The most common complaints I hear from other university-level teachers is that students don’t read and can’t write. Having grown up with the internet, they tend to skim readings as onscreen PDFs but have difficulty finding the central argument or supporting evidence of an essay.
The writing that students do is almost universally formulaic, and I find that students are uncomfortable breaking out of the generalizing and banal template they’ve been taught. Schools are embracing digital learning tools, but now students assume everything they need to know can be Googled. They learn how to write without a voice. This reflects the lack of deep thinking. But I don’t blame the students. This is a systemic problem. We need to stop teaching how to pass a test and begin teaching our K-12 students how to think.
The effect of the testing regime can also be found in the student query I dislike the most: “What do I have to do to get an A?” This question demonstrates a commitment to achieving a certain mark but no engagement with thinking. And it leads many students to challenge their final grades, displaying a strong sense of entitlement as if they were customers. There has always been a degree of entitlement, particularly at elite schools, and even public universities are privatizing and connected to the market. But to see learning approached like shopping is worrisome. It always disappoints me when students don’t care as much about learning as I do about teaching.
If the Common Core works as designed, in, um... six years? all arriving freshmen should be much better at "finding the central argument or supporting evidence of an essay." Whether or not that'll take care of the rest of these concern remains to be seen.
Also, expect things to take a weird turn once all high school graduates are officially "college ready" and the pressure is on to increase college grad rates. A whole new kind of entitlement.