That too many young people come out of high school ill-prepared for college or the work force is little disputed. The questions of why that’s so and how to fix the situation, however, have too often resulted in finger pointing, with many college faculty members complaining that high schools are asking too little of their students and high school officials saying that colleges send mixed signals about what they want students to be able to do.
The stagnation and even deterioration created by that logjam has contributed to the situation in which the United States now finds itself: sliding down the list of countries in the proportion of young adults with college credentials, prompting President Obama and others to propose investing tens of billions of dollars to get more people into and out of college. But despite a lot of talk, the “holy grail” solution to the preparation problem — better aligning high school and college curriculums so that more students leave K-12 ready to do college work or with work-ready skills — has often seemed out of reach.
Today represents a milestone, though, for a potential breakthrough that could have major implications for higher education. The Council of Chief State School Officers and the National Governors Association have released common standards for core curriculums in mathematics and reading and writing that, because of a confluence of events, could create a set of widely embraced national (but not federal) standards for what high school students need to know to be “college ready” or to have the skills to enter the work force. (Comments are invited through October 21.)