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The Politics of Education: Michigan Dept. of Ed Study Finds Less Than Half of AAPS Graduates College Ready

My eldest tot is going to Community High School next Fall. The lottery pool for the 112 spots this year was larger than in previous years, and over 400 kids and their parents waited to find out whose number had been drawn. Maybe some of the families who would have liked to have sent their kids to Greenhills, where the classes are small and instructional programs thoroughly student-centered, couldn’t swing the tuition. I’ve heard that at Greenhills requests for financial assistance are outstripping the school’s ability to meet the needs of the 21 percent of its families who can’t afford the $17,865/$18,225 tuition. Greenhills gives out about $1 million dollars per year in tuition assistance. I’m sure that same story is being played out at private schools all over the city. St. Francis Catholic School has a handy tuition comparison chart on the school’s web site. At $4,600 per year, tuition at the K-8 school is a relative bargain.

The result of the drawing for Community High School this February was that there’s a several hundred student waiting list for Fall 2011. While waiting for the drawing, we heard stories from families whose kids had scored in the Community High School lottery, or struck out. One friend recounted the copious tears that accompanied lottery failures of both of her daughters. Of course, all of the kids went on to one of Ann Arbor’s other high schools, and then went on to graduate. In fact, the graduation rate among Ann Arbor high school seniors is between 94-98 percent, depending upon the individual high school.

Despite the fact that Ann Arbor taxpayers fork over $190,000,000 in tax dollars (28 cents out of ever tax dollar paid) to the AAPS, and the state of Michigan gives the city $11,000 per student—another $176,000,000—the Michigan Department of Education recently released the results of a study that found that at one Ann Arbor high school, zero percent of students are college ready when they graduate. At another Ann Arbor high school, only 2.6 percent of the graduating students are college ready. The high school with the highest percentage of college ready students in the city of Ann Arbor was Community High School. There, according to the Michigan Department of Education (MDE) research, 50.9 percent of the students who graduate are college ready.

College readiness is defined as the percentage of students that meet the following four minimum scores on the ACT: 18 on English, 22 on math, 21 on reading and 24 on science.

Here is a graph of how Ann Arbor Public Schools fare in comparison to other school districts in the county according to MDE data:

District School % College Ready Graduation rate
Ann Arbor Public Schools Community High School 50.9 98.0%
Ann Arbor Public Schools Pioneer High School 43.9 95.0%
Ann Arbor Public Schools Stone High School 2.6 28.0%
Ann Arbor Public Schools Roberto Clemente Center 0 92.0%
Saline Area Schools Saline High School 41.8 96.0%
Dexter Community School District Dexter High School 37.5 95.0%
School District Of Ypsilanti Ypsilanti High School 5 78.0%
Whitmore Lake Public Schools Whitmore Lake High School 7.9 89.0%
Willow Run Community Schools Willow Run High School 3.5 56.0%

The puzzler is, of course, the Roberto Clemente Center with its high graduation rate and zero percent college-readiness scores. In essence, the graduation requirements for the students of this school in no way prepare them for success in higher education. In comparing the Ann Arbor School District data with that of other county districts, above, it’s easy to look at, say, the Whitmore Lake Public School District data and feel as though Ann Arbor can be pleased that the majority of it seniors graduate. However, the data make very clear that graduation rates are not what districts should be touting, nor what parents with school-age children should be looking at when making decisions about where to buy a home, for instance.

According to a piece in today’s Detroit Free Press: “The analysis by the Michigan Department of Education underscores that graduation rates are not a reflection of the quality of education kids are getting. It raises ‘grave concern’ that students are graduating without the skills to succeed, said Martin Ackley, spokesman for the MDE.”

In Ann Arbor, with the long-time embarrassing achievement gap between white and non-white students, the obvious question as to why, at two of the three major high schools, barely half of students are college-ready, could be related in part to that gap. However, the black populations at neither Huron, Community nor Pioneer approach the total percentage of students who graduate from those schools without being college ready. The other obvious issue is that in Ann Arbor a high percentage of graduating high school students go on to college, where the average student spends $12,000 per year on tuition, room, board and books. The graduation rate for American college students has plummeted to under 50 percent in 2010, from 70 percent in 1979. One answer to this dilemma is reflected in Ann Arbor’s results: students are being graduated from high schools, and encouraged to go on to college without the necessary skills to tackle college-level work. As a result, they drop-out of college, as opposed to dropping out of high school.

Imagine if the college-readiness rates at Community, Huron and Pioneer were, instead, the graduation rates. In other words, imagine if Ann Arbor schools stopped graduating students who were not college ready? Draconian? Hardly. Lack of college readiness is a much more easily hidden and infinitely more insidious problem. It is, literally, a case of kicking the can down the road—the roads leading to Washtenaw Community College, Eastern Michigan University and other Michigan colleges and universities. College drop-out rates are troubling; high school drop-out rates get the intense scrutiny of state and federal education officials, as they should.

The Ann Arbor Public Schools might be at the top of the list in terms of student readiness county-wide, but it still means that a huge number of students graduating from the district’s high schools are being matriculated without the academic skills necessary to succeed at the college of their choosing—despite local and state support of over one-third of a billion dollars in tax money every year. 

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7 Comments for “The Politics of Education: Michigan Dept. of Ed Study Finds Less Than Half of AAPS Graduates College Ready”

  1. [...] The Politics of Education: Michigan De&#112&#116&#46 of Ed Study Finds Less … [...]

  2. @5 We agree on this. I taught college for a decade and can tell you that returning students and continuing students were different species. For many continuing students, particularly those at the community college level, the first year of college is an extenuation of high school.

  3. @a2politico I didn’t mean to say most people do not benefit greatly from higher education, but that at 18 a sizable portion of students may not be ready for 4 colleges.

  4. @Ben a very large percentage of AAPS students go on to college. At the Community High orientation that was something stressed by the Dean of the school, in fact. If one agrees that college is a path to greater earning potential (and one should agree since the U.S. Department of Education has done numerous studies that have concluded this), graduation rates are not the marker to be used to gauge student success after high school, but rather college readiness is a much better marker. Should everyone go on to college? The past three presidents of the U.S. thought so. President Obama mentioned the importance of college education in his recent State of the Union address. Will everyone succeed in college? Of course not, but sending students to college who are not college ready is a recipe for failure on the part of both the college and the student.

  5. @Eric students who are a part of that achievement gap group might, logically, also be a part of the group of students identified by the MDE as having graduated without being college ready (lower test scores in ACT tested subjects). Thanks for the attendance numbers so that we can have a better understanding of the numbers of students represented by those percentages above. I think the district’s budget has enrollment numbers for each individual school, so if you want to find the numbers for Roberto Clemente and Stone School, a quick look at the most recent budget book would probably reveal that information. To be sure, both are significantly smaller than either Huron or Pioneer.

  6. As it is currently written, I don’t understand the basis of this comment:

    “In Ann Arbor, with the long-time embarrassing achievement gap between white and non-white students, the obvious question as to why, at two of the three major high schools, barely half of students are college-ready, could be related in part to that gap.”

    The three major high schools, in terms of attendance, are Pioneer (2477), Huron (2079), and Skyline (1303). Community is fourth (450). Yet you only list the “college ready” scores for Pioneer and Community. (First three enrollment numbers are from MHSAA Enrollment List 2010-11. Community number is from Wikipedia. I couldn’t find attendance numbers for Stone High School or Roberto Clemente.)

  7. I know the pool of quality jobs available for people without college education is dwindling rapidly. Is it safe to present college as the only option after high school graduation? While the the college readiness rates of students at Ann Arbor high schools is worrisome, would we want to substitute the college readiness metric for graduation requirements? As the success of Community illustrates, one-size-fits-all models of education don’t work for all students. Upon meeting graduation requirements, some students may benefit from working or attending a community college for a few years before attending a four year institution if that is even the best path for them.

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