PPI Series: New York Needs College- and Career-Ready Standards to Bridge the Skills Gap

PPI Common Core: Here to Stay?

Part five of an ongoing series on higher standards in New York State

To a troubling degree, young adults leave New York’s high schools and colleges lacking the skills and knowledge that employers are looking for.  A newly released Public Policy Institute survey of New York employers from across the state finds that the majority face a mismatch between the skills they need and the skills workers possess.  More than 60% of the employers surveyed report difficulty finding workers with data analysis skills or critical thinking skills, and more than half have difficulty finding workers skilled at problem-solving, communications, research, or applied mathematics.  Indeed, more than twenty percent say it is “very difficult” to find workers with skills in data analysis or applied mathematics.  Between one-third and one-half of employers responding to the survey report difficulty finding workers with such skills as time management, reasoning, teamwork, application of core content, or the use of technology.

Percent of New York Employers Reporting Difficulty Finding Workers with Needed Skills

Percent of New York Employers Reporting Difficulty Finding Workers with Needed Skills

The origins of this skills gap lie in New York’s education pipeline.  Before the Board of Regents voted to adopt the Common Core, New York’s education standards were failing to keep pace with the changing demands of our global economy.  Three-quarters of New York students graduate from high school, but statistics released by the New York State Education Department reveal that only 38% of high school students graduate with the literacy and math skills they need for college and careers.   The “college- and career-ready graduation rate,” refers to the percentage of students graduating with a score of at least 75 on the Regents English and 80 on a math Regents exam, scores that have been shown to correlate with success in first-year college courses.  In other words, until the Common Core standards are fully phased in, a student can earn a high school diploma in New York without having mastered fundamental math and literacy skills.

New York State high school graduation rate, 2010 cohort.

New York State High School Graduation Rate, 2010 Cohort

Because a high school diploma no longer signifies academic preparedness, large numbers of incoming college students are surprised to discover that they require remedial courses in reading, writing, or mathematics.  More than fifty percent of students in New York two-year institutions of higher education, and 20 percent of those entering four-year institutions, take at least one remedial course.  In fact, many must take more than one.  This is a problem for multiple reasons.  First, it is more difficult for students who need remediation to graduate from college—both because they have difficulty meeting the academic challenge, and because it is harder for them to take and pay for the additional courses.  Tightening financial aid eligibility rules and academic progress requirements ensnare remedial students.  Second, the remedial education epidemic is a huge waste of taxpayer money. Each year, the State spends over $70 million on remediation at State University of New York (SUNY) community colleges alone.  SUNY community college students themselves spend approximately $93 million in tuition—much of it in the form of government-financed aid—on remedial classes, which cover material they should have learned in high school. These shocking figures do not include the millions of additional taxpayer dollars spent on remediation for New York students at the City University of New York and private colleges.

A first step in closing the skills gap and reducing the need for college remediation is to clearly state what skills and knowledge a high school graduate should possess.  The Common Core standards are essentially a detailed statement of expectations in math and English language arts/literacy.  (Despite widespread misconceptions, they are not a curriculum, nor are they a program of testing.)  They consist of “college and career readiness standards,” which state what students are expected to know and be able to do by the time they graduate from high school (the goal); and K-12 standards, which cover the elementary, middle, and high school grades (the path to that goal).   The college and career readiness standards were developed first, drawing on statistical analysis of employment data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics and validated by interviews with managers from industries that employ highly-paid professionals and well-paid, skilled workers.  Furthermore, the standards are internationally benchmarked, to help ensure that our students are globally competitive.  For example, the drafters of the Common Core standards identified countries whose students were top performers on the Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study, then studied how those countries teach math, in order to gain insight on “the most effective sequencing of math topics.” Researchers also looked at the language skills that high-performing countries expect of their students, including the types and complexity of texts.

Excerpts from the Common Core standards (below) illustrate how the standards address the skills in greatest demand in the Public Policy Institute’s survey.  This is only a brief sampling, to give a sense of how the standards are worded and the kinds of skills they cover.  Most of these skills are woven throughout the standards (which can be read in full on the Common Core State Standards Initiative website at www.corestandards.org, or on the New York State Education Department’s EngageNY.org site).  The Common Core standards are not just about mastering content and concepts.  They emphasize modeling, critical thinking, and collaboration, requiring students to use math and literacy skills to analyze real-world situations, construct arguments, make informed decisions, solve problems, and present their findings.Examples of Skills Covered in the Standards

Examples of Skills Covered in the Standards

Please click here to read the fourth part in this ongoing series.

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