I believe that schools can do much more to close this gap, even at the high school level. The first thing that needs to be done is to create a system that really prepares students for college rather than focusing on content classes. Classes should be based on skill building rather than accumulation of information. I know this is already being changed by many schools and many teachers (with the focus being switched to reading and study skills), but I would say a majority of teachers have not changed what they do, and many new teachers are teaching the way their teachers taught them.
How can this be done? I think changing the name of the classes from Biology, US History, or Algebra II would be a good start. In my opinion, every class should be called something like Building Reading Skills in Science: Biology. Maybe a history class would be Learning How to Write for College: US History. All of the content can still be taught along with teaching the standards. We need to stop believing that learning certain content will help students once they enter college or that learning all of this information will build their confidence. If students believe that they can take what they are learning and apply it to any class anywhere, they will do better and work harder. They will believe it is important no matter what the content is. I think that a lot of these skills are taught at home indirectly (reading, becoming interested in a variety of academic fields, and writing college-level papers). Those skills were taught to me by my parents (we were not rich, but we were educated). Also, without the help of my parents, I would have had no idea how to apply for college or scholarships. Schools can do these things without adding a single dime to their budget. It would just be a shift in mindset.
The Gap is also widening between because college credit programs for high school students tend to be more beneficial for white students (http://thechoice.blogs.nytimes.com/2011/02/09/advanced-placement/). (I know I am running the risk of mixing race and socioeconomic class. I do not intend to say that being of a certain race automatically puts a family into a certain socioeconomic class). However, I would not say that schools should not offer these classes. As the article suggests, opportunities for teachers to be trained on how to teach the courses might be the trick:
"In Texas and Florida, for example, where the state provides funding for teachers to attend summer college courses to help them teach A.P. courses, Hispanic students have a higher participation in the courses and have demonstrated more success in the exams."
In general, I am just saying that just throwing out AP, PSEO, and CLEP as options is not necessarily going to close the Gap. Parents and students from lower socioeconomic levels need to have some other mechanism to help them gain access to and have success in these types of programs. If they are just offered somewhat haphazardly, they become merely another program that widens the Gap. If a school district does the work to think of ways it can get all interested students involved, they become programs that can close the Gap because the students earn free college credit with these types of programs.
I haven't mentioned Advocate Latino thus far. You can go to advocatelatino.com to start communicating with parents today about college readiness and other school issues today. We have a free trial.
Give me a call if you have any questions. Please leave comments about different ways school districts help widen or close the Gap.
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