Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Memo to Mark Roosevelt

To: Mark Roosevelt, Superintendent, Pittsburgh Public Schools
CC: Dr. Jerri Lynn Lippert, Executive Director of Curriculum, Instruction and Professional Development, and Mary Van Horn, Vice President Pittsburgh Federation of Teachers
From: Corey Bunje Bower, concerned citizen
Re: Percentage for Failing Grade 'E'

I'm concerned about the memo of 22 September stating that "no percentages below 50% should be recorded regardless of actual percent earned below 50%." I'm sure you're well aware that the policy is quite controversial, and I hope you're also well aware how much the policy has upset teachers in your district. As the leader of the district it is your responsibility to create policies that will aid in the education of the children of Pittsburgh and implement them in such a way that progress will not be halted. In creating and implementing this policy, you have failed in both of these regards.

Grading has never been an exact science, but you have willfully created a grading system that is even less valid and more unfair. The memo has some reasons behind the policy listed under bullet points. One of the bullet points reads "Not Grade Inflation . . ." That this defensively worded statement was included indicates to me that somebody knows something is wrong. Students are now in a situation where scoring 10% and 50% on a test are equivalent. This means that if Student A scores 10% and 80% on two tests that he will have a higher test average than Student B who scores 50% and 75%. In other words, many of the grades assigned under the system will be illogical. How is a teacher supposed to explain that a student who got 2 out of 10 questions on quiz correct received the same grade as a student who got 4 out of 10 correct? And how is a math teacher supposed to explain that 2/10 and 4/10 both equal 50%?

I understand that you don't want students to be in a position where there's nothing they can do to pass. But by making it nearly impossible to put oneself in that position you've created a situation where students know that no matter what they do they can always find a way to pass a class. This means that students can walk into a classroom, declare that they're not doing any work that day -- they'll do some at the end of the semester -- but ask that the teacher make sure to record their 50 for the day. If you don't think this is happening in Pittsburgh's classrooms right now then I suggest you learn more about said classrooms.

Perhaps even worse than the policy itself is the way in which it was implemented. Since you have never worked in a school before, I recommend that you spend some time inside them talking with the faculty and staff. Before releasing the next policy memo, try to put yourself in their shoes. It's bad enough that you're creating bad policy, but you're rubbing salt in the wound by sending out directives from above a month into the school year. How do you expect a teacher to react to such a directive? What choice do they have but to view you as woefully out of touch? You cannot possibly be an effective leader while teachers view you this way. And without an effective leader, the prospects for progress in Pittsburgh look grim.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Pittsburgh's Prepostorous Policy

Yesterday I expressed outrage at Pittsburgh's new grading policy and also posted the district's rationale. I'd like to take a couple minutes to explain in more depth why I find this new policy so objectionable:

1.) The process. Teachers were informed of the new policy via memo nearly a month into the school year. From an unscientific perspective, let me tell you two surefire ways to upset teachers: rain down commandments from above, and/or change things willy-nilly. The greatest irony is that the union and the administration finally agreed on something -- and it happens to be terrible idea implemented in even worse fashion.

2.) The memo argues that the policy will increase student engagement because it will prevent a situation where students have no chance at passing regardless of what they do. While I understand this goal, it fails to consider that it's also creating a situation in which students know they can do nothing for almost the entire semester and still pass -- because they're never going to be put in a situation where passing is impossible.

3.) It undermines the current grading system. A 0-100 system is flawed, but simply eliminating 0-49 does not make it a valid grading system -- it only serves to point out the flaws inherent in the current system.

4.) It makes grades even more meaningless. For example, a student who has test grades of 30 and 70 will now have a higher average than a students who has test grades of 50 and 65.

I could go on, but I'll stop there.

In short, the policy is inane. Joanne Jacobs ridiculed a somewhat similar policy Dallas just implemented on her blog a couple of weeks ago but, unlike Pittsburgh, Dallas requires that students re-do assignments and re-take tests in order to earn the grades.

Monday, September 22, 2008

Pittsburgh's Explanation

My last post mentioned the fact that Pittsburgh has altered the grading system so that no student may receive a grade below 50% on any assignment. If you read the last post you can tell from my tone that I don't particularly like this idea. Before I explain why, I thought I'd post the official rationale for the decision. Here's a memo that was sent out to all teachers today:

To: All K-12 PPS Teachers and District Administrators
From: Dr. Jerri Lynn Lippert, Executive Director of Curriculum, Instruction and Professional Development, and Mary Van Horn, Vice President Pittsburgh Federation of Teachers
Date: 9/22/2008
Re: Percentage for Failing Grade “E”

The following is the district requirements for issuing class grades for assignments, report card grades, and semester final grades for all K-12 students based on the below grading scale:

A 100%-90%
B 89%- 80%
C 79%-70%
D 69% - 60%
E 59%-50%

The “E” is to be recorded no lower than a 50% regardless of the actual percent earned. For example, if the student earns a 20% on a class assignment, the grade is recorded as a 50%. No percentages below 50% should be recorded regardless of actual percent earned below 50%.

Rationale for Grading Scale:

· Equity Across Schools: The Failing Percentage (59%-50%) creates equity across all schools. Many teachers were already using the 50% as the lowest recorded “E”.

· Increased Student Engagement: Students with failing percentages below 50% often feel helpless and disenfranchised as a result of not being able to recover from low percentages in subsequent nine weeks. Students in this situation may develop or may have increased behavioral and/or attendance issues leading to retention and/or dropping out.

· Unequal Weight: The 59 percentage point band from 0%-59% creates a skewing situation with failing grades carrying more weight than passing grades.

· Not Grade Inflation: Recording 50% as the lowest “E” even if actual percentage earned is less is not grade inflation. The 50% is still failing. In addition, a high school student would have to earn 100% on the semester final in order to pass the semester if s/he had a recorded 50% for both the 1st and 2nd nine weeks.

· Promise Ready: Academically struggling students (who are at greatest risk of retention and/or dropping out) need to feel a sense of grade recovery so that they are motivated to begin to engage in courses and have potential academic success when efforts are applied.

Grades Are Stupid

It's late. My title is needlessly acerbic. My post will be short. I may write more on this later.

I complained an awful lot about the meaninglessness of grades when I was a student. But when I taught I found out how ridiculous they really are. The bottom line is really that teachers are forced to reduce an entire semester or year's worth of interaction and work to one rating. Which isn't entirely devoid of utility. But when you consider all of the rules, regulations, semantics, and politics that go into grading, then the utility dwindles pretty close to zero.

When I was teaching, students were given number grades. Teachers could give students any of the following grades: 50, 55, 65, 70, 75, 80, 85, 90, 91, 92, 93, 94, 95, 96, 97, 98, 99, 100. Grades below 50 weren't allowed b/c it would make it too hard for a student to pass for the year if they had a grade below 50 one quarter. 60 wasn't allowed because that was the pass/fail cutoff and they didn't want ambiguity. I have no idea why intervals of 5 were used below 90 and intervals of 1 were used above.

Maybe somebody from NYC was hired by Pittsburgh, because they've adopted one of these rules -- except in a much more bureaucratic and absurd way. The minimum grade a student can receive on any assignment in Pittsburgh is now 50. I'm unclear as to whether a student is given a 50 on an assignment if they fail to complete it.

The motivation behind the policy is sound -- they want to prevent kids from losing hope and, simultaneously, have more kids passing. But, in my mind at least, such an inane rule simply proves that the system is ridiculous to begin with. I'll leave you with my favorite quote from the article:

"one teacher . . . already worries about how awkward it will look when a student correctly answers three of 10 questions on a math quiz -- and gets a 50 percent"

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Time for National Testing?

I usually avoid taking stances on issues in this blog for a few reasons, maybe because I'm early in my career and am not convinced I know the answers -- or maybe just because it's a lot easier to poke holes in the solutions of others. But here's one idea that's been in the back of my head for a few years now that just seems more and more appealing over time.

That idea? National tests.

Now, to be clear, the idea certainly has drawbacks. First of all, local control has been a hallmark of American education throughout our history and the ramifications, yet alone the legality, of national tests are hazy at best. National testing would, most certainly, have to be accompanied by national standards -- which probably wouldn't please local school boards. What if, for example, people in Peoria want to teach a certain skill in 5th grade while people in Kalamazoo want to teach it in 4th grade? Exceptions would have to be made for some part of any social studies test so that questions could be included about local history, geography, and the state bird. Despite all of this, I'm becoming more and more convinced that the positives outweigh the negatives.

One of the biggest complaints about NCLB is that it's an "unfunded mandate" and, as a result, states are forced to spend quite a bit of money on testing. Since state education departments have differing levels of financial resources and political will, the quality of tests vary widely across state -- some feel forced to use only cursory multiple choice tests while others have much more intensive, and more expensive, testing regimes.

Over at Eduwonkette, Jennifer Jennings, Aaron Pallas, and Dan Koretz have taken turns pointing out the flaws in the NY state test and the NYC school report cards that rely on their results (here, here, here, here, and read these comments). It's enough to make me feel badly for David Cantor, the press sectary for NYC schools, who has to defend the report card system.

And it's enough to make me think that this would be a heck of a lot easier if we could focus our monies and efforts on one test. It would mean that we could have test whose results were valid enough that ratings based on them would also have some validity. It would mean that kids in all states were being judged on the same criteria. It would mean that research would be a heck of a lot easier and more meaningul. And it would mean that districts and states could spend less time on figuring out how to evaluate students and more time on figuring out how to teach them.

In short, testing would cost less, be more accurate, and let people spend more time on the important stuff.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Ridding Schools of "Bad" Teachers

A recurring theme in education commentary is that there are too many bad teachers -- largely because teachers are too hard to fire. The latest blurb on this topic comes from the Fordham blog and cites a statistic that only 1.9% of teachers with at least three years of experience were dismissed or didn't have their contract renewed due to poor performance. The leap to connecting the bevy of bad teachers to burdensome contract rules is, thus, easy to make. Before we can draw any firm conclusions, however, we'd need the following info:

How many teachers are actually "bad" enough that they should be fired?
This is, of course, subjective -- but we have to have some ballpark figure of how many people should be fired before we can determine that not enough are

How many teachers are fired in their first three years?
Ideally, tenure should be granted only to effective teachers -- meaning that the vast majority of less effective teachers would move on in the first few years

How many "bad" teachers leave voluntarily?
Efficacy is closely related to satisfaction in teaching, and it stands to reason that less satisfied teachers would be more likely to leave

How many "bad" teachers are counseled out rather than officially sanctioned?
Just because only a small number are actually fired doesn't mean that only those teachers are leaving the profession. Beyond those who leave voluntarily, I'm willing to bet that many more people are "counseled out" than are officially fired.

How hard is it to actually dismiss a teacher?
I hear a lot of complaints, but I'd like to know if it's really impossible or if it simply takes more effort than many are willing to put forth

What percentage of "bad" pre-tenure teachers are thoroughly reviewed by their principals?
If teachers are making it through the tenure process unscathed despite being ineffective, that doesn't strike me as their fault -- part of a principal's responsibility is to evaluate teachers, particularly novice teachers

How many teachers become "bad" after being granted tenure?
If principals thoroughly review beginning teachers and allow only the best to be tenured, but these teachers then burn out and stop trying then we might want to reevaluate the idea of tenure. On the other hand, it would also be worth considering why they burn out.

In short, citing a statistic about a low number of teachers being fired fails to fully describe the situation. It doesn't tell us how many people should leave, are leaving, or why they are/are not leaving.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Oops, Forgot a Variable

The Fordham blog alerted me to the fact that George Will again mentioned David Whitman's new book in his latest column (which, if you haven't noticed, intensely interests me).

Will's column focuses on one of the schools profiled in the book -- Cristo Rey Jesuit High School -- and its positive outcomes. As far as I can tell, Cristo Rey is doing an admirable job educating low-income students and deserves a lot of praise. So I'm glad Will took the time to highlight their educational model and achievements.

But near the end Will makes a statement that is somewhere between overly simplistic and absurd. I'll post the entire paragraph below:

CRJHS can have its work program, its entirely college preparatory courses ("the old, dead white man's curriculum," says an English teacher cheerfully), its zero tolerance of disorder (from gang symbols down to chewing gum), its enforcement of decorum (couples dancing suggestively are told to "leave some space there for the Holy Spirit") and its requirement that every family pay something, if only as little as $25 a month. It can have all this because it is not shackled by bureaucracy or unions, as public schools are.

From a research standpoint, here's the problem with that statement: his model is misspecified -- it suffers from omitted variable bias. And it's particularly egregious in this case b/c he leaves out a potentially confounding variable -- selection. If he published a paper with such findings, they would be dubbed spurious.

He attributes all of the successes of the school to the fact that they don't have to deal with as much red tape as other schools (particularly public schools). But he fails to mention that the larger reason the school can have such policies is because they can select their students -- both which ones are admitted and which ones are allowed to remain enrolled. And, perhaps even more important, the students who enroll are from families who chose to apply and chose to pay at least a small fee to enroll their children -- and then chose to remain enrolled once they knew what the school was like.

In Whitman's book, he writes that 43% of students who applied in 2006 were admitted (p. 142), and that the retention rate (percentage of students who remained enrolled) from freshman to senior year was 62% (p. 144). In other words, a significant number of kids (about 73% of those who apply) either choose not to or are not allowed to complete 4 years at the school.

Part of the reason why public schools can't have such strict discipline codes is due to bureacracy, but the larger reason is because they can't select their students -- meaning that they have to accomodate everybody, and they must have options for students who don't like the rules other than expulsion.

Friday, September 12, 2008

"Paternalistic" vs. "No Excuses"

Jay Mathews doesn't much care for the term "paternalistic" when applied to the schools in David Whitman's new book. So he solicited input from his readers in order to come up with a better name for these schools. He announced his winner today: "No Excuses Schools."

I don't like it.

Unlike Mathews, I thought that "paternalistic" was an apt description of the schools in the book. That's not to say that it's the ideal term -- too many people associate too much negativity with the term -- but I thought it was fitting.

To be fair, I really have no better term to offer. None of the terms he presents really strike me as all that great -- they're either too ungainly to say or don't really capture what these schools are about. But I don't like "no excuses" for two main reasons:

1. It doesn't fully capture the difference between these schools and other schools or, for that matter, the defining characteristics of these schools. As Whitman describes them, these schools are not only no-nonsense (which might have been a better term), but also very caring and parental. In other words, they're kind of like the "loving hardasses" that Sherman Dorn wants.

2. It's a slap in the face to other schools. It implies that the reason they're struggling is because they're making excuses, or allowing kids to make excuses. Sure, there are poorly run schools out there. There are poor teachers and incompetent administrators. But most people work hard and have good intentions, and to imply that they could have success if only they would stop making excuses is both incorrect and unnecessarily demeaning.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

More Blog Posts In Need of Improvement

Just when I figured that I might never write another batch of these I found two posts on the same topic that fail to fully think through the issue. I'm still following the same rules I set out at the beginning: these posts have been chosen because their arguments lack substance, not because I disagree with their position.

BPINI 4: Ohio closes bad schools — if they’re charters, Joanne Jacobs
Why: Jacobs reacts to the news that Ohio is closing two low-performing charter schools by questioning why the state closes bad charter schools but not bad traditional public schools. She implies that charter and traditional public schools are held to different standards and that it's not fair. I think she implies that traditional public schools with low test scores should be closed as well. But she fails to take a very important factor into consideration: charter and traditional public schools serve very different functions. The theory behind charter schools dictates that high-performers be replicated and low-performers be closed, that way we're left with only high-performers. Closing a charter school means that students who would have attended that school attend their neighborhood school instead -- or perhaps another school of choice. Traditional public schools, however, do not function in the same way. They're essentially a community service -- akin to a police or fire station. If the neighborhood school is shut down, there's no immediate back-up option. It would be like shutting down the local police force when there's a problem -- it would serve no purpose because the community still needs a police force. Now, that doesn't mean that the local police station or public school should be allowed to function improperly indefinitely -- when something's broken it should be fixed -- it just means that simply closing it doesn't solve the problem. Because Jacobs fails to take this into account she leaves readers with a false impression of the current climate of education policy and, therefore, fails to productively contribute to the discussion on how to improve our schools.

Better Post, Same Blog: Popularity pays off
Why: An interesting take on the release of a study showing that the more popular students in school have more success in life.

BPINI 5: Double standards, Flypaper (Fordham Institute)
Why: Stafford Palmieri repeats the same mistake. In an extremely terse post she directs readers to what Joanne Jacobs wrote and implies that different actions for low-performing charter and traditional public schools are unfair. As I already explained above, different actions are necessary because the two types of schools serve fundamentally different purposes. The lesson? Be wary of drawing conclusions when reading blog posts that are only a couple sentences long -- there's probably more to the story.

Better Post, Same Blog: Re: Obama talks education
Why: Emily Partin provides a thoughtful discussion of Obama's speech, what it might mean for Ohio, and some limitations to federal power.

Saturday, September 6, 2008

Who Becomes a Teacher?

In Nancy Flanagan's latest post, she argues that Dan Willingham's debunking of learning styles and other educational theories is not as practically significant as it may seem, arguing that

The greatest pedagogical mistake is not, as Willingham asserts, trying to teach all students and subjects in their preferred modality—nobody does that anyway. The biggest misconception is assuming that other people learn the way you do, or valuing your particular strengths and preferences over your students’.
And she reminded me of a question that I've been wondering about for a long time: do teachers have different learning preferences, on average, than students?

In other words, do teachers (including professors) have different views on what constitutes successful teaching than the average student? Only about a quarter of our students go on to complete a 4-year college degree, but all teachers must have at least that. Similarly, only about 5% of undergrads go on to earn a PhD -- something that almost all professors have at most institutions. In other words, teachers are not a representative sample of the population.

And it makes me wonder if teachers have different experiences in and impressions of school while they're students than does the average student. More specifically, since teachers had more success in school than the average student I wonder if people who become teachers are the ones who found school more enjoyable and the pedagogy more interesting.

During my undergrad years I served on a committee to revise the course evaluations that are given at the end of each semester. I pushed for the surveys to include more questions about how engaging the teaching and assignments of the professor were, while many of the faculty on the committee pushed to ask more questions about how much time and effort students had put into the course. I resented the implication that if students weren't getting what they wanted out of a class that it was their fault. And then I started teaching. Students complained that classes and assignments were boring, and I was shocked at student behavior and blamed them for not working hard enough (as did, I think I think it's fair to say, most teachers at the school).

Part of the reason for my reaction (and that of the faculty and other teachers) is simple defensiveness -- if the problem with a class is that it's not engaging enough or that the right assignments aren't given, then it becomes the fault of the teacher. But I think the larger reason is a lack of understanding. I'd leave class and incredulous and saying something to the effect of "when I was in 6th grade, I listened to the teacher and did my homework; why can't they?" And I've heard people on the college level say or imply that they sat down and read the hundreds of pages of poorly-written, dry academic literature each week and they don't understand why a student wouldn't be able to do that.

In short, I wonder if teachers and professors are the ones for whom our current system of education worked. They're the ones who not only succeeded in school, but went on to voluntarily attend more. And I wonder if that means that teachers have difficulty understanding those who struggle or would rather learn a different way (generally speaking, of course).

Thursday, September 4, 2008

"Parents Should Choose Where their Children go to School"

In Rudy Giuliani's speech at the Republican Convention tonight he stated that he believes that "parents should choose where their children go to school."

I don't know if anybody disagrees with that sentiment. But it got me thinking.

In discussions of welfare, medicaid, etc. the debate often centers whose fault it is that somebody needs help. One can argue that anybody who cannot support themselves is to blame for their condition. If that's the case, then it's not illogical to argue that the public shouldn't help support that person. We run into a problem, however, if they have children -- who certainly are not to blame for their condition. It's hard to argue that the public shouldn't provide those children help of some sort because the children don't get to choose into which family they're born. Exactly what type of help and how it should be provided (e.g. should assistance be filtered through parents? should children be removed from their families?) is the harder question to answer.

In education when we encounter people (students) with problems, we seem to blame their surroundings (schools). We see students that are underperforming and we put their teachers' and administrators' feet to the fire. Inequality of achievement is the fault of the schools. If schools did their jobs, then all kids would succeed.

So, back to the original quote. Let's say school choice takes off. Local schools disappear and every school is charter, private, open-enrollment, or whatever. So the school one attends is almost purely up to the parent. In this case, if the parent chooses a bad school and the kid doesn't get a good education . . . the parent is now to blame for making a bad choice. And, it means that students who succeed and students who fail are now separated by parents who make good choices and parents who make bad choices. Where it gets interesting for me is this: if a kid fails because their parent makes the wrong choice then what do we do about it?

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Fire all the Bad Teachers . . . And then What?

Good news: the most consistently thoughtful education blog (Bridging Differences) is back in business. Diane Ravitch leads off with a piece on the new reform efforts in education and how Democrats seem to be adopting the ideas of Republicans. Although it's only tangentially related, it reminded me of a question I wanted to ask.

A lot has been written about Michelle Rhee's plan to give teacher's huge raises in exchange for getting rid of tenure -- I assume that she's planning on firing a lot of teachers, otherwise I don't see the point of the plan. But here's my question: who's going to replace the fired teachers?

I don't know the situation in D.C. well enough, so it might be the case that the D.C. Teaching Fellows and other efforts can recruit enough teachers to replace whoever gets fired in this plan, but more generally speaking I always hesitate to believe that simply firing all the bad teachers will solve our problems. Beyond the fact that it's harder to identify "bad" teachers than we might want to believe, we often forget to ask whether there are better teachers waiting in the wings.

As an anecdotal example, let me talk even more about my school. My school was not the worst one in the Bronx, but about a quarter of the teachers left each year. My second year we had a handful of positions that remained vacant for all or most of the year (after two chorus teachers were driven off they couldn't seem to find a third). The new principal, however, decided she needed to go after a number of teachers she didn't like in order to replace them with her people. I'm not going to say that every teacher in my school was nominated for teacher of the year, but what, exactly, is the point of firing teachers when you don't have anybody with which to replace them?

Monday, September 1, 2008

More on Trends in College Completion

Yesterday I wrote a lengthy post (with two colorful graphs) about the trends in college completion in the US. Actually, I think I should have titled it "degree attainment" instead of college completion. At any rate, I pointed out that the percentage of 25-29 year-olds with a bachelor's degree has flattened out over the past decade and that unless something changes or more people above that age group are obtaining degrees that the overall proportion of the adult population with a bachelor's degree would necessarily flatten in the near future as well.

Well, I have some evidence that the latter has not been happening. And it involves another colorful graph -- a graph more colorful than both of the other graphs combined, in fact.

The graph below shows the percentage enrolled in school for a number of different age groups (for 18-19 year-olds I used only the % enrolled in higher education, but there was no disaggregation for the other age groups in the table). The key here is that the percentage of people in their late 20's and early 30's enrolled in college has not skyrocketed in recent years. In fact, all of the age groups have more or less plateued since about 1990 -- which would be in line with the plateau of 25-29 year olds with degrees that started in the mid-90's.

The other interesting thing to note is that there was a jump in enrollment for 18-21 year-olds a few years ago, but that percentage has since declined. That would explain the jump in percentage with a degree from 2006 to 2007 and would also indicate that that jump won't be the start of a new uptick.

And, in case you were wondering, I got the data from the Digest of Education Statistics (this table, specifically).

The unresolved question for me is still whether a 25 year-old (for example) is more or less likely to have a college degree now than was a similarly aged person 5, 10, or 15 years ago. I know I've seen a chart with the breakdown in degree attainment by age group up through at least people in their 60's, but I can't seem to find it anywhere right now (not that that chart would definitively answer that question, just that it's relevant and it's annoying me that I can't find it).

College Prep for How Many?

Jay Matthews has an interesting debate with Chris Peters, a high school teacher from CA, in his latest column (well worth reading).

Matthews and Peters apparently have debated in the past over the role of vocational education in high schools (Peters likes it and Matthews doesn't, to over-simplify). In this edition, Peters presents his plan for incorporating vocational education into high schools. It goes something like this: all students take a rigorous, college-prep track for two years and then must pass a number of subject exams. After passing the exams (he allows two years for tutoring and re-takes for those who don't) students can either continue on the college prep track, switch to a vocational track, attend community college, or drop out.

All in all, it's not the worst idea I've heard -- though I don't see it being widely implemented any time soon. The debate goes back and forth, but the essence seems to be that Peters believes that high schools need to do something other than push college prep on the 70% of students that won't graduate from a 4-year college while Matthews believes that more students can be pushed to go to college, citing the paternalistic schools I've blathered on about the last couple weeks.

In the end, I think both make good points. I'm all for preparing more people for college, but at some point we have to realize that not everybody is going to go to college and high schools, or some institution somewhere, need to be prepared for that reality. In other words:

college prep > vocational ed > nothing