Start in remedial ed, end in remedial ed

On Community College Spotlight: Unprepared for the college placement test, high school graduates start — and often end — their community college education in remedial classes.  Some 60 to 80 percent of students are told to take basic-skills classes. Half of those referred to remediation never take a single college-level class.

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  1. Michael E. Lopez says:

    I know I sound like a broken record… but the reason that this happens is because attaining a “college ready” level of education is a process that takes 12 years. (Really, it takes 15-18 years, but let’s focus on the formal schooling.)

    If you and your parents really screw it up and you only get as far as, say, 8th grade equivalence, you’ll need four years of work to get to a real 12th grade level.

    Now, you can speed that up by dropping your other commitments and focusing solely on school, but people in remedial classes are there precisely because they don’t have that kind of discipline (at least not in statistically significant numbers). If they did, they’d have done things right back in elementary and secondary school and they wouldn’t need remedial instruction now.

  2. Agreed. K-12 schools need to stop the conveyor-belt approach that moves kids from grade to grade without ensuring that REAL grade-level knowledge has been mastered. State tests are useless for this; both the ceiling and the floor are too low (so why are we are wasting money on these?) Why not demand certain things for kindergarten entry and use ITBS or equivalent annually thereafter? End social promotion. Tell both kids and parents what their scores mean in terms of grade-level achievement and implications for HS graduation/vocational/college plans. Require a certain score for MS and HS entry. By middle school, the SSAT/SAT can be used, as appropriate, to make sure the upper-level students are appropriately evaluated. I would like to see NO remediation at four-year colleges, and only high-level remediation at CCs. Remediation of MS and lower HS coursework should be done by the k-12 systems that created the problem; night HS, separate school etc. Demand appropriate behavior and work effort; it’s supposed to be education, not babysitting.

  3. tim-10-ber says:

    So…why isn’t the K-12 system held responsible (fiscally) for educating these kids, getting the parents (or a significant adult) involved with each student, having the right teachers in each classroom, a great curriculum, having the kids at the right level, in the right school, etc…the list is endless on what the K-12 schools should do better…otherwise the K-12 system is wasting our tax-dollars by not doing their job…there has to be a better way…

  4. tim-10-ber says:

    momof4 — you are good! We must have been composing our comments at the same time. I really like your approach! Thanks!!

  5. Cardinal Fang says:

    The referenced article hints that students are improperly placed in remedial courses. That seems dubious to me.

    I’ve seen one of the major tests used for community college math placement. It was quite straightforward, with no tricks.. If a student couldn’t do the type of problems on the test, the student wouldn’t be ready for college level math. Moreover, I once tutored in a community college remedial algebra class. The students in that class, as far as I could determine, needed to be there.

    As for the English placement, again, those tests are straightforward. If a student can’t read college level material and understand it, if he can’t write sentences in clear English, he shouldn’t be be in a college level English class. Don’t blame the tests for the students’ deficits.

    Where I disagree with the previous posters is in sending adult students, however unprepared, back to high school. I don’t see how it would be either cheaper or more effective.

  6. In the days when a HS diploma meant HS-graduate skills, night HS used to be the usual method of dealing with the dropout problem. In today’s climate, when many HS grads (let alone dropouts) don’t even have MS-level knowledge/skills, it’s time to hold both k-12 systems and their students accountable for real academic achievement. Being able to pass along their problems to CCs doesn’t do that.

  7. Before we go all out blaming the K-12 educational system, which is required to teach and deal with all students … can we ask a similar question of the colleges?

    To wit, why did they accept the student who they knew wasn’t properly prepared?

    Social promotion will always occur in high and middle school because the students are required to be there. That requirement means that some students who are not in any way willing to work and who are often violently opposed to cooperating and learning, are still in your system, still behind their age cohort.

    If you simply end all social promotion with no alternatives, then this kid stays at the 7th grade level until he (most often he) is old enough to drop out. Until that time he is quite willing to disrupt the education of the 11 and 12 year olds around him. Social promotion is a lousy option but it beats that situation hands down. Certainly the father of the 11 yo girl agrees. Certainly the teachers agree. So do all the other students and so does the kid.

    15 year olds should not be taught the same material as 11 year olds. They learn differently, respond differently, behave differently and are different. If people don’t understand that, too bad.

    College students have options – withdrawing from college, getting a job, etc. They are adults. they are fully capable of deciding that remedial classes are not for them and working harder or changing major or quitting.

  8. Mark Roulo says:

    To wit, why did they [the colleges] accept the student who they knew wasn’t properly prepared?

    Because the unprepared student was paying full tuition (or someone else, possibly some organization) was paying it for the student. It doesn’t take full tuition resources for a college to have a student in remedial classes.

    In short, 4-year colleges accept students who need remedial classes because those students are profitable to the college. There may be other reasons, too, but as long as these students are profitable, there isn’t much incentive to turn them away.

    -Mark Roulo

  9. Cardinal Fang says:

    The community colleges accept the unprepared students because community colleges take everybody. California community colleges are required to accept any California resident with a high school diploma.

    As to Mark Ruolo’s claim that remedial classes are cheaper to operate than college level classes, I’d like to see some cites, because I think the opposite is true. At the community college I know about, remedial classes have extra aides and tutors to help the unprepared students.

  10. An excellent book that buttresses what Michael and Momof4 say: City on a Hill by James Traub. This writer for the New Yorker spends a year following remedial ed students at City College in NYC. It becomes pretty clear that remedial ed is a hopeless proposition: it DOES take 12 years, as Michael says, to achieve real literacy.

    We have this tendency in America to think that if we just invent a program, we can cure any problem. Immoral students? Invent a character ed program. Illiterate students? Invent a remedial ed program. Spiritually adrift adults? Invent a week-long intensive course on spirituality, or write a self-help book for him. Some things do not admit of being fixed by a quick program.

  11. tim-10-ber says:

    Not saying to send the kids back to high school…just saying the K-12 organization needs to be held accountable for educating or not educating…parents need to be held accountable, too…

    The same thing that the for profit schools are being accused of doing is being done by the tax-exempt institutions…they all get their funding from the same source…follow the money…see the problem…

  12. Mark Roulo says:

    As to Mark Ruolo’s claim that remedial classes are cheaper to operate than college level classes, I’d like to see some cites…

    I was talking about 4-year colleges (like Cal State, and University of California), not community colleges.

  13. It would be nice is we could simply send back to the parents any child who is sent to us not knowing what a letter is, what a number is, what a shape is, what a color is etc. Of course, we would have about 6 students in our entire kindergarten, and we would be punishing the children for the failures of their parents…

    I’m going to stop before this line of thought gets any more depressing than it already is.

  14. Michael E. Lopez says:

    Quoth Curmudgeon:

    15 year olds should not be taught the same material as 11 year olds. They learn differently, respond differently, behave differently and are different. If people don’t understand that, too bad.

    I suspect that this is just clarificatory, rather than critical:

    I think you probably meant to say “in the same way” rather than “the same material” — either that or you were including method of transmission under the definition of what qualifies as “material”.

  15. I did not say and did not mean that all held-back kids remain in the same schools. First, I would drop the school-leaving age to 14 or completion of 8th grade. Keeping the unwilling in school hasn’t worked yet and is unlikely to work in the future. The focus on graduation rates is meaningless unless it is attached to real academic achievement. Second, all dangerous kids should be in separate schools, permanently. Third, persistently disruptive kids need to be removed, either short-term or long-term, from regular classrooms. Some of these kids, with severe cognitive, emotional and/or medical conditions need different long-term placements, in which their needs can be better addressed. Among these are special-ed schools like those our friends chose for their cognitively-impaired kids; in which the kids received the kind of training that has enabled them to hold full-time jobs and contribute to their support. Sitting in a HS algebra or history class they were unable to understand would have been a waste of their time. Some others, simply need a swift lesson that inappropriate behavior, even of the class-clown type, will not be tolerated at school.

  16. Michael E. Lopez says:

    I apologize for wandering off-topic here, but this is important.

    momof4 saith:
    Second, all dangerous kids should be in separate schools, permanently.

    All kids (except some very few of the ones with severe physical handicaps) are dangerous after about age 5 or so. Now I know that right now a lot of people are saying “Well you know what she meant.” And it’s probably true: I think I do know what she meant, but I also think that she didn’t actually say what it was she meant, and that it’s a big enough disconnect to be problematic.

    People are always making this sort of mistake: conflating the notion that something is “dangerous” with something else entirely that is more like a value judgment. Human beings have evolved to be able to kill pretty much anything on the planet outside of certain microorganisms. We are, as Neal Stephenson once wrote, “nightmarishly lethal, memetically programmed death machines.” C.S. Lewis also said it well when he wrote of Aslan:

    ‘If there’s anyone who can appear before Aslan without their knees knocking, they’re either braver than me or else just silly.’

    ‘Then he isn’t safe?’ asked Lucy.

    ‘Safe?’ said Mr. Beaver. ‘Don’t you hear what Mrs. Beaver tells you? Who said anything about safe? ‘Course he isn’t safe. But he’s good. He’s the King, I tell you.’

    Thinking of children as creatures that are either dangerous or non-dangerous often causes us to raise them to be ineffectual and passive; if they aren’t capable of violence or disagreeable behavior, we think, we’ve raised a non-dangerous child. And it’s true. But you’ve also raised someone who is fit only for being a slave.

    Instead, we should be thinking of them as having good and/or evil character. If you want to put the children who are displaying decidedly evil inclinations in their character into a separate school in hopes of (1) protecting the others from them and (2) being able to focus on what is clearly starting to be a problem, that’s fine. I even would probably endorse the idea, depending on the details and such. But it’s really, really important to be precise about what idea it is that we’re really trying to get our hands around when we’re having these sorts of conversations.

    So the next time you read about some horrible crime, be honest with yourself. Don’t tell yourself “I couldn’t do that.” Because it’s almost certainly not true. Tell yourself that “I wouldn’t do that.” It’s both more honest and more likely to lead to clearer thinking on other, related matters.

  17. I am referring not only to kids, usually MS-HS level, with criminal behaviors/records but also to kids like the first-grader a teacher friend had. The girl had no apparent impulse control and repeatedly made unprovoked attacks on other kids and adults with fists, feet, scissors etc. Even a diagnosis/IEP should not allow this kind of behavior in a regular classroom.

  18. Cardinal Fang says:

    I doubt that Momof4’s first-grader would be classified as “evil,” even by you, Michael Lopez. Clearly there’s something wrong with her, and it doesn’t sound like she should be in a regular classroom without an aide, but I don’t think it’s useful to say she has an evil character.

    It doesn’t sound like schools are doing a very good job identifying students who do have evil characters. In several of the recent cases where a child was bullied into killing himself, school officials said they had no idea the bullying was going on, though other students said they knew about it.

  19. California community colleges are required to accept any California resident with a high school diploma.

    Begging the question:  why do people without a HS education receive a HS diploma instead of e.g. a certificate of attendance?

  20. If taxpayer-funded financial aid was limited to those with college-level knowledge and skills, the financial incentive for colleges to admit the unprepared would disappear. Both that issue and the issues of social promotion/graduation of the unqualified are best understood in the context of politics; the well-prepared are not distributed equally among all racial/ethnic groups. Of course, neither are most other attributes and behaviors.