Course Adjustment: Education challenges from differing viewpoints

December 04, 2011

The Boston Globe

Carol Johnson and Jackie Jenkins-Scott are two women at the top of education, but they come from two very different perspectives. Johnson, 64, is the Boston superintendent of schools overseeing more than 56,000 students and 125 public schools. Jenkins-Scott, 62, is the president of Wheelock College, a private college with 856 undergraduates.

We asked Jenkins-Scott to lead a conversation with Johnson, who arrived in Boston in 2007 after serving as superintendent in Memphis and Minneapolis and whose contract was extended earlier this year. Here is an edited interview.

Jenkins-Scott: We are going to have you for another five years.

Johnson: Well, we've got more important work to do. We've made progress in graduation rates, the number of students dropping out. We feel really good about that progress, but there's a tremendous amount of work to be done to close the access to achievement gaps.

Jenkins-Scott: Even with the focus and commitment to this, I can tell you, higher ed faculties still feel students are not [prepared for college]. And it's not just Boston students. They feel students are not prepared to be in a rigorous, challenging, academic environment, especially given all the things we talked about in terms of 21st-century skills. What kind of things can we do to continue to work on this so that our students can be successful?

Johnson: Part of it is the communication that exists in the higher ed community and the K-12 community. We've offered a lot more of Advanced Placement courses because we know they're more rigorous in terms of preparing students. We're trying to make students take more rigorous courses, and able to take Algebra I at the eighth-grade level. We do have kids who are entering college where they are the first in their family to go to college. The wraparound support that colleges can offer makes a huge difference. It's not enough to just let kids enter.

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