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Chester Finn Worries that “College Ready” Is Damaging “College Educated”

April 28, 2015

Fordham Institute former president Chester Finn is concerned about the “cheapening” of the meaning of “college educated.”

Here is some of Finn’s April 25, 2015, lament:

A vast amount of contemporary education policy attention and education reform energy has been lavished on the task of defining and gauging “college readiness” and then taking steps to align K–12 outcomes more closely with it. …

The entire Common Core edifice—and the assessments, cut scores, and accountability arrangements built atop it—presupposes that “college-ready” has the same definition that it has long enjoyed…

The idea of graduating more “college-ready” kids from high school is intended to lighten the remediation burden…

But what if “college-ready” no longer means that you actually have to be prepared to succeed in credit-bearing college courses? Or if “credit-bearing courses” are diluted such that more people appear “prepared” to succeed in them, even though such success means less than it once did? …

Note that Finn writes of lots of “attention,” “presupposition,” “energy,” “intention,” and “ideas”– but no field testing.

Hold that thought.

Finn closes his post with the following concern for “reform efforts”:

The last thing American education needs—and a potentially mortal wound to other reform efforts—is to further cheapen the meaning of “college-educated.” Which cannot be severed entirely from the meaning of “college-ready.”

The concept, “college educated,” cannot be entirely divorced from a term Finn helped to promote–“college ready”– a term undeniably associated with the Common Core State Standards (CCSS).

In July 2010, in, the Fordham Institute produced a report in which it graded all state standards and DC; graded the then-month-old CCSS, and shaped the language in the report so that CCSS was always photographed through beauty-enhancing gauze filters when compared to state standards.

In the years that followed, Fordham Institute then-executive-VP/now-president Michael Petrilli traveled the country to rescue CCSS from possible repeal in legislative sessions nationwide– even if Fordham Institute itself rated the former state standards as equal to or better than the CCSS it had been paid to promote.

And now comes Finn with worries about a higher-ed dumb-down.

Ain’t that something.

Not once have I heard or read any inking from Fordham Institute that CCSS, with its “college and career ready” jingle, should have been field tested before it was actively and forcefully marketed to the public as that which would “ensure all students are ready for success after high school.”

For example, what if the idea of “college and career readiness” is more complex than test-score-driven “reformers” once thought? What if the rushed, so-called solutions of simply having states nix the remedial courses offered at four-year institutions of higher education and selling states on “common standards and assessments” only complicates the issue?

And what of unanticipated “market forces” kicking in at colleges and universities– such as creative adjustments to boost enrollments? What of colleges’ attempts to counter the loss of students once enrolled in those remedial courses and who, for whatever reason, have not attained that CCSS-ensured “readiness”?

These are questions that should have been investigated at least by 2008– the year that billionaire Bill Gates– with his love of those “powerful market forces”— was asked to pay for CCSS.

Not to worry, though. The failure of CCSS promoters to research the ramifications of their “college ready” love will not harm the CCSS owners.

Yep. The license holders of CCSS, the National Governors Association (NGA) and the Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO) are covered from being held liable if CCSS does not deliver on the “college and career readiness” that CCSS supposedly “ensures” according to its website.

When it comes to CCSS ownership liability, one can never be too careful, for one never knows exactly how those powerful market forces might shift–

–especially if one never bothers to research such matters in the first place.

As for Finn: His next post should be entitled, “How My Actions Contributed to the Cheapening of ‘College Educated.'”

Such a post is long overdue.



Schneider is a southern Louisiana native, career teacher, trained researcher, and author of the ed reform whistle blower, A Chronicle of Echoes: Who’s Who In the Implosion of American Public Education.

She also has her second book available on pre-order, Common Core Dilemma: Who Owns Our Schools?, due for publication June 12, 2015.

CC book cover






  1. Reblogged this on stopcommoncorenys.

  2. realsaramerica permalink

    Reading about Finn’s shifting position reminds me of line from one of my favorite Queen songs: “Anyway the wind blows, doesn’t really matter to me…” Now that it’s becoming abundantly clear how politically unpopular CCSS and the associated over testing regime is, those who have spent so much time and foundation/Dept of Ed money promoting it are suddenly having concerns?

    • ira shor permalink

      Exactly right. Finn is “re-positioning” and “re-writing” his own shameful role in CCSS now that CCSS is losing to political opposition from the right and the left of the two major parties. Finn wants to keep his seat at the table.

      • camb888 permalink

        Amen! He’s positioning himself to absolve himself of any blame in the face of huge CCSS blowback. Just in case.

  3. As you know, this is a huge issue here in Louisiana where we did nix developmental education at all universities this past fall, and the regionals and HBCUs took a big enrollment hit… and that was WITH the “creative” things we did to enroll students. Because most Louisiana students now meet one criteria for college readiness (graduating with the Core 4 curriculum) but don’t meet the other (ACT scores, mostly the ACT math). And if you don’t meet both, it’s community college or out of state for you. And our community colleges are horribly underfunded and overstretched to serve that influx of students, and as a result, they didn’t get as big an influx as what was originally predicted. Sadly, we in public higher ed are looking enviously at our neighbor in fellow bottom dweller Mississippi and while we sink to the abyss, they are floating upward because their admission standards make more sense for their state population – and they have a much more developed junior college system – as a result their enrollments are increasing. Even at the HBCUs.

    BTW, how many of the students in your district are going to Southern Miss instead of Southeastern this year? Any more than usual? (It’s usually a lot anyway.)

    Had a discussion yesterday where it was apparent “market forces” – meaning the huge number of students who did not and would not meet these standards, largely because of standardized test bias and the effect of poverty on test scores – paled in comparison to ensuring “college readiness.” And now this is one of the forces that places us on the verge of destroying higher education this legislative session.

  4. Monty J. Thornburg permalink

    Chester Finn is elitist, racist, and a one more money grubbing Republican after tax dollars to support their so called foundations in the name of privatization. And, they support public school teacher bashing, and public education bashing, (remember the ExxonMobile advertisements – for example), i.e., oil money and e-testing money for the Bush family and others aligned with them. The only part of CCSS they care about is the e-testing to support corporate American e-industry CCSS testing and their stock portfolios. The college ready and (new) empowerment of teachers (moving away from drill and kill of NCLB) to prepare poor kids properly,for example, with project based learning, for example, is window dressing for them. Especially as efforts might be aimed to prepare poor kids for elitist colleges and universities! Obviously, they (Chester Finn and his allies) can do without those possibilities, as they’d prefer conservatism with continued support of their elite prodigy, sons and daughters like “W” to place them in private expensive boarding and Country Day type schools. That way, they can continue to “educate” even dullards like “W” to have a spot in the Ivy League. Thus they want to continuing our current “system of elitist v. other peoples education so the elite can still easily move their children into positions of power in our government and the corporate world- and, continue to protect their money!

  5. Laura chapman permalink

    I agree that Finn is trying to rescue a meme he has helped to create and promote for more than a decade. There has not be a lot of serious thinking about college readiness. That process was truncated by outsourcing the job of thinking to Achieve, INC, to the folks who organized the American Diploma Project, test makers, administrative figure heads in the offices of governors and a significant number of people hired with money passed along to Finn’s Fordham Institute.
    Finn invokes an image of one and only one true meaning of college ready… Written in stone, somehow in danger of being watered down and ruined because kids are not really going to be ready for credit- bearing course work or because colleges will water down courses.
    That readiness problem also seems to be a concern of Bill Gates who has recently invested big bucks in a messaging campaign addressed to higher education officials. Gates and Achieve/NGA want those PARCC and SBAC test scores to be used for college admission, placement in specific courses. Gates also wants the whole architecture of the CCSS to occasion serious “rethinking” of teacher education.
    This is mission creep, a “slow as you go” attack on the concept of academic freedom in higher education, including all policies bearing on admission. Gates is also funding about twelve projects to make required high enrollment general education courses “friendly and personalized” through online formats designed by eight for-profit companies, with only two projects awarded to higher education.
    The door too was opened to get rid of academic freedom by targeting remedial courses as if these never, ever should be permitted, not even in community colleges. For the CCSS there was no distinction between getting into a community college and making into Harvard.

  6. I sense that Mr. Finn could step in for Mr. Bacon here.

    ALL IS WELL!!!

  7. ponderosa permalink

    Mercedes is right: it sure would have been nice if Finn et al could have pointed to ONE pilot program showing that SBAC/PARCC test prep curriculum (the de facto new national curriculum) really makes an underprivileged kid “college ready”. I’m pretty confident it will make them LESS college ready because its skills drills do nothing to furnish these kids with the powerful world and word knowledge their minds are starving for.

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