Why Johnny can’t read, write or calculate

U.S. education has been dumbed down, writes Marc Tucker in Ed Week.

High school textbooks for 12th graders are written  at the 7th- or 8th-grade level, while community colleges have labeled basic algebra — usually taught in 8th- or 9th-grade  — “college math.” And many of their students can’t pass it.

Why have our education standards collapsed? he asks.

Forty years earlier, Grandma was the first in the family to finish high school.  Twenty years ago, Dad was the first to go to college.  Now, all the kids have to go to college.  . . . In other countries, grades are the result of a student’s performance on an externally graded test.  Everyone gets together to help Junior meet the high standards.  In the U.S., the land of second chances and wobbly standards, it is far easier to put pressure on the principal to put pressure on the teacher to give Junior the grades required to get into college.

Teaching is no longer a high-status job — and one of the few jobs open to talented women and minorities, Tucker writes. Teacher quality has declined.

Then the standards movement was stolen by the accountability movement.  Facing tough sanctions from the federal government for low test scores, many states lowered whatever standards they had for high school students, so they could escape the consequences of poor student performance.

. . . the best of our high school graduates, seeing the pressure teachers were under to produce under appalling conditions, decided not to choose teaching as a career. Applications to schools of education started to fall and are now falling ever faster.

Unlike other nations, the U.S. has not raised standards for entering teachers’ colleges or earning a license, he writes.

Colleges have lowered standards to retain students “admitted irrespective of their academic performance,” Tucker writes. At the same, “have more or less destroyed what was once a first-class vocational and technical education system.”

Remediation + job training = success

Jason Broad and Yalchen Abdulkhaliq work on making a scissors clamp in the machine shop during a class at Shoreline Community College. Machining requires students to have a solid understanding of algebra, calculus and trigonometry. (Mike Siegel / The Seattle Times)
Jason Broad and Yalchen Abdulkhaliq make a scissors clamp in the machine shop at Shoreline Community College, where they’re also learning algebra. (Mike Siegel / The Seattle Times)

When community college students have to pass remedial math before taking college-level courses, most give up, writes Katherine Long in the Seattle TimesTeaching basic skills with job training has raised success rates at Washington state community colleges.

The grinding sound of metal on metal filtered through the walls of Chris Lindberg’s math class at Shoreline Community College, but his students had no trouble tuning out the noise.

“We’ve got a 10-inch-diameter grinding wheel, and it’s turning at 1,910 revolutions per minute,” Lindberg said, jotting the numbers on a whiteboard. “What is the surface speed?”

Students will use their new algebra skills in the shop next door, “setting up complex lathes and milling machines, each the size of a small SUV,” writes Long.

Shelley Campbell measures a part she made for a final exam in her I-BEST machine shop class at Shoreline Community College. (Mike Siegel/Seattle Times/TNS)

Shelley Campbell measures a part she made in her I-BEST machine shop class at Shoreline Community College. (Mike Siegel/Seattle Times/TNS)

I-BEST (Integrated Basic Education and Skills Training) students “are nine times as likely to earn a workforce credential as students who follow the traditional path of taking remedial classes first,” she reports.

Troy Briones, who struggled with math in high school, served in the Army artillery. Now 25, he’s training to be a machinist. “Math is everything in machining,” he said. “The best part of the program is it’s very hands-on. As soon as the lecture ends, you go straight into the lab and try it … the instructors are with you every step of the way.”

Shelley Campbell, 53, is retraining after being laid off by Boeing.

Students can earn a basic manufacturing certificate in one quarter, preparing them for an entry-level job, or go longer to master higher-level skills. Machinists start at $15 to $35 per hour.

In Building paths to the middle class, the American Enterprise Institute looks at four high-quality career tech programs in high school and community college.

Mastery grading: Learn it now or later

Ohio Gov. John Kasich wants to pilot “competency-based education“– aka mastery grading or standards-based education — writes Jessica Poiner on Ohio Gadfly.

New Hampshire is the national leader in competency-based education. In Ohio, it’s being tried at Metro Early College School and MC²STEM high school, as well as the Pickerington school district.

Mastery grading assesses how well a student has learned specific skills and concepts. It doesn’t count homework completion, daily assignments, class participation or tests on multiple standards.

. . . Instead of interpreting what Tyrone’s B in algebra means, Tyrone and his parents know that he understands polynomials at 97 percent mastery and two-variable equations at 90 percent mastery; but he has trouble with inequalities and the quadratic equation, where his mastery hovers at 65 percent.

. . .  let’s imagine that Tyrone needs additional help to master the quadratic equation. This extra help can take multiple forms: Tyrone could log in to Khan Academy. He could receive one-on-one tutoring from his teacher during or outside of class. Or he could work in a group of similarly struggling students to complete a project on the real-life applications of quadratic equations. . . . After receiving remediation for the material he hasn’t mastered, Tyrone retakes the assessment. If he achieves mastery, he moves on (say, to exponents and factoring). If he doesn’t achieve mastery, he receives more support.

Providing all that support — and designing advanced work for fast-moving students will require more from administrators and teachers, writes Poiner. Teachers will need time to plan and share ideas and resources. They’ll need to use technology.

Teachers can leverage online resource-sharing hubs, including sites that boast lessons written by effective teachers. There are applications that make tracking mastery data easy, allowing teachers to focus on planning instead of tracking. The rise of blended learning and adaptive models makes effective, personalized remediation real without asking teachers to build a system from scratch on their own.

Some think master grading sets students up for failure by denying “points for showing up, points for being on time, points for homework completion, points for participation, points for extra credit.”

Diligence should be tracked separately, Poiner argues. The hard-working, well-behaved kid who hasn’t learned how to solve a quadratic equation, understand DNA or write a persuasive essay needs a chance to learn those skills — not a worthless diploma and a future of frustration.

Standards-based grading can give parents much more information, writes Matt Collette on Slate. He reports on a Brooklyn middle school. Via a “continuously updated online grade book . . . students are rated on more than 70 different skills, such as the ability to write persuasively, determine the main idea of a passage, or multiply fractions. . . . Students need to demonstrate proficiency three separate times—through homework, on a quiz, or through some other means—to be considered proficient.”

Open access, but not open exit

Santa Fe College in Gainesville, Florida has won this year’s Aspen Prize for community college excellence for a 62 percent graduation and transfer rate, far higher than the 40 percent national average.

Sixty-three percent of transfers complete a bachelor’s degree within six years, the Aspen committee noted. That’s higher than the completion average — 59 percent — for students who start at four-year colleges and universities.

“We’re an open-access college, not open-exit,” the college’s president, Jackson N. Sasser, told the Chronicle of Higher Education.

SFC works closely with the nearby University of Florida to help students transfer and earn a UF degree. In addition, the college offers some four-year degrees in vocational fields, such as information technology.

Students are encouraged to choose a program of study as early as possible.

An online program similar to the travel-booking site Expedia helps them map out classes that meet their degree requirements and are available during the times they can attend class. Instead of a travel itinerary, the program spits out a list of suggested class schedules. A student clicks on one, and a hold is placed for a spot in all of those classes. If he picks a class outside his degree plan, it shows up in red, meaning it’s OK to sign up, but it may not count toward the degree.

Florida high school graduates aren’t required to take remedial courses. SFC offers support to help less-prepared students pass college-level courses.

Colleges not ready for ‘college ready’ Core grads

Students who pass Common Core-aligned tests in high school could end up in remedial college classes, writes Allie Grasgreen on Politico.

The new standards are supposed to represent “the knowledge and skills necessary for students to be college- and career-ready.” But most university systems won’t use Common Core proficiency to decide who’s placed in college-level courses.

State universities in California and Washington plan to use students’ test scores to guide college placement, writes Grasgreen. Colorado and Ohio are moving in that direction. But most universities are holding back. They’re not sure what “proficient” will mean.

Support raises remedial students’ grad rates

ASAPASAP students at Bronx Community College

With intensive advising, tutoring and financial assistance, poorly prepared low-income community college students nearly doubled their graduation rate, concludes a study on Accelerated Study in Associate Programs (ASAP).

The City University of New York program cost $16,300 more per student. However, the cost per graduate was lower after three years, reports the Chronicle of Higher Education. ASAP participants also were more likely to transfer and earned more credits than the control group.

Forty percent of the students in the study graduated within three years, compared with 22 percent in the control group. Nationwide, only about 15 percent of community-college students who start out in remedial education earn a degree or certificate within three years, the report notes.

While 60 percent of community college students are part-timers, ASAP requires full-time enrollment. Most participants are young, living at home with parents, single and childless.

ASAP provides three years of financial aid, including a tuition waiver, free textbooks and a free bus pass.

They are required to meet frequently with advisers whose initial caseloads (60 to 80 students per adviser) are much smaller than the typical caseload of 600 to 1,500 students at CUNY’s two-year institutions. The program also includes mandatory tutoring, career advising, and seminars on topics like study skills and goal setting. Students can register for courses early, which helps them get into classes they need to graduate on time, and they can enroll in blocked or linked classes with other ASAP students in their first year.

Priority registration is a huge benefit, writes Michael Feldstein. But CUNY plans to expand ASAP from 1 percent of incoming students to 19 percent. It will be harder for ASAP students to get into classes at convenient times. And what about the students who also need those classes but can’t afford to enroll full-time?

Several Ohio community colleges also are trying ASAP.

Should high schools pay for remediation?

Tennessee high schools would have to pay for recent graduates who require remedial courses in community colleges under a proposed bill, reports the Times Free Press.

Seventy percent of new community college students are placed into at least one remedial class, according to state estimates. Last year, the remediation bill totaled $18.45 million.

Remediation rates plummet in Florida

Remedial enrollment has dropped by half this year at Broward College. Students aren’t any better prepared. A a new state law lets Florida high school graduates skip remedial courses, if they choose, and start at the college level.

Who needs algebra?

Community colleges are trying algebra-light alternatives that teach statistics or quantitative reasoning for students who don’t plan STEM careers. Algebra is “the single most-failed course,” says Gail Mellow, the president of LaGuardia Community College in Queens, N.Y. For many, it’s an impassable barrier, not a gateway.

Algebra or statistics?

Poorly prepared college students were more likely to pass college-level statistics than remedial algebra, in a controlled experiment at three New York City community colleges. Statistics is more useful to students in non-STEM majors, some believe.