The George Washinton University's Freshman Transition Initiative

Course Standards for Freshman Transition Classes

A Classroom-Based, Comprehensive Guidance and Career Exploration Course for 8th or 9th grade students

Why the Course Standards for Freshman Transition Classes were created

High School redesign has become an imperative, by not only the president and our governors, but by parents, mployers and students because we are grappling with some of the realities of our education system that have harsh impacts on our workforce, economy and society: Nearly one of every three 8th grade students in America do not graduate from high school, and half of African-American and Hispanic students do not make it to graduation day. Colleges and employers report that many of those who do graduate lack basic skills. Only a fraction of those who go on to postsecondary education succeed in earning a degree. Half of those who enter two-year institutions, for example, never return for their second year.

The global economy has placed a higher premium on workers’ abilities to formulate new ideas and solve problems, rather than produce tangible goods. A solid education is increasingly important for young people and the nation to maintain competitive in the job market. The high school reform movement is building momentum as nationwide states and districts struggle to redesign America's high schools so all young people can receive the education they need to be successful.

However, to think that increased academic rigor alone will somehow right the wrongs in our school system is naïve at best and could be disastrous for too many of our students. Without a willing and motivated learners, all our best efforts will be wasted. As academic standards are increased and exit exams become mandatory, failing students will continue to dropout.Until students understand the consequences of not getting a first class education (the goal of the comprehensive guidance curriculum, such as the Course Standards outline), the dropout rate will continue to rise and apathetic young people will continue to flounder as they enter a workforce that demands highly-skilled, self-motivated workers.

Enter the Freshman Transition course, a comprehensive guidance course for 8th or 9th grade students. Known over the years as Freshman Orientation (with various district names) and now in the Smaller Learning Community movement as Freshman Academies, this critical course intervention, executed with rigorous guidelines, has been shown to increase school retention, academic achievement and post-secondary matriculation. Well-designed courses have been integrated into the academic classroom, providing the theme for teaching reading, writing, speaking and math.

How the
Course Standards for Freshman Transition Classes were created

We didnít start from scratch. After a review of state standards we settled on the Texas TEKS for Career Connection and Career Investigation as the foundation. If you compare the TEKS with the Freshman Transition Standards youíll see the similarities. To include the topics critical to a comprehensive guidance course, other standards were incorporated from Tennessee, Maine, and Indiana. These were reviewed by some of the most renown experts in the country and their suggestions were incorporated. They include:

Kenneth B. Hoyt, Ph.D. (1924 - 2008)
University Distinguished Professor Emeritus, Kansas State University
Director of the Office of Career Education, U.S. Department of Education - 1974 to 1982

Rebecca Dedmond, Ph.D

Director of School Counseling, George Washington University
Director of Career Guidance, Commonwealth of Virginia, 1986 to 1994
President, National Consortium of State Career Guidance Supervisors, 1993 - 1997

Mindy Bingham
Educational Activist
Author of 17 titles with over 2 million books in print

James R. Campbell D. Ed.
Executive Director of Delaware Tech Prep (1984-1999)
Parnell National Award For "Excellence In Education"

Pat Schwallie-Giddis, Ph.D.
Program Director, Counseling/Human and Organizational Studies, George Washington University
Director of Career Education for the state of Florida - 1983-1990
Board member for the National Career Development Association (NCDA)

Norm Gybers, Ph.D.
Professor with Distinction, Department of Education, School and Counseling Psychology,
University of Missouri-Columbia
Past President, National Career Development Assoication
Past President, American Counseling Association

A copy of the standards was sent to each governor and each state superintendent of education just prior to the historic governor’s meeting about high school reform in February 2005. Many states responded with enthusiasm for such a tool. At the national Principal’s conference (NASSP) and Superintendents’ conference (AASA) that year, copies were handed out for comment and the reviews were very positive. Everyone who saw them agreed that this was a missing link within the educational system.
Unfortunately, we’ve watched far too many schools struggle with defining and then executing an effective, attitude-changing orientation course for freshmen. The development of the enclosed document grew out of a well-documented need because of our work with school districts across the country, in the area of Freshman Transition courses. We’ve seen one initiative after another fail (from school-base, to district, to state), because there were no clear course guidelines laid out before hand. Teachers and administrators were motivated to tackle the obvious challenge of jump-starting their freshman but we didn't give them tools…or the vision of what was possible to do it. It would be like sending a scout troop on a journey without a map. They knew where they wanted to go, but just not how to get there.

Without rigorous course standards or guidelines, most teachers struggle with a vision of what is possible. Far too many of these classes became little more than glorified study halls, because instructors did not have the background for what was required. For some, a freshman course is viewed by the school staff as a form of purgatory and, therefore, the newest or least experienced teachers are assigned to teach it, when in reality its imperatives cry out for the most seasoned among us.

So with each new initiative, smaller learning communities being no exception teachers continue to try to reinvent the wheel. They try to develop curriculum (in all their spare time, right?) and, except in the case of a handful of extraordinary individuals, the results are marginal and the student outcomes are not what they could have been. In some instances districts put together manuals with vague notions or direction of what is required to motivate the least motivated students. It is no wonder that teachers, administrators, students, parents and funders get frustrated.

Over the past few years, a lot of energy and resources have gone into the development of standards for academic subjects (Math, English, History etc.) These standards are now mainstream and educators have a clear outline of what is expected to be taught in their academic classrooms. The Course Standards for Freshman Transition Classes is a grassroots effort to provide the same tool for what we see as a critical course for all students…to provide a resource that gives this course the same rigor and status as a traditional academic course.

It is hoped that these standards: It is the intent to share these standards with the state, district and school administrators and planners and recommend that a mandated Freshman Transition course or academy that tackle these standards is a viable strategy for addressing the rising dropout rates and increasing post secondary matriculation. Students armed with the insight and information this type of course provides will understand why their education is important and realize high school is not a way station but a launching pad for their future. They will then be ready to sit in the classroom and tune-in to content that is “newly-relevant”. Having developed a vision of a productive—and attainable—future, they will be motivated to master the rigorous academic coursework required to “make it” in the 21st century. They will understand the benefits and the consequences to their life satisfaction and personal happiness. Their motivation will be intrinsic (the very best kind) and, therefore, they will become lifelong learners.