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What’s Next? Are We Ready?
Just two months from now, my husband and I will watch as our son walks across the stage
and receives his high school diploma.
Reader, if you’re the parent of a high
school senior headed to college, you’ll
understand what our family life has
been like for the last year.
The suspense of waiting
for SAT scores; the information overload of campus
visits; the confusion of
multiple application deadlines; the Herculean task of
coordinating recommendation letters, transcripts,
and essays; the sticker shock;
the mystifying financial aid
forms—senior year is a world
The most stressful part of this year,
though, has been the dawning real-ization: It’s all been easy up to now. The
academic challenges that our children
face in elementary, middle, and high
school—getting good grades, passing
tests, choosing courses from a relatively
limited list—are fairly straightforward.
The questions that they encounter as
they enter young adulthood are more
complex, hazy, and unpredictable:
What kind of work will bring me happiness? What careers will even be
available in the future? What do I need
to know about the world? How can I
contribute to society? What’s next—and
am I ready?
As I’ve worked with Marge Scherer
and the other EL editors on this issue
theme, “College, Careers, Citizenship,”
it has occurred to me that the goals of
education reform have been undergoing
a similar transition from the simple to
the complicated. For the past decade,
schools have been scrambling to get all
students to “proficiency” in reading and
math, as mandated by No Child Left
Behind (NCLB). Not an easy task—in
fact, some have claimed it’s statistically
impossible—but at least it’s an easily
measurable goal. Now, policymakers
have decided that this simplistic goal
is not enough. The common
core state standards focus,
instead, on ensuring that
all students are “college
and career ready.” The U.S.
Department of Education has
granted waivers from NCLB’s
requirements to a score of
states that pledge, among
other things, to adopt college-
and career-readiness standards.
dents achieve this goal. But William C.
Symonds (p. 35) asserts that the
narrow, unrealistic “college for all”
approach has resulted in many youths
leaving high school ill-prepared for
either college or work, or even dropping
out before completing high school. We
must acknowledge the value of other
pathways to success, he writes, providing students with more high-quality
career counseling and career education.
Is our increased focus on college and
career readiness undermining the civic
role of education? Several articles sound
this warning. William Damon (p. 22)
points out that “a democratic society,
for its very survival, needs to constantly
replenish its ranks with new cadres of
young people educated in citizenship
and dedicated to civic virtues.” For
that reason, civic preparation has
traditionally been education’s key
mission. Two other authors—Web
Hutchins (p. 70) and Rick Wormeli
(p. 50)—echo this call and describe
innovative programs that promote
students’ civic awareness. As Wormeli
writes, “Illiteracy in civics is arguably
an arteriosclerosis of our democratic
circulatory system, effectively blocking
understanding and progress, bringing
us closer to a civic stroke.”
Questions like these can’t be resolved
by having students fill in bubble sheets
or by charting adequate yearly progress.
They force us to consider what our
evolving society needs, as well as what
we most desire for our children. Like
the high school graduate striding across
the stage into an uncertain future, edu-
cation is now trying to tackle greater
challenges than it has faced in the past.
Are we ready?