Preparing Students for College, Careers of Today

Our communities depend on the quality of educational opportunities to thrive. Yet far too many students in our country never make it to college or arrive on college campuses ill-prepared for the academic rigors of post-secondary course work. We often talk about this issue in terms of workforce or economic needs, but there is another, perhaps even more costly issue at hand--our students' future well-being. Sadly, we are falling short--for our communities and our students--allowing our children to idle in the doldrums of low expectations.

The headlines remind us that we are falling behind in global competitiveness. We are losing ground in science and technology. We are not preparing young people for the jobs of the future--we are barely preparing them for college. This crisis has led to remediation needs that soar in cost to the billions for a single cohort of students.

Many national K-12 efforts attempting to address this crisis seem to target elementary and middle school students. This thinking seems logical: In order to have the greatest impact on student outcomes, start early. However, by placing a higher emphasis on programs for younger children, we are sending the message to our high school students that it's too late for them to improve their academic trajectory. And that is a mistake.

Raising expectations for all students throughout high school can better prepare young people to handle the demands of college-level coursework and a rapidly changing workplace. One measurable, proven approach to elevating student outcomes is expanding student access to rigorous coursework such as Advanced Placement (AP) courses and supporting student success in that work. Simply put, AP is one of the most powerful tools we can use across the country to prepare students for college.

Not only do Advanced Placement (AP) courses introduce students to the rigors of college coursework, but research shows that students who succeed in challenging coursework are more likely than their peers to earn college degrees on time. Indeed, research from the College Board, the creators of AP, confirms that retention and graduation rates are higher among students who take an AP exam in high school, regardless of the score they earn on the test.

The benefits begin with the learning experience, itself. Demanding study allows young people to dive deeper into a particular subject--to take it seriously and learn what they are capable of when they work hard. When we empower students and teachers to work together to achieve great outcomes, students gain the knowledge, skills and confidence they need to succeed in whatever path they pursue. By challenging students to reach their potential, we're also encouraging them to envision future careers and achievements they might not have considered otherwise. That is why expanding the pool of students encouraged to take AP courses -- particularly to include more girls, African-Americans and Hispanics -- should be a priority.

And then there are the benefits gained from scoring well on an AP exam, which many universities accept as college credit, saving students money and time. Colleges also use qualifying exam scores to place students into more advanced courses, which will better prepare them for future study or the workforce and could even expedite their degree.

Of course, the road to success isn't easy or simple. Expanding student access to rigorous coursework means very little unless we properly support educators and school communities to help students reach new heights. Teachers are capable of great things when they have the support and resources they need. That is why the National Math and Science Initiative (NMSI) continues to grow its College Readiness Program, which partners with public schools across the country to increase the number of students participating and succeeding in college-level coursework in mathematics, science and English Language Arts, while expanding access to traditionally underrepresented students. In just one year, NMSI boosts the number of AP passing scores in these subjects in partner schools by ten times the national average. Recently, the boost for girls is also ten times the national average. The number of passing AP scores for African Americans and Hispanic students is 6.5 times the national average. To date, the College Readiness Program has expanded to more than 750 schools across 30 states and the District of Columbia because it's working.

Effective, well-prepared and supported classroom teaching is the single most important lever we have to improve student outcomes. As a nation, we must look to proven programs that are working and determine how to bring them to other communities in need. With this in mind, we should not - and cannot -- leave today's high school students out of the education reform equation. The onus is on us to ensure all students, regardless of age, are prepared to thrive.

About National Math and Science Initiative (NMSI)
NMSI, a nonprofit organization, was launched in 2007 by top leaders in business, education and science to transform education in the United States. NMSI has received national recognition for training grade 3-12 teachers and improving student performance through the rapid expansion of highly successful programs: NMSI's College Readiness Program, NMSI's Laying the Foundation Teacher Training Program, and NMSI's UTeach Expansion Program. Inaugural funding for NMSI was provided by ExxonMobil, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and the Michael & Susan Dell Foundation. For more information, visit www.nms.org.

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