Can’t Meet Education Standards? Just Waive ‘Em

The standards do not seem outrageous for young people who must compete in a high-tech world. Kids who go from Colorado’s high schools to its public colleges and universities must have taken four years of English, three years of math and three years of science.

The problem is, thousands of them don’t. Worse, in some instances they can’t.

The state’s answer to this crisis?

Waive the standards.

If you want to know “Why Johnny Can’t Read” — and might never be able to — check out the attempt to apply minimal academic credentials to incoming freshmen in Colorado.The college prep high school course requirement that was supposed to go into effect in fall 2008 will be suspended in certain circumstances in 2008 and 2009.

Thus sayeth the Colorado Commission on Higher Education.

What the higher ed commission did not address — and can’t — is what’s going to change during 2008 and 2009 to forego an embarrassing public policy scandal. Until poor and rural school districts get the state and local money and support they need to offer the number of required college prep courses, the standard means nothing.

When you consider that the higher ed commission has voted to make the college prep standard even more difficult in 2010, you see how humiliating this exercise in excellence by edict could become.

“Right now,” said higher ed spokesman John Karakoulakis, “the department staff is looking at waivers for 2010.

There has yet to be any discussion of formally scaling back the college prep standards, said Karakoulakis. Waivers, he explained, “are looked at as a transitional process.”

Without re-thinking or redistributing resources, the transition could become perpetual.

“Maybe the collision you’re predicting could become a catalytic moment,” said Speaker of the House Andrew Romanoff. “We’ll have to ask if our expectations are too high. If we are serious, this will force us as politicians, voters and citizens to make a tough call.”

The need to better prepare the state’s college-bound high school grads is beyond question. The higher ed commission’s most recent assessment of entering freshmen showed that three in 10 required remedial courses because they lacked university-level skills.

Predictably, the number was highest in community college students, where over half needed remedial help. But four-year schools found that one in five students needed remedial help. That ranged from a low of 1 percent at the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs to a high of 63.2 percent at Adams State College.

Those numbers scream for attention. The attention, however, must come with a commitment from state and local governments to reorganize and finance public education. Romanoff hopes a gubernatorial task force on education from kindergarten through college will help do that.

Someone better do something.

Colorado’s public schools must have the ability to meet benchmarks, or those benchmarks become what they’re starting to seem like:

Jokes.

Only the legal challenges that might result from these jokes will leave no one laughing.

“I’m not saying there’s a lawsuit here, but there are concerns,” said Kevin Welner, an attorney who directs the University  of Colorado’s Education and the Public Interest Center. “If you can only get an opportunity at higher education by doing A,B,C, but then you only offer A,B,C to certain students, then you’ve denied the others due process.”

Unless you plan to go with endless waivers, that eventually comes back to bite you.

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Jim Spencer

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