LeBON: D.C. college test proposal strikes the right chord

Question of the Day

Is it still considered bad form to talk politics during a social gathering?

View results

Education experts, counselors and parents often debate the question, “How do we persuade students to start thinking about college?” The answer, according to D.C. Council Chairman Kwame R. Brown, is simple and innovative: Require all students in District schools to take a college-entrance exam and apply to a college.

Announced last week, Mr. Brown’s plan has been described as “dramatic” and “provocative,” and he defends it saying, “We have to get more young folks prepared to go to college.”

Mr. Brown’s idea already is under attack and is certain to become an even bigger target as it is considered by the D.C. government. Even a quick look at his plan reveals many unanswered questions. But Mr. Brown has managed to strike a profound chord among students and families when it comes to education. His proposal assumes that students can succeed and complete high school while pursuing higher education.

District schools are often held up as an example of what critics call the failure of public education, partly because of the city’s high dropout rate, which recently stood at a tragic 43 percent. With nearly half of any given freshman high school class not making it to graduation, it’s a small wonder that many students see dropping out as a viable alternative to earning a diploma.

But Mr. Brown’s plan turns conventional wisdom on its head by presuming that all D.C. students can and should take an ACT or SAT college entrance exam, and then apply to a college or another institution of higher learning. While it seems to lead toward a “nanny state” by forcing students to go through such a process, I appreciate Mr. Brown’s effort to address the dropout rate and force children to think about their futures.

One of the greatest barriers to higher education among students of color or those of lower socio-economic status is the fact that no one in their family ever attended college. The admissions process is confusing, even for a child from a family in which one or both parents have attended college. It’s even more intimidating for a student who does not have the benefit of a parent or sibling able to guide them through the application ritual.

Mr. Brown’s proposal does more than just compel students to engage in the college admissions process. It compels them to think about college as a genuine goal, a realistic option and a path to success. For many, it may be the first time they even entertained such an idea and visualized a realistic path for getting there. It’s also quite possible that the process would be a self-fulfilling prophesy for some students who might otherwise gravitate toward the 43 percent of their peers who drop out of school.

Some critics question how to pay for such a program, and Mr. Brown says he has sketched out the cost, but, in fact, it may be less than estimated. For example, the College Board, which is responsible for the SAT, routinely provides 100 percent fee waivers for qualifying students from low-income families. As for the college application fee, many institutions similarly waive or reduce this fee for qualified students. Again, this may require additional paperwork and time, but I think the investment of time in one’s future is worth it. Fee waivers also would serve to underwrite part of Mr. Brown’s plan, virtually taking the issue of finance off the table.

I still question requiring that children apply to a college when the city council previously wasn’t supportive of school choice. I also want to see how Mr. Brown’s plan would ensure that students actually are prepared to enter college. Without prerequisite schooling, the mandate is meaningless.

We need to take baby steps with respect to this plan but encouraging children - especially students of color in Washington - to think about their futures is a plan that can yield tremendous dividends not just for the students but for the District as well.

Cherylyn Harley LeBon is a former senior counsel for the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee.

© Copyright 2014 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.

blog comments powered by Disqus
TWT Video Picks
You Might Also Like
  • Maureen McDonnell looks on as her husband, former Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell, made a statement on Tuesday after the couple was indicted on corruption charges. (associated press)

    PRUDEN: Where have the big-time grifters gone?

  • This photo taken Jan. 9, 2014,  shows New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie gesturing as he answers a question during a news conference  at the Statehouse in Trenton.  Christie will propose extending the public school calendar and lengthening the school day in a speech he hopes will help him rebound from an apparent political payback scheme orchestrated by key aides. The early front-runner for the 2016 Republican presidential nomination will make a case Tuesday Jan. 14, 2014, that children who spend more time in school graduate better prepared academically, according to excerpts of his State of the State address obtained by The Associated Press. (AP Photo/Mel Evans)

    BRUCE: Bombastic arrogance or humble determination? Chris Christie’s choice

  • ** FILE ** Secretary of State Hillary Rodham testifies on Capitol Hill in Washington, Wednesday, Jan. 23, 2013, before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing on the deadly September attack on the U.S. diplomatic mission in Benghazi, Libya, that killed Ambassador J. Chris Stevens and three other Americans. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais, File)

    PRUDEN: The question to haunt the West

  • Get Breaking Alerts