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Contents

Preface

Acknowledgments

The Author

Introduction

Chapter 1: The New Challenge: All Students College and Career Ready

Why College and Career Readiness for All?

From Vocational Education to Career Technical Education

The Academic Core

Creating College Readiness and Career Readiness for All

The Rise of College Readiness Standards

Chapter 2: College Readiness, Career Readiness: Same or Different?

Exploring Readiness More Deeply

Connecting Student Interests and Goals to College and Career Readiness

Levels of Readiness

My Definition of College and Career Ready

Chapter 3: The Four Keys to College and Career Readiness

The Four Keys: An Overview

Key Cognitive Strategies in Depth

Key Content Knowledge in Depth

Chapter 4: The Four Keys Continued: Learning Skills and Transition Skills

Key Learning Skills and Techniques in Depth

Key Transition Knowledge and Skills in Depth

The Complexity of College and Career Readiness

Chapter 5: Toward Deeper Learning

Some Framing Characteristics of the Learning Process

Knowledge Complexity Progression

What Is Deeper Learning?

Four Models of Deeper Learning

Overview of Research Foundation for Deeper Learning

Chapter 6: Deeper Learning at the Classroom Level

Characteristics of the Deeper Learning Classroom

Challenges of the Deeper Learning Classroom

A Closer Look at Scoring Student Work for Deeper Learning

Deeper Learning, the Common Core State Standards, and College and Career Readiness

Chapter 7: A Closer Look at the Common Core State Standards

Where Did the Common Core Come From?

An Overview of the Common Core State Standards

Structure and Organization of the English Language Arts and Mathematics Standards

The Heart of the Challenge of Teaching the Common Core State Standards

What the Common Core State Standards Don’t Do

Appendix: Key Elements of the Common Core

Chapter 8: The Common Core State Standards and College and Career Readiness

The Reaching the Goal Study

Implementing the Common Core State Standards to Improve College and Career Readiness

Who Owns the Responsibility to Teach the Common Core State Standards?

Understanding Key Areas Related to College and Career Readiness

A Key Role for Elementary School Teachers

The Challenge of the Common Core and College and Career Ready

Chapter 9: The Consortia Assessments and College and Career Readiness

The Goals of the Consortia Assessments

Characteristics of Each Consortium’s Assessment

Preparing for the Consortia Assessments

The Challenge Remaining

Chapter 10: From an Assessment System to a System of Assessments

Performance Tasks: Key Element in a System of Assessments

How a System of Assessments Addresses a Wider Range of Standards

Moving toward Student Profiles

Chapter 11: Where to from Here?

What Will “Ready” Mean?

A Blurring of the Line between High School and College

The Future of the Common Core State Standards and Consortia Assessments

The Overall Outlook

Conclusion: Changing Demographics, New Instructional Challenges

Appendix: A Nine-Part Readiness System

Index

More Praise for Getting Ready for College, Careers, and the Common Core

“This book confirms David Conley’s place as America’s foremost expert on college and career readiness. It will serve as an invaluable guide to parents, public officials, and educators at all levels who are struggling with these issues. It is a timely and invaluable resource for practitioners.”

—Jim Nelson, executive director, AVID

“David Conley provides a comprehensive view of what it takes for the youth of America to be college- and career-ready and relates it to the Common Core State Standards, so educators can easily see how the efforts support each other. Conley not only provides a road map of what will it take to align instruction and assessment to improve college and career readiness for all students in this new era of Common Core, he also addresses important issues of student motivation and ownership of their learning and makes clear that college and career readiness is a long process, which starts in elementary school and involves educators at all levels. The book provides both a high-level understanding of the key issues and also practical, time-tested strategies and tools to help students succeed.”

—Betsy Brand, executive director, American Youth Policy Forum

“David Conley’s passionate, relentless, and lifelong commitment to college and career readiness is the basis of this thoughtful and actionable book for educators and policymakers who are serious about giving every child a shot at the American dream.”

—Barbara Chow, program director, Education Program,

The William and Flora Hewlett Foundation


Other Books by David T. Conley
College Knowledge: What It Really Takes for Students to Succeed and What We Can Do to Get Them Ready
College and Career Ready: Helping All Students Succeed Beyond High School

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PREFACE

Many of you who are students of the topic of college and career readiness or who simply wonder about these sorts of things have asked me what caused me to get into this line of research so long ago and to pursue it over such an extended period of time. It’s a fair question, particularly in light of the fact that when I started to think about this in 1991, pretty much no one else was doing so. That was just after the 1989 announcement in Charlottesville, Virginia, by President George H. W. Bush of National Educational Goals, the first call for US schools to adopt high standards for all students. How did I get from that to the notion of college and career readiness, an idea that didn’t mature fully as a policy topic until the latter part of the first decade of the twenty-first century? What drives someone to persist with an idea when most others are nowhere near as willing to take it up seriously or to act on it?

The Social Justice Imperative

I’ll spare you a psychological profile. Instead, I’ll describe some of my thought processes and experiences along the way that caused me to sustain my efforts and activities in this field and take you on a brief tour of the route I followed, how it led me to take up the topic of college and career readiness in the first place, and why I persisted with it.

As those of you who read the foreword to my previous book, College and Career Ready, already know, I was first in my family to attend college, partly the result of luck and partly the result of the California Master Plan for Higher Education, which enabled me, after not taking high school seriously enough, to spend two years in a community college transfer program and be accepted at the University of California, Berkeley. I arrived at Berkeley in the late 1960s, a time on that campus of tremendous tumult. A common saying is that if you can remember the sixties, you weren’t there. And I must admit that much of the time at Berkeley is a blur, punctuated by memories of political protests, campus unrest, and searing self-examination. I came out the other side of the experience with a deep commitment to social justice, but with an equally deep cynicism about the value of radical political action as the primary means to achieve genuine social change. Education, I came to believe, was the engine and vehicle by which we might address issues of social justice toward the goal of all citizens having the opportunity to fulfill their potential in a society that treats them with dignity and respect.

I spent seven years cofounding, codirecting, teaching in, and administering two public alternative schools dedicated to this proposition. Multicultural and multiracial in nature, with great variation in student socioeconomic status, these two schools had wide latitude to experiment. We engaged in the type of radical redesign and rethinking of education that two decades later policymakers would look to charter schools, academies, and boutique experiments to accomplish. We obviously never completely uncovered the secret formula by which all students from all backgrounds succeed, but I do think we made a positive difference in the lives of the students we served.

Putting Ideas into Practice: Easier Said Than Done

In the process, I learned a tremendous amount about schools and schooling. These were students who had given up on the public schools or, in many cases, vice versa. Most were categorized as failures of one type or another. What was amazing to me was that once I got to know them well, I realized that almost all of them had a talent or interest that was not immediately apparent but could serve as a hook to making them successful. Not all of them were ever going to top out on conventional academic measures, but I came to see that even the most challenged of them had the potential to succeed in life.

We did our best to make that happen, but these young people who faced so many obstacles in their lives needed to be part of the solution as well. The ones who had the greatest success were those who were willing to take some modicum of ownership of their learning and responsibility for their behavior. Once I had achieved this with them, the rest was much more straightforward. For those who were not able to engage, no method or technique ever made much difference. This lesson about the importance of ownership of learning never completely left me. Interestingly and unexpectedly, I had reached the conclusion that the social contract was a two-way street: society has a responsibility to create a level playing field, and individuals have a responsibility to take advantage of it.


image This lesson about the importance of ownership of learning never completely left me.

The next fifteen years were a time for me to cement my professional identity and skills and to transition to teaching adults primarily. Oddly enough, the lessons I learned working with challenging young people paid off with dividends when I started to offer professional development to teachers. No group of students can really hold a candle to a bunch of restless teachers assembled involuntarily for an in-service training.

I recall a class early in my tenure as district staff development coordinator on the topic of Madeline Hunter’s essential elements of effective instruction. (Does that name ring a bell for some of you? Her model of effective instruction was ubiquitous throughout the 1980s.) After diligent preparation, including making the coffee for them, I faced thirty or so teachers who were mandated to be there at 4:00 p.m. on a Thursday, intent on getting them excited about teaching to objectives, checking for understanding, and a host of other instructional techniques and strategies.

Predictably, one veteran who sat in the back of the room proceeded to pull out a newspaper and begin reading it, positioning it prominently between me and him (the equivalent of the current practice of texting while someone else is speaking as a way of showing disdain). Having dealt with some pretty tough kids, I knew I needed not to let this challenge go unanswered. But one has to be particularly careful with the feelings of adults, so I continued my presentation without missing a beat while slowly moving across the room until I had placed myself prominently and directly behind the gentleman with the newspaper. Luckily, he got the hint and put the paper away, and I also got to model the classroom management technique of proximity at the same time.

Having some understanding at this point of difficult students and difficult adults, I turned my attention to the exponentially more difficult issue of the educational system while spending two years on special assignment to a state education department, implementing legislation that school superintendents weren’t wild about, and then two years as an assistant superintendent in a midsized school district, where I learned the politics of the central office and that I wasn’t very interested in them.

The Fork in the Road

At this point, I had twenty years of experience in education and had become restless. I decided to make a career change of sorts. Many of my colleagues had told me in what was ostensibly meant to be a compliment that I didn’t exactly fit the typical mold of a school administrator. Knowing I didn’t want to be a superintendent, I realized I didn’t have much of a career path open to me in school administration. I resolved to take a shot at being a faculty member at a research university. I was determined not to be the kind of educator who enters higher education to tell war stories to neophytes about what it was like to be a teacher or principal. I wanted to be judged by the standards of the university. I was fortunate enough to find a university that shared this vision for my appointment—sort of.

It’s very difficult not to be typecast when coming from public schools into almost any college or university that prepares teachers and administrators. Initially I did teach my share of courses in the licensure program and in the process got to work with some outstanding future administrators and just plain great educators. My passion, however, was (and is) the notion that educational policy is a potential tool to promote social justice. This connected me back to my roots in those alternative schools and my time spent on the Berkeley campus.


image My passion, however, was the notion that educational policy is a potential tool to promote social justice.

The one thing I have always liked about being a professor is that I can decide how to spend my time on things I deem important, something I couldn’t do always as a teacher and certainly not as an administrator. One day soon after my appointment, I made the sixty-mile drive up the road to Salem, the capital of Oregon, to meet with key leaders in the department of education. Timing being everything, it turned out that the legislature was just taking up a sweeping educational reform initiative. Being a professor who had real interests in educational policy and some experience in educational practice put me in a unique category. I was able to contribute to legislation designed to create standards-based education that had the goal of getting the state’s students to become the highest achievers in the nation and best-prepared workers in the world. Heady stuff, this.

An Unexpected Turn into College Readiness

Needless to say, implementing a policy is much more challenging than making up something to implement, and a reform of this complexity was certainly no exception. After assisting the state education department with its initial and largely chaotic efforts to translate all of this into practice, I decided to step back a bit and think about where all this was leading. Professors get to ask questions like: If students were expected to meet standards to demonstrate what they know, wouldn’t it make sense to start thinking about what they would be doing after high school so that all this demonstrating could be tied to some tangible goal, such as college or careers? Can we really expect students to perform at higher levels without their taking greater ownership of their learning? Those implementing policy often don’t have the luxury of stepping back to contemplate the broader implications and unintended consequences of a complex policy.

Life turns on seemingly small events. Soon after, the chancellor’s office of the state’s higher education system office asked me to take a leave from my faculty role in order to serve as its liaison to the state department of education on matters related to K–12 school reform issues. Initially this meant attending a lot of meetings in the state capital while all those affected by the reform struggled to figure out what to do with its multiple mandates and requirements.

In the forefront was a pressing issue: What would be the purpose of the two new certificates, the certificate of initial mastery and certificate of advanced mastery? Mastery of what? Toward what end? Everyone was far more absorbed with implementing these certificates than to giving much thought to what would happen after students received them. Would they just be ignored by college admissions officers who would continue to look at high school courses taken, grades received, and scores on college admissions tests? It didn’t make much sense to me that students would expend tremendous energy to demonstrate higher levels of learning and then not be rewarded for it in any visible way. Where was the incentive to take any ownership?

All the time, it was becoming clearer to me that the two educational systems, K–12 and postsecondary, were not connected in any of the ways necessary for K–12 students to develop the skills they would need in the postsecondary system. The fact that some students did so was perhaps more a testament to their perseverance (and parental support) than it was to systems that support such an outcome.

In this new and relatively unique position as liaison between systems, I had considerable leeway to define how higher education could support certificate-based school reform focused on dramatically improving educational attainment for all students. It was readily apparent to me that if more students reached higher levels of achievement, more would be ready to move on to postsecondary learning and would be more likely to do so. In other words, higher education should be a key constituent and stakeholder in this certificate enterprise. But what could higher education do to support and encourage such a potential outcome? My thought was to start by defining the knowledge and skills students would need to be ready for college and then figure out how to use performance data from their certificates in combination with other sources to determine readiness for admission.

In retrospect, taking this on was a little like Gilligan going on his three-hour cruise. It took seven years to develop and fully field-test a proficiency-based college admission system. It’s described in chapter 2. Although the state board of higher education adopted the system, the K–12 department of education never fully integrated it into the certificates, and so it was left for individual school districts to take on that work, which a number did.

Taking Readiness to the National Level

What does one do next after seven years identifying the proficiencies for college success at the state level? Try something like it on the national level, of course. My university president nominated me for a task force being assembled in 2000 by the Association of American Universities. One of its charges was to determine how its members should react to and perhaps support standards-based school reform. Armed with this charge, I organized a work group within the chancellor’s office, and we created Standards for Success, also described in more detail later, which led to the first set of comprehensive standards describing what students need to know and be able to do to succeed in US universities. Four years devoted to this work culminated in the publication of the standards, a copy of which was distributed to every high school in the United States.

At this point, I had a clear sense of the enormity of the next step: reshaping the relationship between high schools and colleges to something more like a partnership than that of two neighbors with a high wall between them who communicate only by tossing things over the wall, a particularly unfortunate metaphor if we’re talking about students. That quest has continued for a decade, during which time I founded the Educational Policy Improvement Center (with the modest, unassuming acronym of EPIC), which is devoted to achieving the goal of a more rational, seamless educational system designed to enable more students to be ready for successful learning beyond high school.


image At this point, I had a clear sense of the enormity of the next step: reshaping the relationship between high schools and colleges.

How Far Have We Come toward Readiness?

As I prepare to make the transition from my role as CEO of EPIC into the role of chief strategy officer, and also to relinquish my tenure as a professor at the University of Oregon after a twenty-five-year stint in that role, I look back now to see how far we have come. The notion of college and career readiness, while not exactly a household phrase, is nevertheless a prominent and important educational policy issue that has, I believe, developed some amount of staying power. While we are far from resolving all the systems issues needed to create an aligned educational experience for students, we nevertheless have made great strides, first defining better what we mean by “college ready” and then “career ready” (although a healthy debate about precise meanings continues), then by launching an array of programs and strategies to get more students ready for college and careers, and, finally, addressing the policy context within which college and career readiness occurs.

I am not through studying this issue or contributing to solving this complex, multifaceted problem. I am heartened, though, to realize that I am not quite so alone anymore. It is gratifying to see the emergence of a whole new class of researchers, positions in educational agencies, and new groups and organizations focused on the issue and its many components. I hope my initial contributions to the understanding of college and career readiness have helped move along the discussion and improve to some degree educational outcomes for all students, and particularly those in whom I was so invested earlier in my career.

I plan to be contributing to this field for some time to come, and I look forward to continued colleagueship and inspiration from those who now share the challenge with me. We are a long way from refashioning the US educational system into one designed to get all students ready for college and careers, but we have taken a significant step down that road. Let us ensure we do so in a way that is just and fair for all students. Let us celebrate our accomplishments along the way and rededicate ourselves to the challenges that still lie ahead.

This concludes the story of my journey to date. I look forward to hearing the stories of those taking up the torch now and to continue to witness and participate in the evolution of college and career readiness in the United States.

David T. Conley

August 2013

Portland, Oregon


The website accompaniment to this book can be found at www.collegecareerready.org.

ACKNOWLEDGMENTS

It is not possible for me to identify every person who has contributed to the research I conducted at the Educational Policy Improvement Center (EPIC) over the past eleven years and that I summarize at various points in this book. Therefore, I offer a blanket thank-you to all of my colleagues there who have helped develop the body of research that underlies much of what is contained in this book.

Although it’s always risky to call out specific people by name when so many have been instrumental in helping to make this book happen, several folks did contribute directly at a level that warrants individual recognition. Lizzie Dunklee has ridden herd on this process and on me in ways that were critical to the completion of the manuscript. She managed the EPIC side of the external review process and also ensured that all of the figures, tables, and the appendix were in order, no small tasks. Brandi Kujala-Peterson contributed in many of these areas as well and offered assistance as needed all along the way. Robyn Conley Downs lent support in numerous ways, including reading an early version of the manuscript and offering suggestions. Mary Seburn was the first to read several early chapters and provided me with encouragement and positive feedback when I was still unsure where the book was headed. Whitney Davis-Molin and Sarah Collins also reviewed an early draft of the manuscript and contributed resources for the Action and Awareness tasks at the end of each chapter, and Karin Klinger prepared many of the illustrations for publication.

I also acknowledge the two anonymous reviewers commissioned by Jossey-Bass and the ten reviewers recruited by EPIC. All offered excellent suggestions, and I have worked diligently to incorporate them. I hope that I have been responsive to their recommendations and ideas. The book is much stronger as a result of the time they took to provide thoughtful critiques.

As always, I extend my gratitude to the professional staff at Jossey-Bass. Although I did not have the pleasure of working directly with Lesley Iura as much on this book as on the two previous books of mine that Jossey-Bass has published, she was nevertheless instrumental in getting me to write this in the first place. Marjorie McAneny has done a stellar job of nudging me along and offering just enough of the kinds of support, encouragement, and communication I needed to keep going.

And, finally, I acknowledge my wife, Judy. I have dedicated the book to her for her unstinting support of me over the entire span of my career. Her unselfishness has allowed me to focus on preparing this manuscript over an extended period of time, and I am truly grateful for her unequivocally positive comments as she read early versions of chapters. I needed both of these kinds of support to be able to stay on this project and see it through to its completion.

THE AUTHOR

David T. Conley is professor of educational policy and leadership and founder and director of the Center for Educational Policy Research at the University of Oregon in Eugene, Oregon. He is also the founder and, for ten years, chief executive officer of the Educational Policy Improvement Center, known more commonly as EPIC. In 2011, he founded CCR Consulting Group, where he serves as president. Both EPIC and CCR Consulting Group are located in Eugene and Portland, Oregon. Through these organizations, Conley conducts research on a range of topics related to college readiness and other key policy issues, with funding provided by grants and contracts from a range of national organizations, states, school districts, and school networks. His line of inquiry focuses on what it takes for students to succeed in postsecondary education.

His previous books on these topics include College and Career Ready: Helping All Students Succeed Beyond High School and College Knowledge: What It Really Takes for Students to Succeed and What We Can Do to Get Them Ready. He received his BA from the University of California, Berkeley, and master’s and doctoral degrees from the University of Colorado, Boulder.

Before joining the University of Oregon faculty, he spent twenty years in public education as a teacher, building-level and central office administrator, and state education department executive. He has authored numerous journal articles, book chapters, and monographs. He regularly serves on technical and advisory panels, including as cochair the Common Core State Standards Validation Committee and as a member of the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium Technical Advisory Committee. He is the recipient of both the Innovation in Research Award and the Faculty Excellence Award from the University of Oregon.

INTRODUCTION

Teachers want students to learn. It’s one of the most basic reasons people go into teaching, and it’s certainly one of the basic expectations society has of teachers. However, supporting students to learn requires more than presenting information to them. Learning occurs more often, and more deeply, when students understand, retain, and are able to apply and use what they are taught, not just routinely, but in new and novel ways. Getting students to these deeper levels of learning is a key goal of current educational reforms and one toward which most teachers strive, but the path to achieve that end may not always be clear. When students are motivated to learn, when they know that what they are being taught is important, when they can apply what they are learning to their interests and aspirations so that they value what they are being taught, they do a much better job. Under such circumstances, teaching can be a most rewarding undertaking. Absent these conditions, it can be alienating for students, a battle of wills, or worse.

I raise this issue at the beginning of this book because over the past twenty-five years, states and the federal government have worked to define more clearly and explicitly the expectations teachers should have for students by implementing academic content standards. Such standard-setting activities took place in all states between 1990 and 2002. As of spring 2013, forty-five states and the District of Columbia had signed on to the Common Core State Standards, requiring an overhaul of their standards and assessment systems and related supports for districts and schools. Educators are seeking methods, techniques, tools, and materials—in short, solutions—to get students to meet the higher and deeper expectations of the Common Core State Standards. As I illustrate throughout this book, higher student achievement of the type envisioned by the Common Core State Standards is unlikely to occur without students’ taking greater ownership of their learning. Even if student test scores go up, such improvements alone are not likely to result in significantly more students being ready for college and careers, because readiness is far more multifaceted than what is captured by a few test scores, a point that I explore in depth throughout this book.

Many young people have accepted the idea that they need to do what they are told if they are to succeed in school and beyond in life. Their parents and other supportive adults have emphasized the importance of academic success, perhaps even obsessed over it. These students affiliate with peer groups in which everyone seems willing to do what they are expected to do to succeed. But in the process of complying with the wishes of adults, many of these young people lose their enthusiasm for learning. They produce just enough work at just a high enough quality level to meet the expectations of their teachers and parents. But they do not necessarily do so with enthusiasm or joy.

Others refuse to comply beyond showing up and following directions as literally as possible. They may not create any problems, but they are clearly marking time toward the day they receive a diploma that in the end may not have much meaning, significance, or value to them. They may not be giving much thought, if any, to what they will do with their lives except in the broadest of terms. It is not that they lack ambition or interests; they simply don’t make connections between what they are learning and where they are going beyond high school.

A final group presents its own unique challenges and opportunities. It consists of students who have special needs or face special challenges, particularly those with disabilities and those who are developing their English proficiency. These students are rarely given the chance to show what they can do in the first place and have few, if any, opportunities to shape or own their learning. Interestingly, colleges are witnessing a steady increase in students from these groups, an indication of the latent potential present in these students, as well as a harbinger of the challenges that colleges will face in the future as their numbers grow. Viewing these students as capable of aspiring to postsecondary readiness and success has been the missing first step in getting them to engage more deeply with learning.

I am increasingly convinced that educators are never going to see the types of improvement in student learning that they desire and that policymakers seek if students are not able to take more ownership of their learning and to connect their schooling to their goals and ambitions. The key to achieving this, in my estimation, is for college and career readiness to become the universal focal point for all students. I present a full definition of what I mean by college and career ready in chapter 2, but the key concept is that all students need to be ready to succeed in a postsecondary setting in which they can be successful as they pursue their aspirations.

Getting students ready to do so begins by encouraging them from an early age not just to think about college, but also to think about what they want to do with their lives and then make connections between what they are being taught and what they need to do to be ready to pursue any of a range of options after high school. Throughout elementary and secondary school, students will need many more opportunities to learn about the possibilities for their futures—the career pathways, the topics, and the interest areas that can excite and motivate them to take on greater academic challenges. They need to make connections between the academic content they are learning and their goals and aspirations.

The Common Core State Standards, Student Ownership of Learning, and College and Career Readiness

The Common Core State Standards and the assessments being developed by two consortia of states, the Partnership for the Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC) and the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium, pose a new challenge for US students and their teachers. The key question is whether students can reach the deeper levels of learning and demonstrate mastery on these new, potentially more demanding assessments. More important, if more students achieve the fundamental goal of the Common Core State Standards, will they be ready for college and careers? This is the path down which the states that have adopted the Common Core State Standards now venture. The states outside the Common Core have their own demanding expectations, and most of the content of this book is relevant and useful to educators in those states as well.

The Common Core State Standards and the assessments being developed by PARCC and Smarter Balanced are important focal points and organizers, and a substantial portion of the book is devoted to helping educators think about how to enable students to learn the Common Core State Standards in ways the result in high performance on the consortia assessments. But that is not a book about preparing for those assessments. Its larger purpose is to present and explain a framework around which classrooms, schools, and systems can be organized that enables full alignment with the goal of college and career readiness for all students within a Common Core world.

The Role of Elementary and Secondary Schools

This book is not just about secondary schools or students on the verge of attending college or starting a career. The process of being ready to learn begins much earlier—in preschool, ideally. Many of the principles explored in this book apply to elementary school students and teachers as much as or more than they do to students in secondary school. Attending to the needs of younger students is particularly important because they have the advantage of still being programmed to learn, with a drive to understand the world for the simple joy of doing so. As students mature, they demand more reasons to learn. They need more than an explanation; they need an internal force that reaffirms that what they are doing is important and valuable to them.

The Elementary School as Frame Setter

For elementary school students, most of the content they learn is not necessarily specific to college and career readiness, and it shouldn’t be. However, a great deal can be done in the early grades to help students acquire and develop the foundational content knowledge, essential learning skills and strategies, and the frame of mind necessary for success after high school. The following are examples of learning skills and mind-sets that contribute to readiness later on. They are the ability to

In terms of foundational content knowledge, elementary school students can strengthen their literacy skills early so that they can quickly transition from learning to read to reading to learn. They do this in part by mastering academic vocabulary, the language used in the learning process at the secondary and postsecondary levels. Achieving and consolidating fluency in key foundational areas in mathematics is also necessary, along with a deep understanding of scientific principles, the scientific method, and techniques used to collect and analyze information systematically. Grasping the notion of social systems and how they operate, and the general outline and flow of historical events and themes, gives students context for the detailed and specific information to which they will be exposed in their studies of history and social sciences. Cultivating the visual and performing arts encourages creativity, principles of design and expression, the ability to persist with a challenging task, experience with self-assessment, and a greater openness to having one’s work or performance critiqued.

In short, elementary school can and should be a time when students are gaining insight into the structure of academic disciplines and ways of knowing that are important in today’s knowledge economy. Students should also be developing an appreciation of how other cultures experience and interpret the world so that they understand that learning occurs in many different ways. These general understandings are buttressed by solid content in areas specified in the Common Core State Standards and other core knowledge, which creates a solid foundation on which more advanced studies can be undertaken. These understandings also frame and mediate student identification of potential future interests, one of the keys to increased ownership of learning.


image Elementary school can and should be a time when students are gaining insight into the structure of academic disciplines and ways of knowing that are important in today’s knowledge economy.

Secondary School, a Time for Students to Set Aspirations and Define Interests

Secondary school is the time and place where students begin to examine in greater detail areas of interest and where they start to think about their future in more concrete ways. Using the Common Core as a framework, students can conceivably begin to make connections between their interests and aspirations and the specific knowledge and skills they need to be ready for postsecondary programs aligned with their goals. Getting them to make a connection between what they are learning and what they want to do or become is the key to generating greater student ownership of learning and getting them to put in the time, effort, and energy necessary to do the demanding work that the Common Core State Standards require.

Secondary school is also a time when educators can find out a lot more about their students’ postsecondary readiness. Students take tests that gauge their content knowledge. However, a lot more information is needed. To get a better sense of their cognitive development, students need challenging assignments and classroom assessments that require deeper engagement and more sophisticated information processing skills. In addition, students can learn to use a variety of learning strategies and techniques effectively and develop attitudes toward learning that enable them to succeed in difficult situations. Finally, schools can gather information on how well students understand and are prepared for the complex process of applying to college, garnering necessary financial aid, coping with the culture of college, and advocating for themselves within large, complex institutional settings.

All of this information needs to be actionable by school site staff, students, and parents. Students need to be able to change their behaviors, add new skills, and eliminate ineffective ones. They need to be able to influence their own destiny by taking affirmative steps to be better prepared for the future they want to create. They need to use available data to internalize a cause-and-effect view of the world, one in which their efforts lead directly to achievement of their goals. And the adults in their lives must use the information to reinforce this behavior and solidify causal notions for students who would otherwise not invest the time and energy necessary to succeed as learners.

Not many school systems or individual schools teach all of this or develop all of these skills. Neither do they gather information on how well students are doing in most of these areas. Furthermore, few elementary and secondary schools have instructional programs that would enable students to use this type of information to become college and career ready more efficiently. While the Common Core State Standards can be a catalyst for better alignment with postsecondary expectations, the challenge remains for schools to design instructional program that directly address the expectations those standards contain in order to improve college and career readiness for all students. This book is about what it will take to do this.

Overview of the Chapters

Chapter 1 begins with a discussion of why college and career readiness for all is now a goal for education and how challenging this goal is. The US economy continues to reinvent itself at a rapid pace. This process is driving changes in the very nature and organization of work that will require new skills but also a new definition of what it means to be ready to succeed in this dynamic environment. Education has a significant impact on economic opportunity and financial well-being for most people. Being career ready is not the same as having a vocational skill or getting a job right out of high school. Schools need to move beyond job training models that have been in place for the past hundred years. The traditional academic core is also being challenged to change and evolve to better meet the needs of all students, not just those going to the most competitive colleges and universities.

Chapter 2 examines the similarities and differences between college readiness and career readiness. The Common Core State Standards say they address both. Some studies suggest that college readiness and career readiness are one and the same, but others point to a more complicated relationship. Understanding student interests is one of the key factors in determining what readiness means for each student. Profiles that connect student performance to student aspirations offer a strategy for thinking about how college ready and career ready individual students are. Readiness exists along a continuum from work ready to life ready, and chapter 2 presents a model for considering various levels of readiness. Chapter 2 concludes with a comprehensive definition of college and career readiness and suggests how this definition can be used to enable more students to focus their high school studies and continue beyond to the postsecondary level.


image Understanding student interests is one of the key factors in determining what readiness means for each student.

Chapter 3 begins with an overview of the four keys to college and career readiness. The four keys offer a larger, more comprehensive framework within which the Common Core’s role in helping students become college and career ready can be better understood. The chapter then presents an in-depth description of the first two, key cognitive strategies and key content knowledge, and explores the role they play in helping students master the Common Core State Standards. Key cognitive strategies are the ways in which students approach complex problems or challenging tasks. They are how students process information to gain greater meaning and value from it. They are critical to postsecondary readiness and, increasingly, to success in the workplace. Key content knowledge explores the importance of the mind-set students bring to learning and the ways in which they explain their successes and failures. Rather than presenting additional content, this key assumes that the Common Core is a useful framework for specifying what students need to know.

Chapter 4 continues the exposition of the four keys by introducing the second two factors, key learning skills and techniques and key transition knowledge and skills. The first explains all the important ways of learning students must master to be college and career ready. The second outlines all the privileged knowledge that some groups of people have and use to help their students go to college but that most students lack. These two keys are complex and multidimensional. The key learning skills and techniques reintroduce the notion of student ownership of learning and explore it in more depth in a section devoted to this topic and to all of the subskills that contribute to student ownership. The key techniques are what students need to know how to do as learners if they are to become college and career ready and if they are to do well with the Common Core State Standards—skills such as note taking, time management, and studying. The second half of the chapter is devoted to the key transition knowledge and skills, and it organizes them into five categories: contextual, procedural, financial, cultural, and personal. These include making the right college choice, applying, financing a postsecondary education, coping with the differences between high school and college, and managing the personal identity issues associated with becoming an independent learner and person.