What would your high school or middle school look like if all students were prepared for college? The question is timely, as schools in Kentucky are required to meet the mandates of SB 1, including that all students graduate from high school, college and career ready. And the law specifies building blocks of college readiness, including new academic standards (KCAS) and accompanying assessments, opportunities to accelerate learning through Advanced Placement, International Baccalaureate or dual credit initiatives, credit recovery, and comprehensive advising. But it stops short of describing what schools that meet the requirements actually look like.
Principals and other school leaders must first confront a large-scale cultural change. American public schools were not created to prepare all students for college. At the birth of our nation, schools were seen as a way to develop citizenship and protect our democracy. Our first leaders believed that only an educated citizenry could preserve our new and unique type of government. But in the past few decades the purpose for schooling has been redefined as a promise for a greater quality of life based on an information age economy. To achieve economic, social and personal growth, students need to graduate from high school with necessary knowledge and skills to continue their education and then enter a fast-changing, competitive workforce.
So the cultural change I am referring to occurs with changes in belief and practice: belief that all students have the potential for advanced study and rewarding careers, and practice that assures all students engage in rigorous coursework as well as acquire college knowledge—those skills that serve students well in college and eventual career, such as goal setting, self-monitoring, organization, study and research, self-assessment, and contributing to a larger community.
This cultural change happens in a variety of ways:
- Through symbols of achievement, like recognizing students who excel in classes or take on new challenges academically; or holding signing ceremonies for college acceptance; posting college banners, wearing college tee shirts and posting college information on school websites.
- Through college focused activities, like holding college fairs, arranging for students to visit colleges and to participate in summer residency programs.
- Expecting all students to enroll in Advanced Placement, International Baccalaureate or dual credit courses. This can become the default scheduling decision for students, with an opt-out only for students whose parents make a formal request (thanks to Barren County HS for this idea).
- Providing opportunities for students to apply their academic knowledge to solving community problems in project-based settings, where their learning is deepened at the same time as they learn to be part of a larger context.
- Finally, through different roles for administrators, teachers and counselors so that college preparation reshapes the efforts of the adults in the school.
To answer my original question, a school that prepares everyone for college would have visible symbols of college going, students hard at work in challenging courses they know they need to pursue postsecondary education, lots of academic talk focused on future aspirations, and an overall atmosphere of can-do, that the school has the wherewithal and commitment to ensure that all the students will make it to college.