Harvard Report Recommends That Fewer High School Students Pursue a College Prep Curriculum

A century ago, W.E.B. Du Bois and Booker T. Washington were engaged in a great debate on the proper path that African Americans should follow regarding education. Washington advocated vocational training while Du Bois believed that blacks should receive a more enlightened education that included the classic disciplines of American higher education.

It seems that the debate is still going on. A new report from the Harvard Graduate School of Education concludes that not all high school students should be taking a college preparatory curriculum. Steering unprepared high school students into college prep mathematics and science courses, according to the report, is adding to the large high school dropout rate.

The Harvard report, Pathways to Prosperity: Meeting the Challenge of Preparing Young Americans for the 21st Century, concludes that “America is still failing to prepare millions of its young people to lead successful lives as adults. Our national strategy for education and youth development has been too narrowly focused on an academic, classroom-based approach.” The study recommends that America place “more emphasis on career counseling and high-quality career education, as well as apprenticeship programs and community colleges.”

While race is dealt with only peripherally in this report, it seems that a disproportionate share of the students who will be recommended for vocational training will be blacks or other minorities. It is likely that guidance counselors and teachers will tell many black students that they simply “are not college material” and should focus on vocational pursuits. It seems likely that many late-blooming or underperforming black students will be steered away from a course of study that may very well serve them better in life.

For interested readers, the Harvard report can be downloaded by clicking here.