Wednesday, April 14, 2004

Don't Tell the Kids

It's Time To Tell the Kids: If You Don't Do Well in High School, You Won't Do Well in College (or on the Job)
This article was making the rounds last week, probably because it pulls together all kinds of interesting statistics about the college-for-all fallacy. Unfortunately the title, premise and main conclusion all end up sounding rather bizarre to me:
"Students must realize that high school grades are important: grades strongly predict future careers. There are strong incentives for school effort and students can improve their adult attainments by improving their high school grades."
I just don't believe this. I know too many smart people who found high school irrelevant (didn't care about grades at all), then hit their stride and did wonderful things after graduation. And conversely, we all know people who were stars in high school who found out at some point (usually in college) that they didn't have the foggiest clue why they were on the academic fast track.

The general prescription here is that if only students would get better grades in high school, they'd be more successful after graduation, regardless of what they do. This theory is based on the fact that so many middle-of-the-road students are now going to college and then finding that they are ill-prepared for the experience. Not surprisingly, students with the best grades (who also believe the process is important, are more motivated to do well, and perhaps have a clearer sense of why they're going to college later) tend to do better in college when you average things out. But to infer that having all of those middle-of-the-road kids raise their grades would ensure their future success is ridiculous.

Probably the only really valuable conclusion in the article is that high school counsellors have their hands tied to a certain extent:
"A recent study in eight diverse urban and suburban high schools found that even if students had poor grades, school counselors did not dissuade them from attending college, nor did they warn students when they had poor chances of college success."
Counsellors want every kid to believe that they can do anything, just like those same kids' parents do. If parents believe that their kid is going to college (even if the student has bad marks and no interest), and the counsellor guides the student into some kind of vocational training, the parents freak out.

But the primary problem with the article is that it places all the emphasis on something nearly irrelevant for their own sake: high school grades. Most students figure out pretty quickly that if you're not applying to the top-notch universities or hoping for scholarships, grades just don't matter. The teachers wish they did, which is why this was published by the teachers' federation. What actually does matter is real learning, which is closely tied to motivation and the students' interests, but generally, the education system still hasn't figured out how to measure and encourage these crucial things.

No comments: