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This series of posts is adapted from a presentation given at a conference for new college presidents in the UNCF network. See the second part on The Point later this week.
In the late 1990’s, many Americans came across the book A Hope in the Unseen by Ron Suskind, a Wall Street Journal reporter who followed a talented young man at Ballou High School, one of Washington, DC’s lowest-performing high schools.
Cedric Jennings—the young man who is the subject of the book—worked against unimaginable odds to graduate from high school and get accepted into college. He transitioned from Washington, DC, to Brown University, and soon he realized how underprepared he was compared to his peers for the academic rigors and social norms of college. He struggled, but he persevered and graduated.
Fast forward to 2017: every single one of the 190 Ballou students who made it to senior year in the fall of 2016 made a commitment to apply to college. Every single one of them did apply—and was accepted to at least one postsecondary institution. It’s a remarkable feat and a sign of how a culture of high expectations has taken root in DC Public Schools since the time that Cedric Jennings’ story drew national attention.
But, DC (and the entire country) is still not where it needs to be: only 57% of students at Ballou graduated from high school in 2017. Fewer than 9% met the college- and career-ready standard on DC’s high school assessment in English language arts/literacy and 0% met the standard in math—compared to a DC-wide average of 31% in ELA/literacy and 27% in math that year.
Simply put, the example of Ballou High School demonstrates the progress we are making in providing access to college to more students, particularly historically underserved students—an important and laudable achievement. Whether we are preparing all students for the academic rigors of postsecondary education is a separate and equally important question.
In other words, we may be making progress as a nation in closing the expectations gap, but are we closing the preparation gap?
To better understand the answer to this question, we’ll take a look at some of the national statistics on students’ progress to and through postsecondary education in the next post in this series.
By Lesley Muldoon, Chief of Policy and Advocacy at CenterPoint Education Solutions