The Challenge of College and Career Readiness for All

Our work at A+ is often held in a tension between striving for the ideal and acknowledging the practical. Often we describe ourselves as an organization that believes in taking a “both-and” approach rather than an “either-or” approach.

That came to mind recently while reading Mike Petrilli’s thought-provoking article responding to a scintillating essay by Marc Tucker on making sure students are college and career ready.

How should we balance the need to ensure all students graduate college and career ready with the reality that it’s an incredibly high bar? As Marc Tucker explains the problem:

If you advertise a standard as college and career ready and then deny a high school diploma to all who do not meet it, you will either have to lower that standard or lose your policy-making job, because it will be years before that gap is closed and the society cannot and will not tolerate a large fraction of students leaving high school with no credential at all.

Better to have one standard that truly means college and career ready and another that means the student did everything needed to meet a traditional high school graduation standard. 

But this way of thinking about standards and gateways has its own dangers. Suppose that sticking with a high school diploma that is not tied to a community college entrance requirement results in a permanent underclass of mainly poor and minority students who are never expected to get more than a high school diploma, who will always be in the low-skill, low-wage jobs, generation after generation.

The challenge is real, and it’s staring us in the face in Alabama as we strive to create an equitable education system that prepares all students for real life. Read more about this dilemma and Petrilli’s proposed solution here.