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American Delusion: The Kids Are Alright

This is a guest blog by Caroline Bermudez that first appeared on the blog Head in the Sand. Her bio is at the bottom of this blog. 

One of my favorite articles makes me laugh and cringe.
Titled “What Corporate America Can’t Build: A Sentence,” the piece describes the plight of top companies spending billions of dollars to send their well-educated employees to remedial writing classes.
Sprinkled throughout the article are hilarious examples of poorly written, sometimes incomprehensible, e-mails written by people who hold advanced degrees or are even executives. One message looked like lyrics penned by the dearly departed Prince.
They were funny until I started to wonder how people could get all the way through graduate school and still not be able to master the basic skill of writing a clear sentence. Once I thought about what these literary gaffes said about our educational system, my chuckling stopped.
A recent report reveals the significant gap between how well we think students in the United States are doing and how they’re actually doing.
A survey by Learning Heroes, found that 90 percent of parents think their child is at or above grade level in reading and math, but NAEP scores tell a different story.
Only 36 percent of 4th grade students scored at or above proficient in reading and 40 percent in math. Students in 8th grade fared even worse, with 34 percent proficient in reading and 33 percent in math.
Learning Heroes stated that 63 percent of parents say they understand what knowledge and skills their child is expected to learn. A large majority of parents, 75 percent, expect their child to enroll in college. The number goes up for African-American and Hispanic parents, at 83 and 90 percent respectively.
Yet when it comes to finishing college, parents are less optimistic; only 60 percent say their child will be prepared for success in college.
How can 90 percent of parents say their children are performing at or better than grade level, yet a much lower percentage express confidence their kids will do well after high school?
Perhaps this is a tacit, albeit reluctant, admission by parents that the standards for elementary and high schools aren’t nearly as high as those in college. Success in K-12 schools doesn’t necessarily guarantee students will be in a cap and gown walking across the stage at the end.
In Los Angeles, thousands of students were in danger of not graduating high school, so the district lowered the passing grade for college prep classes from “C” to “D”.
No one can honestly claim getting a “D” means a student is adequately prepared for college, but schools throughout the nation, not just Los Angeles, have been focused more on credit accrual than determining whether students are truly college-ready.
As an NPR story points out, given that schools rarely have students repeat a grade, it’s not surprising parents have an inflated sense of the quality of their children’s education.
This creates a snowball effect—and it cuts across race and class.
A study from Education Reform Now revealed that approximately 1 in 4 students who enter college in the fall after they graduate high school end up taking remedial classes, costing students and their families $1.5 billion dollars every year.
Lest we think this is only the problem of disadvantaged students, the study found that 45 percent of these students are from middle- and upper-class families.
The Association of American Colleges and Universities surveyed companies and college students on how prepared they felt for careers. By and large, employers don’t think college students are prepared to work for their companies, while the majority of students believed otherwise.
A lot of these same students are similar to the unfortunate subjects of the aforementioned New York Times article; they are woefully unaware of the skills they’re lacking. They are the leaders of corporate America whose bosses become frustrated with them because they can’t string together a coherent sentence.
What these sobering findings say is that a lot of students get passed from grade to grade being none the wiser as to how badly they’ve been prepared for college and the workforce—and if they’re in the dark, their parents probably are, too.

Caroline Bermudez

Caroline is a senior writer at Education Post after spending eight years as a journalist. She was a staff editor at The Chronicle of Philanthropy, covering the non-profit world, with a particular focus on foundation. She is a proud graduate of Chicago Public Schools.
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