When it comes to education, discouraging news is the norm:
• “Releasing its ‘State of Metropolitan America’ study Monday, the Washington D.C.-based Brookings Institute ranked the McAllen-Edinburg-Mission area — which comprises all of Hidalgo County — 98th among the country’s 100 largest metro areas based on the proportion of residents age 25 and older with a bachelor’s degree. Only 15.1 percent of that age group, or 58,811 people had a bachelor’s degree in 2008.” (from The Monitor, July 21, 2010) (The national average, according to the story, is 35 percent.)
• “If you’re counting on four years of college tuition, think again. It now takes the majority of students at least six years to earn a bachelor’s degree … Only about two-thirds of those who start college wind up earning a degree within six years, experts say.” (The Monitor, August 24, 2010)
Add to these stories the “Four-year Drop” (my term), where you look at the number of students in a freshman class and look at the same group of students three years later when they are seniors. That number of graduating seniors is often around 60 percent of the original class.
Teachers are subjected to endless meetings to address these issues, a few of them productive but most, nationwide, having little or no effect on the problems. For those of us certain we can have some impact, the situation is definitely depressing.
Certainly, there are programs that are turning some of these numbers around. Take, for example, PSJA’s College Career and Technology Academy, a school specifically designed for students so close to graduating that they only need to earn five or fewer credits or to pass one or more sections of the TAKS. Several other area districts have now established similar programs, based in large part to PSJA’s success at preventing many students from being added to the drop-out rolls and convincing former students already on those rolls to return and earn that previously elusive diploma.
There are so many other things we can do. Here are but a few suggestions:
• Traditionally, the number of ninth grade dropouts is high. In early November, we need to take a close look at our ninth grade students. If they are failing more than one course, we need to implement an intervention program. It sickens me when I hear of juniors and seniors who are still classified as freshmen. Why do we allow it to get to that point? No wonder we have dropouts. What kind of hope do 17- or 18-year-old students have, knowing they are still considered freshmen? Catch them immediately and intervene.
• Probably the most common complaint I hear from college professors who send emails to me is, “Today’s college freshmen, overall, are not at all prepared for college work.” Several of our schools are returning to the issue of re-testing. Ask college professors what they think about this. They are stunned that students go to college and ask for re-tests. Re-tests should end in seventh grade, if they’re ever used at all. If we truly have the goal of making our students COLLEGE READY, we need to end this kind of nonsense we know does not prepare them for college at all.
• More of our schools need to offer classes like College Success to all of our students. By the time they are in high school, they need to know how to form study groups and the importance of organizational skills. They need to truly understand how important their GPA is and what it takes to get into the college or career fields of interest to them.
• Along these same lines, many parents of high school students tell me they are clueless about when their children should take the ACT/SAT, when they should start applying to colleges, how to direct them toward a career field and similar critical information. Most schools post this information on their web sites and send it in newsletters. Obviously, it’s not hitting the mark. We need to explore other avenues to use, in addition to these.
The dialogue must lead to results or it is merely words without action. Far more than 15.1 percent of our students are capable of obtaining college degrees. We need to demand more from ourselves and from them for it to happen.
Chris Ardis is in her 27th year of teaching, 26 of those with McAllen ISD. Visit her web site at www.chrisardis.com.