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  • From the Editorial Board:College Readiness: A Critical Race Theory Perspective
  • Amber T. Majors

High school serves as both a setting and a time period during which youth are learning who they are, who they can become, and what they are capable of from their teachers, their counselors, their peers, and society writ large. Preparation for college is one of the salient messages that youth are receiving about what is necessary for their life after high school. Although many scholars discuss the value of a liberal arts college education in building tomorrow's leaders, the reality of higher education in the United States (U.S.) is that it was established on the premises of capitalism and individualism to benefit anyone who was White with access to wealth (Anderson, 1988). These oppressive ideologies, including the promise of social mobility and increasing the global competitiveness of the U.S. (Lee & Kramer, 2013; Schwab, 2018), negatively impact youth of color and low-income youth as they become subject to the push for college attendance.

The value placed on higher education has been evident in national priorities for educational success for decades, documented as early as 1965 in the Elementary and Secondary Education Act which highlighted postsecondary education readiness as a priority of the U.S. public education system (U.S. Department of Education [DOE], 2012). Given this priority, many of the initiatives for college readiness, whether constructed by the federal government, State Boards of Education (SBE), or community organizations, specifically target low-income youth (U.S. DOE, 2018). According to the National Center for Education Statistics, the majority of Black and Hispanic youth attend high-poverty schools while the majority of White youth attend low-poverty schools (McFarland et al., 2017). For the purposes of this editorial, that the majority of youth of color attend high-poverty schools suggests that regardless of socioeconomic status, youth of color in public schools are receiving disproportionately fewer resources in school and thus fewer opportunities to be competitive for college in the way that their White peers are prepared. Given these correlations between poverty and race, it is reasonable to discern college readiness efforts focused on low-income youth are inevitably targeting non-White youth, warranting a race-based examination of such efforts. Specifically, we examine how college readiness initiatives in high schools perpetuate the dominance of the White and wealthy as opposed to preparing youth of color and low-income youth for opportunities to become leaders in their communities who can disrupt oppressive systems and practices.

Inconsistencies of College Readiness Markers

There is not an agreed upon marker of college readiness. Indeed, there are a number of inconsistencies of college readiness standards across the U.S. The American Institutes for Research (AIR) released a brief in 2014 which revealed that U.S. State Boards of Education (SBEs) have college and career readiness standards across a vast set of academic and non-academic domains, including academic knowledge, social and emotional learning, and citizenship knowledge.13 states have no definition of college readiness (Mishkind, 2014). In response to the inconsistency of college readiness [End Page 183] standards across contexts, researchers including Conley (2008; 2012) and Roderick and colleagues (2009) established frameworks and recommendations for schools and programs to guide their practice toward college readiness.

Conley (2008), working alongside the Association of American Universities (AAU), developed and refined a framework for college readiness entitled "The Four Keys to College and Career Readiness". Conley's four keys offer that for a student to be college ready, he/she must have: a) cognitive skills, such as the ability to think abstractly and problem solve; b) content knowledge, especially in Math and Reading subjects, which functions as basic knowledge for many college-level courses; c) academic behavior skills that enable students to master content and keep up with the pacing of college courses (e.g. study habits and time management); and d) college knowledge which entails information about the college application process (e.g., financial aid) and tips for navigating the academic and non-academic aspects of college (Conley, 2012). While Roderick and colleagues (2009) have endorsed earlier versions of the Four Keys framework as having the potential to influence urban school...


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