Wasting Time and Money

Why So Many Nevada Students Are Not Ready for College

Executive Summary

Like most states, Nevada strains financially to provide publicly funded education. Over 50 percent of the state budget is spent on education.

Yet a major proportion of its high school graduates are not ready for college.

Nevada professors who work with these students agree that the state's public schools need to put a greater emphasis on basic skills and study habits. Silver State students are finding themselves in remedial courses because they lack skills and study habits that should have been learned in elementary school. The evidence strongly suggests they were promoted from grade to grade despite a lack of achievement and, apparently, even a lack of effort.

The problem of poorly prepared students entering college is growing, as far more students are now going to college. In recent years, approximately half of Nevada's high school graduates entered college. Last year nearly 10,000 of them were enrolled in remedial courses. In too many cases, they needed help with knowledge and skills that should have been learned in the third or fourth grade.

By any reasonable standard these students were not ready to finish high school — much less enter college.

Efforts to improve readiness for college have been underway for years. For the most part, the focus has been on ensuring that students who are planning to attend college take the necessary high school courses. However, the problem is that many 8th and 9th grade students are not prepared for college prep courses.

Better guidance and higher standards at the high school level may illuminate the problem, but they will not correct it.

The areas of concern identified by our instructors have their origins in the earliest grades of school, where ultimately, the issue will have to be addressed. Thirty-nine percent of Nevada's 4th graders are “below basic” in math, 46 percent are “below basic” in reading.

At the heart of Nevada's problem is the issue of teaching philosophy. Generally, teachers — especially elementary teachers — are taught to think of teaching and learning as a process that follows student interests and inclinations — whether or not it leads to the achievement of curricular objectives. These teachers are trained to design learning experiences that optimize student interest and enthusiasm, not particular learning results.

The consequence is that many students simply acquire a patchwork of knowledge and skills — often with significant gaps and weaknesses. Similarly, many never learn that dabbling in schoolwork is not enough — that success requires meeting challenges and overcoming them.

Schooling that permits students to advance without meeting standards or applying themselves is like medical treatment when the patient won't cooperate:

It is mostly a wasted effort.

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