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Why Johnny can't read ... or write or do math

| Thursday, May 9, 2013, 8:55 p.m.

Graduating from high school, it's all too likely that Johnny can't read, can't do basic math or expect to succeed as even a community college freshman — or in the workplace or in life.

Stunning, isn't it?

A new study from the National Center on Education and the Economy concludes that high schools are failing to teach basic math and English skills needed for first-year community college success. And with community college curricula increasingly geared toward training for specific jobs, that failure has profound implications for the future of these students and U.S. prosperity.

The study found that community college freshmen haven't mastered even the “middle school math” they need to know. Instead, most high schools are teaching math — think Algebra II — that community-college freshmen don't need to know.

The study also found community college freshmen read and write so poorly that their instructors don't expect them to be able to read their textbooks and require little writing. When writing is required, it rarely demands logical, evidence-based argument — or the sort of writing freshmen will need for their chosen careers.

Also, most community college tests require little complex thinking or writing. That makes their grades highly suspect measures of skills for success.

Both high schools and community colleges must get back to basics — in what they teach to, and expect of, students. Otherwise, those institutions will go on failing both their students and the nation as a whole.

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