Play or Prep: The Challenge in Making College- and Career-Ready Students

The goal for most education advocates is the same: developing college- and career-ready students who will contribute to the workforce. The path, however, is not clear. In addition to arguments over which standards will better serve students, questions are being raised over whether students are being asked to focus too much too early on their college careers and whether or not play should be an element even in high school classrooms. A recent pair of articles in theNew York Times examines the trend of starting the college search with first graders, while a piece on looks at bringing joy and creativity back to middle and high school students.

“Is Your First Grader College Ready?,” by Laura Pappano, The New York Times (February 4, 2015)
In this article, Pappano looks at the rise of college campus tours for younger students—some as early as preschool—in an effort to get kids thinking about college and keeping the goal in mind. Although there are some institutions, like Boston College, that won’t schedule visits for kids before ninth grade, parents and teachers cited in the article point out that the current state of education system (AP classes, extracurricular requirements on college applications, etc.) requires students to think about and plan their academic trajectory in elementary school. “It’s sort of like, if you want your kids to be in the Olympics or to have the chance to be in the Olympics,” Wendy Segal, a tutor and college planner in Westchester County, NY, told Pappano. “You don’t wait until your kid is 17 and say, ‘My kid really loves ice skating.’ You start when they are 5 or 6.”

Joan Almon, a founder of the Alliance for Childhood, though, tells Pappano, “I’m concerned that we are putting so much pressure around college that by the time they get there they are already burned out.”

“When to Take the SAT,” by Laura Pappano, The New York Times(February 4, 2015)
Continuing the theme of early years college prep, Pappano writes about the increased number of students preparing for the PSAT and SAT in Kindergarten and taking the SAT in middle school. Early test taking, though, was not recommended by the test prep counselors interviewed for the article. Wendy Segal, a college consultant and tutor in New York, told Pappano that most middle school students have not done enough math or reading to be ready.

More important, it can negatively impact future results. “Psychologically, kids go in and say, ‘I stink at this test,’ ” she said. “It’s something I counsel against.”

“Playtime Isn’t Just for Preschoolers—Teenagers Need It, Too,” Hilary G. Conklin, Ph.D., (March 3, 2015)
Conklin has been researching the effects of using elements of play in the middle school classroom and how they can increase involvement and interest in education. While she understands that play can not be as prevalent in high school, Conklin argues that embracing play’s elements can counter the pressure teenagers feel as they approach college and career.

“Giving students occasions to learn through play not only fosters creative thinking, problem solving, independence, and perseverance,” writes Conklin, “but also addresses teenagers’ developmental needs for greater independence and ownership in their learning, opportunities for physical activity and creative expression, and the ability to demonstrate competence.”