Jewish World Review Oct. 18, 2004 / 3 Mar-Cheshvan, 5765

Joanne Jacobs

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Consumer Reports

'B' Ready for College | Seventy-eight percent of California high school juniors who took a college-readiness test aren't ready for college-level reading and writing; reading comprehension and analytical writing are the biggest problems.

In addition, 45 percent couldn't meet the math standard. The California State University system — the state's second tier in higher education — wants students to use their senior year catching up on skills.

College-level questions and an essay were added to the state test all juniors take in the spring, but students weren't required to answer the extra questions. It's likely the voluntary test-takers were college-bound students who hope to avoid having to take CSU placement tests; low achievers had no reason to bother. That is, if all students took a college-readiness test, the scores would be even lower.

CSU is supposed to admit students in the top third of the high school class as judged by grades and test scores: 58 percent of freshmen now require remedial English, math or both. The remedial percentage is down to 37 percent in math but holding steady at 52 percent in English. The average remedial student was a "solid B" student in high school.

From the San Jose Mercury News:

It is the first time in the nation that a state's public schools and a university system have worked together to coordinate and test their expectations for high-school graduates, said David Spence, executive vice chancellor and chief academic officer for the CSU system.

And yet it seems like such an obvious idea.

According to an ACT report, only 22 percent of high school graduates who take the exam are prepared to succeed in college-level English, math and science courses. Only 56 percent of high school students take the academic courses necessary to prepare for college.

Honors Colleges

Large public universities are attracting top students to honors colleges, small programs that offer a liberal arts atmosphere.

For students, an honors college can be the educational equivalent of an upgrade to first class from coach — smaller classes, priority scheduling, research opportunities, and a residence hall where they can rub shoulders with fellow overachievers.

Of course, the colleges are under attack for elitism.

My sister was one of the first students at the University of Michigan's Residential College. It's a great program. On the other hand, one of the reasons my daughter transferred from UCLA is that the honors program wasn't residential; there was no sense of community.

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Teaching the Admissions Essay

At a very high-scoring public school in southern California, writer Edward Humes offered to help students with their college admissions essays. "Have some fun with it," said the principal.

When I parroted this notion to the kids, suggesting they look at their essays as a chance to relax and have fun with otherwise extremely formal applications, they stared at me as if I were insane. "Why don't you just ask us to take off our shoes and have fun walking on broken glass?" one young man finally replied. It would have been funnier if were smiling when he said it.

Stress is a constant at Humes' School of Dreams. So is success.

Captives of ESL

Immigrant students who pass New York's Regents exam in English still can't get out of segregated English as a Second Language classes, writes Samuel Freedman in the NY Times. They need 96 percent on the exit exam, which seems designed to keep students out of the mainstream forever. In theory, they get extra help in English as a Second Language classes. In practice, they get a slower, lower-level curriculum.

Shoeb Mahbub, an immigrant from Bangladesh, scored 89 on the English Regents, but couldn’t pass the ESL test to get into mainstream English classes.

The same fate befell Kamil Losiewicz, an immigrant from Poland who is now a pre-med student at Queens College. "It's really frustrating," he said. "The amount of education I received wasn't as high at it could have been. The reading assignments, the writing assignments in E.S.L. were really easy. I wanted writing at a high level, something that would help me in college. And by being with people in E.S.L. who don't speak English well, it definitely kept me from speaking at a high level."

No other exam taken by high school students sets the minimum passing score at 96 percent.

Silver Bullet

Jonathan Rauch finds the silver bullet for education — homework — but you'll need an Atlantic subscription to read the whole thing. Education Gadfly has a summary:

Educators, school administrators, and parents increasingly discourage the one education reform that has proven results at no cost (other than students' time): homework. This despite the evidence that, on average, American students do very little homework. Yes, we know the stories of the Ivy-bound elite who spend hours slaving over homework each night, but they are decidedly the exception. According to the National Assessment of Education Progress, "two-thirds of 17-year-olds did less than an hour of homework on a typical night . . . [and] 40 percent did no homework at all."

Students admit they're not working very hard: In a 2001 survey, 71 percent of high school and middle school students agreed with that most students in their school did "the bare minimum to get by."

Yet adults don't push for more

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JWR contributor Joanne Jacobs, a former Knight-Ridder columnist and San Jose Mercury News editorial writer, blogs daily at She is currently finishing a book, Start-Up High, about a San Jose charter school. Comment by clicking here.


© 2004, Joanne Jacobs