Visit The Phyl Campbell Website

Sunday, January 18, 2015

Sunday Reflections: Reflection on Education

This article from the Atlantic prompted the following response:

There are many ways to digest and learn from this: high stakes testing is a mistake (big #1). That's the point of the article -- that and continuing to talk about racial tensions.

But there's an overlooked second idea that the article mentioned but didn't dwell on. It should have.

Courses for college credit taken in HS (including AP and concurrent courses) actually hurt college freshman who intend to use them to graduate college faster (as a pure learning tool, they are fine). When HS students take college courses and do average to well, then college advisers tell them to take more challenging classes when they get to campus. However, these students really need to figure out how to navigate college. They lack the experience to realize how different a college class on campus is compared to an AP or concurrent credit course. Also, since AP test scores and concurrent courses don't count towards a student's college GPA, a college freshman taking junior and senior level classes is at a higher risk of losing scholarships if the first semester of college isn't great.

Freshmen should be taught to take only introductory level classes their first semester. Or, freshmen should be allowed to ease into college, taking only a class or two until they know what they can handle. However, scholarships don't cover this type of enrollment, and the effects of enrolling in too many classes (increasing the chance of failing one or more) or not having the financial aid are equally detrimental to college success. 

If high school students weren't trying to take and do well in college classes, perhaps they would have more time to study for high-stakes testing. Honestly, though, learning how to hold down a job in high school and saving money (for college expenses not paid by scholarships and grants) is probably the best thing a high school student can do for his or her college preparation.  Applying for scholarships would be a second, but students need to talk to someone who is more knowledgeable than the typical overburdened HS counselor or college admissions officer. There is a TON of scholarship money out there, but most students can't find it and spend too much time chasing after the same hundred opportunities as everyone else.  Internet searches turn up more garbage than genuine opportunities. If we employed as many scholarship researchers as we did student loan officers, I think we would turn some of this around.

So researchers and pundits can keep talking about race and the first problem -- high stakes testing may be easy to measure, but what is easy (to measure) is rarely what is best (for anyone). However, until these same researchers and pundits start addressing the other elements of the equation, college students might as well bang their collective heads on ill-fitting desks as they leave college with useless degrees and ever-growing piles of debt. 

Phyl Campbell is the author of several books, including Mother Confessor, Carley Patrol, and Martha's Chickens and the Pirates. She completed a bachelor's degree in four and a half years at a state university paid for by scholarships and grants -- and was the only member of her family to completely fund school this way. Still, it wasn't enough education for her desired career -- teaching. One of many caught in the power struggle that is higher education, Campbell is an advocate for greater transparency in and outside the classroom.