Thursday, October 27, 2011

Academic Standards and Changing Times

There were a couple of articles and news broadcasts recently that gave me pause. Not because of how they were written or scripted, but what each represented. Each of the references below discusses topics that surround “academic standards”. Because two of the articles involve political figures, I would like to take this time to indicate that I am a-political. I vote how I feel based on the information I have at the time. I have voted both Democrat and Republican. Also, because these references involve colleges and universities, I should also mention that I have taught as an adjunct professor for SUNY Brockport, SUNY Oswego, Le Moyne College, and have guest lectured for Syracuse University. I have NO allegiance to one college over another; to me they represent places where I can still get into a classroom and teach.
With all of that said, I would like to weigh in on these print and video resources. The first is an article that references a university chronicle indicating that Syracuse University may be diluting their academic standards because they may have become too “community centered”. In easy English this to me means that the chronicle feels that Syracuse University is lowering their academic standards because they participate in initiatives that advance learning for ALL, not just students who can afford whatever the tuition bill might be. To advance educational opportunities for all, one must go where “everyone” is which means satellite classrooms, diversified projects, and widespread visibility and availability. So what.

We always hear that the United States lags behind in high school results, college results, and overall global preparedness. Is it possible that an adult taking SU courses through the Internet or via satellite classrooms will go on to lead a productive life and in return provide opportunities for other community members? I think so. As much as I still question some of the structure and funding for the “Say Yes” program, it is a wise move for Syracuse University to participate because it opens them up to experience true diversity right in our own community, not to mention the opportunities it gives undergraduate and graduate students to work with children in poverty. The children that they work with also receive the benefit of having great adult role models.

If you do not want to participate in those opportunities, but still want to attend Syracuse University on campus and through a “traditional” setting and program, no one is stopping you. Go for it. WE can all get along and it doesn’t matter in my opinion how you get your education, it matters that you got an education.

I am programmed to help ALL students succeed. At West Genesee, while I am pleased that we have a consistent 98% of our students attaining a Regents Diploma, I am even more pleased that our completion rate (the percent of students who complete high school) has gone from 86% to 91% over the past three years and is continuing to climb. This is directly attributed to spreading resources to ALL students. Has this diluted our academic standards? Quite the contrary and our results, national ranking, and college placements prove it.

I also think that people greatly undervalue the community college experience. I was a little jolted when President Obama had to call a press conference to basically let people know that going to a community college is “OK”. Right in our own backyard we have Onondaga Community College, one of the top community colleges in the country that consistently graduates students to four year colleges and onto successful careers.

With how the demands for education has advanced to the point where a four year college degree is essentially required to fill most positions, why not spend a little less and obtain a two year degree from a community college? A full two year degree program at OCC costs less than a half of a year at Syracuse University, and by the way, some of the adjunct professors at Syracuse University also teach at OCC.

We are reviewing all of our Advanced Placement courses to see if we can also make them eligible for OCC credit. Again, it is all about opportunities for ALL. No academic standards will be harmed in the reconfiguring of our courses so students can open themselves up to Advanced Placement AND/OR Community College credit. Raise your hand if you are still paying your school loans. I can’t see you, but I am sure there are some hands up.

Lastly, came the news that fewer colleges are offering scholarship money for achieving the rank of National Merit Scholar. The National Merit Scholar program was designed in 1955 with the purpose of giving students who achieve a high score on the PSAT standardized test, which is taken either during the sophomore or junior year, a little financial boost heading into college. It is incredibly competitive and I have been fortunate to have two National Merit Scholars, a few dozen Commended Scholars, and a Hispanic Scholar.

The criticism of the program is that it rewards a student for success on one test. In the twelve years that I have been Superintendent each student that has been recognized by the program ALSO has to have a complete transcript; high overall grades, volunteer experiences, and participation in extra-curricular activities. Some of these students who have all of the above STILL do not get selected.  In my opinion, it is a nice honor whether dollars are attached to the award or not and some of the colleges that participate could be missing out on a future big donor. Their loss.

I think we all need to separate budget reductions and loss of program from academic standards. When something has to be reduced, cut, or run in a different way that doesn’t mean that what is left is watered down. In all of our schools, academic standards are always tweaked and we are always trying to find ways to raise the bar and make ALL students increasingly competitive.

I will step off of my soapbox now, but I wanted to drive home the point that although we need to think differently, universities, colleges, community colleges and school districts do not have to lower the bar just because we are all trying to help ALL students and adults advance. Adapt and overcome.