To the Editor:
You report in “H.S. Courses Seen as Disconnected From College Demands” (Feb. 22, 2006) on a U.S. Department of Education study titled “The Toolbox Revisited: Paths to Degree Completion From High School Through College,” which examines how classes taken during high school and the first year of college affect the likelihood that students will earn a four-year college degree.
The study revealed, you report, that “taking a full slate of academically intense courses in high school … was the most important precollegiate determinant of whether students graduated from college.” The article goes on to describe postsecondary contributors to degree completion, including attaining 20 credits by the end of the first year of college, entering college directly from high school, remaining continuously enrolled, and earning some credits in college-level math by the end of the second year.
The use of the term “determinant” implies a direct cause-and-effect relationship between a set of characteristics and an outcome. It is a naive assumption, and one that we, as professional educators, should know better than to fall victim to.
Myriad “causes” allow a student to achieve the “effects” of completing a full slate of academically intense courses, completing 20 credits in the first year of college, or staying in college. These causes are the factors that ultimately will sustain a student through a four-year college program.
There are equally many factors that inhibit students from achieving these goals. They are the causes (socioeconomic influences, pre-high-school academic preparation including literacy, and so on) that need to be addressed.
Pushing students into academically intense courses with the belief that this alone will enable them to achieve four-year degrees is simplistic at best and foolhardy and wasteful at worst.
Joseph H. Crowley
Warwick Area Career & Technical Center
A version of this article appeared in the March 15, 2006 edition of Education Week as High School Courses Are No Guarantee for College