You Get What You Measure

Today, I’d like to hand it over to Keith Frome , Chief Academic Officer at College Summit, to discuss one of the key drivers to creating a college-going culture in high schools discussed on Monday: Setting high expectations for results.

No matter what a school may say about itself in its promotional literature or mission statement, the kind of evaluation a school or a school system uses to determine educational effectiveness will also determine the culture and the curriculum of the school itself.

Students need high academic standards and schools need regular skills assessments. Good teaching demands real-time data in order to provide nimble remediation. We should make sure that every student reads and calculates at grade level. But why do we stop there?

Schools and school districts need to know a real measure of the impact of education in their students’ lives: postsecondary education. The reason young people work hard in high school in the 21st century is not to get a high school diploma. It is to make a better future through college and career. Students know that what gets measured is what matters. As long as high schools’ ultimate goal and measure is high school graduation, they will continue to design themselves out-of-step with their customers (the students!), and lose relevance.

The momentum from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation to get all students to be “college-ready” is a bulls-eye—it focuses the purpose of high school as a launch pad to college and career success, not as a destination in and of itself. We need official school district report cards that calculate the number of students who matriculate to college.

Policymakers can make an immediate and profound difference in American education by helping schools—and parents—access college enrollment and persistence information for every high school. Behavior and curriculum will quickly follow this incentive, and children all over the country will be told, from the time they enter kindergarten, that they are college bound, that they are learning to read and write not for the sake of a test score, not for the sake of a principal’s or a superintendent’s job security, but because they will need these skills in college and beyond.

Why adopt “college enrollment rate” as a measure for every high school?

  • It matches a Children-First agenda. It’s one of the most real measures of the impact of K–12 in the lives of students.
  • It’s a motivator for students. When students work hard in high school, it’s not to get a diploma anymore. It’s for their future, for college and career success. Students know that what gets measured is what matters, so they’ll notice when their school prioritizes their success after high school.
  • “College Enrollment Rate” makes sense as a measure to parents, business leaders (voters!), etc. It doesn’t take Eduwonk to get what it means and why it’s important.

By creating a college matriculation standard, each child will understand that he or she will enjoy a future, a boundless horizon, a destiny. The National Association of Independent Schools sets ambitious targets for college enrollment rate for our nation’s private schools. Why should we expect less of public schools? Imagine if we set college matriculation as the ultimate metric of our education system and taught for it, measured for it, hired for it. What a country this would be.

–Guestbloggers Keith Frome and J.B. Schramm

6 Replies to “You Get What You Measure”

  1. I’m not sure if college acceptance rate is appropriate. Looking at the recent news cycle, it appears that we are having serious problems with students dropping out of college, especially among minorities.

    It would be much harder to measure, but I believe “college success” is also another key factor. We need to teach students to be learners and that skill should continue with them into college and help them succeed in that arena as well.

  2. I agree completely. In many American high schools a student can complete every last task assigned to him, get good grades and pass his state exams, yet leave graduation with nothing close to the academic competence required to excel similarly in college. I taught at a high school in Texas where a real college prep education was unattainable, because the school was so focused on the much-lower standards required to get the students to pass the state exam. College matriculation / graduation rates as a means of evaluation would force fundamental change in teaching strategies, curricula, and the message students are given about their potential.
    You could not be more right.

  3. What kind of country would we be?

    I dunno. Imagine a country without soldiers, firefighters, police officers, carpenters, electricians, plumbers, farmers, pest control people, roofers, cable installers, landscapers and a host of other services that we rely on that are impossible to outsource overseas. College is an expensive proposition and not everyone can afford it outright nor can everyone get scholarships. Given what many of these people make as far as pay, it is unconscionable to expect them to borrow tens (or hundreds!)of thousands of dollars for a traditional college education. Even if Bill and Melinda Gates choose to finance college for each and every child in the country, some will simply not want to spend more years in formal education. A great many will want to get on with working and earning a living and having children of their own.

    This becomes especially true as the face of 21st century learning is transformed from formal education to more informal means through internet access. I can virtually step into a Berkeley or Stanford classroom and learn about organic chemistry through YouTube or iTunes without matriculating anywhere!

    I can easily see college matriculation becoming less relevant in the 21st century as people access their knowledge and skills directly from experts already engaged in a given career or profession.


  4. I agree with the commenter that suggests college graduation rate, not matriculation rate.

  5. @ Dan Dage:

    Imagine a country where every plumber has a college degree and thus can switch jobs if he finds out he doesn’t like plumbing.

    The problem with American education isn’t that it’s preparing some kids only to be tradesmen, it’s that it’s consigning entire demographic groups to such status, and making a mockery of the notion of an American Dream.

  6. Its true that we dont want to leave out the fact that there are important jobs to be done without a college degree, however it doesnt mean that we set the bar at 100% of students must go to college.

    What about 80%? or 75%? What is the right number? And in any demographic or socioeconomic area shouldnt there be a minimum number of students who would like to go to college?

    Still a much better measure than test scores or graduation rates (that we have more control over). You should really measure success at something with a rubric that doesnt give the stake holders direct control over the outcome.

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