a junior w/ all seniors.. The 2nd h.s. most of the juniors and seniors were taking the math I took at a "good" public school in middle school ... 6-8th grade for me was algebra I, geom, alg II. My senior year in h.s. there was pretty much nothing left for me to take at the 2nd high school. We had block scheduling 4 classes in fall, 4 in spring... I had an entirely open class as there was nothing to do so I had senior privilege both semesters for the 1st block, I was a TA in Alg 2 the first semester and in this Internet class the 2nd semester, my other class was baseball both semesters, then I took AP Chemistry as the ONLY class my senior year I had left to take there. so out of 8 possible slots, they had ONE class I could take. None of these were weighted classes except AP Chem so it actually brought my GPA DOWN getting A's and was required to take the full loads...b.s. if you ask me.

At elementary level is even worse, I did pre-k-half of 1st in a "good school" then the other half of 1st and full 2nd grade in a small town they wanted to skip me to 4th grade but my parents didn't want that so moved back to a better city and put me in the gifted program.

Back to h.s., I took ap calc as a junior in H.S. then there was nothing else offered so had to go almost 2 years without a math class which effed me up picking it back up at university.

Long story short, if you are smart and parents don't have money ... you are kina screwed in this country for education in a lot of places. And what I did is not even that much, there were several other people in the same situation, at least 10 of us w/o a full load of classes to take that were even offered. Yeah some kids are skipped ahead, but my parents didn't want to make it socially "awkward" on me plus I was pretty good in sports at the time so another factor.

A gf I dated from Ohio said she had the same situation, but there they let you dual enroll at the local community college. She took all her classes her senior year at some community college in Cleveland.

Last edited by grapico; 05-07-2009 at 04:52 PM..
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Old 05-07-2009, 09:45 PM
Location: Chicago, IL
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I would say my high school prepared me well for college.
I know of some students who barely tried in high school and figured they should try out college.

I think there is only so much high schools should be responsible for and I don't want to see high schools turn into some big pipeline for college. I don't think everyone is meant for college and I don't college should be super easy because of the high school you went to.
I am fine with college being a challenge and I have always expected college to challenge me but I don't think one should flounder in college because they were ill prepared by their high school. There is a reason we have AP and IB courses-if you want to be prepared well for college....take these classes.
I think if a student is taking basic classes, they should have a basic foundation to stand on when they go to college.

I hope I'm making sense.
I think the question should be: SHOULD high schools prepare students for college?
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Old 05-07-2009, 10:25 PM
Location: Maryland's 6th District.
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Originally Posted by PurpleLove08 View Post
I think there is only so much high schools should be responsible for and I don't want to see high schools turn into some big pipeline for college.
It is already like this. Many high schools are in bed with certain colleges and many colleges have quotas to admit X number of students from certain high schools or regions. Not to mention that USNWR is going to start doing a top high school list along with their college list. One of the criteria for the high schools is how many students a particular high school sends to college and the current list of proposed high schools are also the high schools that send large numbers of students to the colleges that are in the USNWR college lists.

And, do not forget that the SAT, SAT II, ACT, PSAT, and AP are all set up and regulated by the College Board.
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Old 05-07-2009, 10:32 PM
Location: Sandpoint, Idaho
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From what I have seen, the discussion is not one of the average or representative student, but of percentiles of college-bound students. The upper 2% are exceptionally well prepared, perhaps more so than any previous generation. The next 8% have done well enough to claim slots in the most prestigious universities and will do well in university. After this, things start to slip. From the 50th to 89th percentile, the students are fairly average and represent the bulk of A- to C+ students. The bottom 50 are the real concern. These are students a generation or two ago did not make it into university. For them university is remedial education, filling in gaps in their education that should have been addressed/mastered in high school or even junior high school.

But universities have changed the equation. While the bottom half are not prepared for university technically speaking, the universities have watered down their curriculum to such an extent that to make courses accessible to these unprepared students and thus create the illusion that they were adequately prepared.

And these bottom 50 are of the college bound pool. Of those not applying to college or were unable to do so, probably only a handful (% wise) are qualified to tackle university.

So when I think of college students, I can place them in these categories:

exceptional--up to 2%
solid--up to 80%
mediocre--about 40%
under-prepared to ill-prepared--about 50%

Everytime I felt there was no hope, I saw flashes of brilliance that truly impressed. And when I thought the newest cohort was uniformly improving, I was reminded of how poor students can actually be, even in a top university.
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Old 05-07-2009, 10:50 PM
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I had no problems feeling prepared for college; I was even able to sneak my way into a graduate level course freshman year, and did just fine - didn't tell the professor I was a freshman until the end of the course, though!). I went to a good public school, though, and had classes that emphasized the sorts of skills necessary to thrive in college. In many ways, the first year of college was actually easier than in high school because I had fewer courses coupled with more control over my time.

I did, however, know other people who did have problems adjusting. I think it has a lot to do with the high school itself. Even the smartest kid might have a tough time if their high school was too easy or undemanding, while other, possible less naturally smart (or at least "smart" as in school smarts) might do very well if he or she has had the benefit of a good high school.

I don't think that every high school needs to focus on preparing every student for college as the only post-high school option, but at the same time, many of the basic skills needed for college - decent writing skills, ability to analyze an argument, as well as just basics like getting things done to a certain standard on a deadline - will be useful for any person, regardless of what career path they follow.
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Old 05-07-2009, 10:59 PM
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One more thing from me: I briefly temped at a college (a very well known university) bookstore between jobs. A big part of my job was shelving textbooks and helping students find the books for their courses. I was surprised by some of the questions some of them asked me; one highlight was from a very polite, well-meaning new student who was desperate for me to give me an answer as to whether he should buy the paperback or the hardcover book (both the same price). I told him personal preference - there was no difference in content, or in any future sell-back value, but this small insignificant decision was obviously causing him a lot of stress. This wasn't an isolated incidence, either. From my two months working there I got the impression that there are a lot of kids who, although perhaps brilliant at certain things, have always had parents or teachers tell them exactly what to do, then they get to college and have to make decisions on their own and flounder. I don't know if my limited experience from that viewpoint means anything or not, but from what I've read it does fit in with a larger trend of kids being micromanaged by well-meaning parents. In college, or at least my college, professors don't hold your hand - they were there if you needed them, but it was up to you to do your job and to seek help if you needed it (or in the bookstore case, to decide for yourself which book to buy). Maybe some of these students are having a tough time making that jump?
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Old 05-07-2009, 11:27 PM
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Before I entered university, I was expecting it to be MUCH tougher than it ended up being. This idea was brought upon mostly by how subjective grading was at my high school. I almost felt like they trained me to not have high expectations for myself. On standardized tests I always was one of the top few of my class, but when it came to classes where a teacher had to grade in a subjective manner, I would get a mediocre grade. I was always the 'smart-ass' and 'wisecracker' type kid throughout school, and I felt the teachers used it against me. I graduated HS with a 3.45, but with a high ACT/SAT score, so I was able to get into a pretty well-renowned university (surprisingly with the GPA).

I was surprised at how easy it was to get good marks at university. I felt like university professors could care less who was the Homecoming Queen or who is their Nephew's best friend. It was more about the quality of work. And with larger class sizes, it takes out the personal element of grading. I ended up graduating with nearly a 4.0 GPA.

I don't really attribute my success in college to high school, more of the opposite. My high school teachers never really provided me any motivation to fulfill my intellectual potential. I feel I've always had a high capacity to learn a wide variety of things quickly, but this was never embraced. Not until I started acing classes in university did I start to realize my potential and really take an interest in education.

Other kids who had 3.8's or 3.9's in high school ended up getting 2.5's in college. Their university performance ended up being more in line with what their standardized test scores were throughout high school. This just made it painfully obvious the social politics that were going on in my high school. I went to high school in a rural community, and graduated with approximately 100 kids. EVERYONE in the community knows EVERYTHING about everyone. So if I made a "smart-ass" comment to a teacher as a bratty 15 year old, this would be part of my reputation.

In summation, I do not feel high school did much to prepare myself for university. If anything, it suppressed my academic potential. Grading was just too focused on emotions and personal opinion of the student. Just too subjective.

P.S. I know after this long diatribe it may sound like I am very bitter about high school. That is not the case. I was a pretty popular kid who played sports in high school, who probably was referred to as a "jock". But I also was a bit of a "jokester", who always had a clever quip for the teacher. And it hurt me.
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