JITE v33n1 - Under Review - Other Ways to Win: Creating Alternatives for High School Graduates

Volume 33, Number 1
Fall 1995

Gray, K., & Herr, E. (1995). Other ways to win: Creating alternatives for high school graduates. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin Press, $43.95 hardback, $21.95 paperback, 176 pp. (ISBN 080 396 2452).

Aldo Jackson
Carlisle Area School District
Carlisle, Pennsylvania

The target audience of Gray and Herr's book is those who have the one way to win mentality--that is, those with a preference to obtain a four-year college degree. Too many high school graduates are losers in the one way to win game, a game in which (a) society decides winners and losers by postsecondary experiences and (b) the academically average students in America's high schools stand little, if any, chance of being a winner. In Other Ways to Win , Kenneth Gray and Edwin Herr perceptively describe the participants and their mastery of the game, detail the unfair rules, and identify the reasons why the academic middle are losers. They conclude with strategies to create more "winners."

High school teachers, counselors, and administrators; college and university personnel; and policy makers may revise their positions after reading this book. Parents of school age children would also benefit from the message. The authors present their case in three parts. Part I investigates the one way to win mindset in American society. Part II analyzes the secondary and postsecondary experiences of academically average students and emphasizes their failure at pursuing a baccalaureate degree and attaining a professional career. Part III outlines three steps and several strategies high school educators can take to create other ways to win for students in the academic middle. Their paramount hope is to establish an advocacy for these students.

Part I: The "One Way to Win" Mentality

Chapter One, "A Generation Adrift," portrays the enormous confusion surrounding the one way to win mentality. The authors detail the ill-contrived motives and career choices that bring on "college mania." To illustrate the prevalence of college mania they cite a survey of recent high school graduates where 84% said they planned to obtain at least a baccalaureate degree. Labor force projections call for a different career preparation course.

Gray and Herr explain that the one way to win mentality carries a lofty price. Students and parents accumulate monetary costs, the public bears social and economic costs, and the economy experiences decreased global competitiveness. In particular, the authors assert that "the dollar cost of four-year higher education is the Achilles heel of the one way to win mentality" (p. 11). They contend that the mismatch between the type of workers global economies need and the type of worker the educational system prepares is problematic.

In Chapter 2, "What Lies Behind the `One Way to Win' Belief?," the authors unravel the one way to win pathology. Pressure to go to college, the economic and social forces behind the one way to win mentality, and postsecondary education's open admissions and financial aid are documented sources of this dilemma. Five labor market misconceptions are described that induce "college mania." Overall, the attitudes of parents, teachers, and counselors have swelled college admissions with unprepared high school graduates.

Chapter 3 concludes the first part of the book by discerning how females and economically disadvantaged youth suffer most from the one way to win mentality. Gray and Herr contend that these youths deserve better: "Holding out only one valued alternative, namely a four-year college degree, to them is cruel and unethical and does more harm than good" (p. 40). Additionally, students from the urban ghettos "see the futility" of just one way to win, unlike their middle-class counterparts who "indulge in self-delusion and misplaced optimism" (p. 40).

Part II: Counting the Losers in the "One Way to Win" Game

In this section, Gray and Herr provide evidence that students in the academic middle are unprepared for college-level work, do not do well in college, and if they do graduate, encounter an overcrowded labor market for college graduates. The fourth chapter examines high school graduates' academic credentials to decide whether they are ready to pursue a four-year college degree. In one study cited by the authors, only 30% of the graduates possessed academically-advanced credentials necessary for admission to "competitive" colleges. Nearly 50% of the graduates had credentials that suggested inadequate preparation for higher education. While many of these students take college preparatory course work, they are not mastering the content. The "unengaging" nature of the college prep curriculum and the academic middle's lack of "career maturity" intensifies the college prep curriculum's instructional ineffectiveness.

In Chapter 5, Gray and Herr validate the lack of success realized by academically average students in higher education. Three groups typify the losers in the one way to win game: college dropouts, under-employed college graduates, and college prep graduates who go directly to work. Candidates for other ways to win include students who need remediation, do not achieve sophomore status, or never graduate at all (53% according to the American Council on Education). The authors use data to characterize the poor labor market outlook for college graduates, based on the students' aspirations. Finally, empirical evidence suggests that most college prep graduates who go directly into the labor force end up as employment losers. Their yearly incomes are at the poverty level for a family of four. They generally hold jobs in the services and transportation industries. If the nation's average students do so poorly and their prospects are so alarming, then why is something not being done?

Gray and Herr contend that politics are largely responsible for educators and policy makers ignoring "average kids." No one has taken up the crusade for these students. The educational system ignores average students because secondary educators "look the other way" due to community desires to have their children obtain four-year college degrees. The political realities make creating other ways to win a challenge.

Part III: Creating "Other Ways to Win"

Indeed, the challenge is to develop other ways to win through the postsecondary experiences of high school graduates. Gray and Herr recognize the challenge and respond to it in the last four chapters. They contend that students, parents, and educators must recognize and reevaluate five economic misconceptions before educators can promote and set up other ways to win. The five misconceptions are that

  • In the future, most jobs will require a college degree.
  • Most high-wage jobs in the future will be in technical fields that require a college degree.
  • The labor market demand for college graduates is sufficient to ensure employment for all who receive a four-year degree.
  • Because of the oversupply of college graduates, college graduates will displace non-degree holders in good jobs that do not require a college degree.
  • Because higher education is highly correlated with future earnings, education guarantees a higher income.

The authors maintain that students should focus their postsecondary planning on obtaining job skills rather than a four-year college degree, allowing them to compete for high skill/high-wage jobs. The fundamental rationale for creating other ways to win is "on average, the yearly income of individuals who are employed in the craft, precision metal, and repair areas and as technicians will be higher than that for all college graduates except those who find work in the managerial/professional ranks" (p. 106). Gray and Herr then discuss five points "to consider before deciding to pursue a four-year college degree" (p. 109). Students and parents need to understand the odds they face and that alternatives are available. The five misconceptions and the five points to consider lead the authors' three step plan for creating other ways to win.

The first step, discussed in Chapter 8, is systematic career guidance for students and structured feedback for parents. Systematic career guidance activities "must take each student from where he or she is in coping with developmental tasks integral to career development and lead to the creation of a specific set of preferences and plans for achieving their goals" (p. 113). Gray and Herr see the Individual Career Plan (ICP) as the key element of the systematic career guidance program. Being able to deliver "wake-up calls" to parents is one favorable feature of the ICP process. Conducted properly, the ICP provides a resolute foundation for objectively assessing the probability of academic success at the postsecondary level.

The second element, structured feedback for parents, involves counseling on labor market realities, college costs, and the child's academic credentials. A four-step, parent feedback program is proposed. Included in the four steps are an eighth grade parent meeting, parent involvement in the ICP, objective feedback at strategic times, and opportunities for individual assistance.

The second step for creating other ways to win requires redesigning the "college prep" program for all students. The justification behind a redesign effort is "the traditional college prep program is instructionally ineffective for two-thirds of the students currently enrolled, particularly those from the academic middle" (p. 128). Gray and Herr stress that the redesign effort should focus on "putting some structure into a highly unstructured activity" (p. 129). They foresee other emphases, similar to honors or advanced placement emphases, being added into the college prep program of study. Those other emphases are a tech prep option (i.e., preparation for one- or two-year postsecondary programs) and a school-to-career option (i.e., preparation for formal work-based training programs). The task of reengineering the college prep program is achievable, but the final step in creating other ways to win is more laborious.

Changing the culture of the nation's high schools so educators expect more from students in the academic middle is one proposition in Chapter 10. Taylorism, or "differing treatment of students depending on their status between teachers and staff" (p. 149), hinders the self-esteem, curriculum engagement, and motivation of those in the academic middle. The authors pose five strategies for ending Taylorism that range from challenging discriminatory policies and practices to creating a "one team" culture.

A second premise calls for modifying instructional modalities and practices to create other ways to win. The authors offer six strategies to achieve a better match between the average students' learning styles and the instructional practices used with them. Contextual or applied learning, portfolios and cooperative learning, and block or intensive master scheduling are examples of the strategies suggested.

Motivating the academic middle is the final premise in Other Ways to Win. Educators perceive students in the academic middle as uninterested in their school work. Gray and Herr offer three strategies that would allow educators to engage these students effectively in the curriculum. They suggest developing career motives for learning, instating high expectations for all students, and improving academic self-concepts by catching students doing things right.

To challenge the educational community to take action, the authors pose the question, "Will such changes ever take place and will the plight of academically average youth in our nation's high schools ever become part of the mainstream American educational reform debate?" Gray and Herr encourage the reader to take the first step and express their concern for those in the academic middle.

The authors' description of the academic middle and the one way to win forces these students face is the strength of this book. This is a reality that is unknown, overlooked, or ignored by individuals associated with secondary education. Before policy makers and practitioners can address the academic middle's needs they must understand the economic, labor market, and social realities. Other Ways to Win thoroughly and accurately spells out those realities. With this understanding, educational leaders can take the next step in resolving the issues confronting the academic middle.

Gray and Herr present postsecondary alternatives for the academic middle. For the most part, their suggestions are worthwhile and fall into the reform mainstream--Tech Prep and School-to-Work transitions. What lies outside the mainstream is their attention to career guidance--providing more of it by starting at an earlier age and communicating truthfully and regularly with parents. Herein lies the challenge.

What the authors of Other Ways to Win propose requires a strong commitment to change from teachers, counselors, and administrators. It also requires that American society reconsider its "college graduate" mentality. The driving force behind the change belongs to the educational community. The real question is, "Can educators change their ways and convince society there are worthwhile alternatives to the one way to win mentality?"

Reference Citation: Jackson, A. (1995). Review of Other ways to win: Creating alternatives for high school graduates. Journal of Industrial Teacher Education (, 331), 86-89.