College readiness guide could be better

‘College for Every Student: A Practitioner’s Guide’ by Rick Dalton andEdward P. St. John

In the mid-’90s, President Bill Clinton launched the School-to-Work Opportunities Act, pumping funds into states to implement career awareness/readiness efforts and partnerships with employers to provide opportunities/internships to students that might lead to jobs or job-based skill development. Students reported positive outcomes; employers also thought it was a great idea. Efforts petered out when the money ended and schools and employers got distracted by various crises and challenges.

What was solid thinking then — and it by no means was the first national or state effort of its kind – is still solid thinking. No one would disagree that helping students think early and often about the realities of life after high school – the necessity of a college degree, of preparing skill sets that encompass both traditional academics as well as other skills, nor with the idea that giving a student a helping hand … well … helps.

So, much of the information provided in the College for Every Student book is well worn, except that the authors are using the examples of the specific efforts undertaken by their eponymous nonprofit organization. The North-Country-based College for Every Student has developed an approach with three components: mentoring, leadership through service and pathways to college and career. This book covers each component and offers anecdotes from the experiences of school districts that have implemented the organization’s approach.

The target audience for the book, the “practitioner,” is unclear: guidance counselors? superintendents? It was not written for the student, nor the anxious parent, although there are some useful resources for them in there — a financial aid worksheet, for example, and a worksheet for thinking about networking. The authors decorously fall short of suggesting the “practitioners” targeted actually contact the organization for help, but in this perhaps they do the reader a disservice.

If I am involved in a school district and I want to eke out the time and effort to try to put in place something to help more of my students get to, and through college, how do I manage to implement the structures of the College for Every Student approach, and what will the organization do to assist me?

Many steps must seem insurmountable to an overworked administrator dealing with the standardized testing controversies and whatever the new federal Education Department will demand. How am I to set up internships, find mentors, offer college readiness classes? How do I get student buy-in? How do I get my students to come to school in the first place?

College for Every Student seems to have extensive experience in the Adirondacks, and I wish the text had devoted more detailed attention to exactly how schools implemented the College for Every Student approach, what were the greatest challenges, what challenges remain, and how the efforts might be institutionalized so they can withstand the battery of whatever new crisis will beset our educational system.