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Published: Monday, 9/29/2003

No child left behind?

A new study on college preparedness has determined that only one in three of America's 18-year-olds are ready for the demands of college. In addition, more than half of our high school graduates are not taking courses required by even the least selective four-year colleges.

What makes a high-school graduate ready for college? The conservative Manhattan Institute study looked at the numbers of students taking basic high school college-prep courses, passing a national 12th-grade reading test, and graduating on time.

The courses most colleges want to see under applicants' belts are four years of English, three of math, and two each of history, science, and foreign language.

It is clear that parents and school counselors must direct high schoolers with college ambitions into these courses.

Needless to say, individual college students meeting these requirements may still not succeed in college because they are not emotionally ready, but that's another issue. Also, those without the required courses may profit from remediation programs many colleges sponsor.

The 32 percent of students who were college-ready might have been a greater number had the numbers not been so low for black students (20 percent), Hispanics, (16 percent), and American Indians (14 percent. Educators in every public and private school need to address this lapse.

The researchers did find that college-ready minority youngsters generally do go to college. This led them to speculate that financial aid and affirmative action may not affect the number of minority students in college.

That seems counter-intuitive and the research presented no comparisons of minorities' college enrollments from, say, 1970 to 2000. Nor did it address the observation of the Education Trust's Kati Haycock. She said that about 40 percent of low-income youngsters who are in the top quarter of all kids nationally do not go to college. For them money and access aren't there.

Elementary and secondary education have their fads just as the rest of society does, but the basics for college enrollment remain pretty constant - a thorough grounding in English language and literature; success in solving basic math, algebra, and geometry and even calculus problems; some biology, chemistry, and/or physics; a historical appreciation of one's roots and the events and ideas that moved the country to the present, and the rudiments of a foreign language.

The nation is stifling progress by keeping able children down. Even in tough economic times they must be viewed as investments in the national interest, not expenses to be cut.



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