LongIsland.com

Reforming Education

Written by fatherfrank  |  09. October 2008

Is college preparation pushing college seniors to the brink of emotional disaster? That is an interesting question. A growing number of high school juniors and seniors are under tremendous pressure as they prepare for college. Many of the Ivy League and Tier One colleges have raised the academic bar significantly. Many colleges and universities rely heavily on standardized tests and the SAT. Grades are important but some SAT scores carry greater weight, depending on the school.
Some prominent college administrators from around the country are suggesting that colleges and universities reconsider their heavy reliance on standardized admission tests like the SAT. Many of us in education already know that the SAT is a rather weak predictor of academic success in college. Writing samples, class rank and high school grades probably give a better picture of a student s potential for success in a college classroom.
Too many high schools prepare seniors for college entrance by preparing them to take standardized tests. The focus is on succeeding on a test, not on the learning process. A growing number of high school students are encouraged to take honors classes, advanced placement courses and fill the rest of their day with extracurricular activities, community service programs and SAT prep courses.
There is little room in this equation for human growth and development. Students have little time to spend growing as human beings and learning the important life lessons that are not often contained in their textbooks.
In fairness, are our high schools preparing our seniors to be academically, socially and emotionally successful when they go off to college, or are we setting them up for failure?
There is so much pressure on today s seniors. By sophomore year in high school, they are bombarded with data that establishes the bar for college acceptance. If they are interested in an Ivy League school or university, more often than not, the academic standards seem out of reach. They are repeatedly reminded of SAT scores, standardized test scores, AP classes, class rank and overall grade point average. Every college and university has its own formula that deals with these issues.
Some of the more competitive schools have quotas on how many students they will take from a certain region. Some seniors, who are at the top of their class, are discouraged from applying to some Ivy League and Tier One schools if they are not in the top 2% of their graduating class.
Unfortunately, we ve also created a climate that if you are a good student and don t get into an Ivy League or Tier One school, you are a failure. The pressure we impose on students today is unhealthy and borders on being lethal.
The college entrance process definitely needs to be reformed. Colleges across the country should revisit their criteria for admission. Academic standards should not be compromised, but admissions committees should look at the total student, not just at one s standardized test scores and overall grade point average. They should develop tools to measure one s drive, leadership skills, critical thinking skills and motivation to succeed. Their formula for acceptance should also include a profile of the high school curriculum that the student attends.
High school students around the country who want to go to college are working harder than ever before at challenging themselves with honors classes, AP courses and other academically and athletically driven activities. However, the equation to succeed is not balanced. There is little room in this formula for encouraging human growth and development. Too many high schools are obsessed with academic and athletic excellence. They fail to create a balance in the student s life.
A growing number of students go off to college and fail their first semester, not because they re academically ill-prepared, but rather because they lack the skills to navigate the social landscape of college life. The challenge of being a college student buries them alive. The social stress becomes overwhelming. When they were seniors, no one prepared them for the challenges they would face outside the classroom.
TJ is a scholar athlete and a senior at a local, well-respected, private high school. In a class of 700 seniors, he is in the top 5%. He is a strong varsity football player. He gets up at 5:00am every day and doesn t get home until 9:00pm. He is taking two advanced placement classes and the rest of his coursework is honors classes.
Every year, his high school football team competes for the County Championship. He is under tremendous pressure to perform on the football field and in the academic classroom. Because he is a scholar athlete, there are Ivy League schools and Tier One colleges across the country that are interested in him. He receives e-mails and letters from them every day.
His challenge as a senior is to balance his academic, athletic and social life. Unfortunately, in this high powered school, there is no class or seminar to help him with this. Some days he feels overwhelmed and wants to quit everything. As a senior, he should not be so stressed and so unhappy.
His senior year should be the best of his four years. Instead, he is shackled with a tremendous fear of the unknown, the burden of college acceptance and admission and making the grade. Most of his senior year is distracted with the college application process and all the stress associated with getting into a good college. Right now he has little time to breathe.
At times, listening to this bright, talented, scholar athlete, one would think he was practicing for the NFL. He practices football five days a week. The practices are intense, then he is expected to go home, do his homework and get up the next day, refreshed and ready to begin the cycle all over again.
During football season, if there is a family event other than death, he is strongly encouraged not to participate. There seems to be no room for this senior to just be a kid in high school!
There is something wrong with this picture. High school is not supposed to be a pressure cooker on every level. As educators, we are supposed to empower students to become all they can be. One s high school years should be a time for growth, academic exploration, social integration and just plain fun!
We are doing high school seniors a great disservice and causing them a great injustice by stealing their opportunity to be kids and enjoy life! School is supposed to be serious, but not devoid of enjoyment and personal fulfillment. Athletic competition is also supposed to be enjoyable. High school athletics are not the NFL. We are not building character and integrity within high school athletes by pushing them to the brink of emotional disaster.
Student athletes should not be punished because they are committed to their families. High school athletes should honor their commitments to their team, but not at the expense of impairing their family dynamic. No high school coach should be so obsessed with winning and competing that he or she strips the high school athlete of his or her freedom. We have to work harder at creating a balance that is grounded in good judgment.
Educational reform is imperative, not only in our approach to college preparation and application, but also in the way we approach competitive athletics. We need to seriously revisit what the purpose of high school education is! We need to reorder our educational priorities and look at the total student. We need to shape a program of study and athletic opportunity that empowers all high school students to develop all their gifts and talents, intellectually, socially and emotionally. At the moment, we seem to be setting them up for disaster! They are our future and they deserve so much more.

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