A desperate need for honesty

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This year, I taught two bilingual classes in a public high school. I’ve written bits about this before. These kids are all planning to go to college. Many are poor. Most lack the language skills necessary to write an English-language essay. Few are ready to hold an English-language discussion with a professor. A number would struggle with a five-minute conversation about the weather.

We need to stop pretending that these kids are just like their middle-class counterparts. High schools and colleges need to provide them with realistic information. I tell my students to try to take just one or two courses the first semester until they get a feel for college coursework, knowing a full load is likely to sink almost all my bilingual students. I tell them that they don’t have to finish in two years since they may need to work on English while they take their courses.

A few of these bilingual students will do fine in college. Students who learned English in Syria before their families fled may be ready to tackle a four-year institution. But others are about to be sent to drown. I think of one high-school graduate who failed to get through a law enforcement program, ending up with college-loan debt totaling around $25,000.

College costs so much money, time and effort. We push college because the pay-off from that time, money and effort may be hundreds of thousands of dollars or more over a lifetime. But realism is required. The mantra “go to college” needs to be accompanied by a solid assessment of student skills and prospects.