I try to take the long view on education policy. In the long run, education reformers, education advocates, and policy wonks are wasting their time trying to change the underlying reality. They’re paying their own bills and wasting taxpayer dollars. Nothing else.
But every so often, I worry.
Check out this Edsource story on the California State University system’s announcement of its intent to abandon the “strategy” of remedial courses.
At last! I thought. CSU was finally telling low-skilled applicants to attend adult education or community college. Hahahaha. Five years of education policy writing just isn’t enough time to become properly cynical.
CSU is not ending its practice of accepting students who aren’t capable of college work. CSU has ended its practice of remediating students who aren’t capable of college work. It makes such students feel “unwelcome.” Students who aren’t capable of doing college work are getting the impression that they don’t really belong at college.
And so, CSU is going to give students who can’t do college work college credit for the classes they take trying to become ready for college.
Understand that the CSU system has been accepting these students for over 30 years. CSU used to offer unlimited remediation until 1996. After taxpayers protested, CSU passed regulations reducing remediation efforts to one year and vowed to ultimately eliminate all remediation by 2001. But alas, when 2001 came along, ending remediation would dramatically reduce black and Hispanic enrollment, so the deadline was extended to 2007. (Cite ) But 2007 came along and things were even worse. After that, well, California ended its high school exit examination and retroactively awarded diplomas to all the students who hadn’t been able to pass it. Why bother? CSU was accepting students who didn’t have the diploma anyway.
So, CSU decided on a new “strategy”, defining “college readiness” as “student is earning us tuition dollars”. They’re even looking at ending any sort of reliance on California’s version of the Smarter Balanced test, the Early Assessment rating that California has used for years to guide high schools towards getting their students ready for college.
Loren J. Blanchard, CSU executive said that remedial education represents a deficit model that must be reformed if we really hope to achieve our equity and completion goals.” James T. Minor, a “senior CSU strategist for Academic Success and Inclusive Excellence” says that purely remedial or developmental classes “is not a particularly good model for retention and degree completion.” Jeff Gold “emphasizes” that all the new program does is offer “extra help and services”, that rest assured, academic quality shall continue undisturbed. The CSU just wants to make sure that students who can only do middle school work “belong here” at CSU. CSU trustee chairwoman Rebecca Eisen is “thrilled” to hear about this change, as more students will “feel this is something they can do” and stay in college for longer.
Reporter Larry Gordon accepts all this at face value. He doesn’t push Blanchard to explain why students who can’t do college level work aren’t, by definition, a deficit model. Or why students who couldn’t pass an 8th grade math test should be retained long enough to complete a degree.
Nor does Gordon observe that CSU has been offering extra help and services for thirty years. In the current model, the help and services were not counted towards graduation. In the new model, they will be. That’s the change. Giving college credit for colleges that an advanced eighth-grader could complete is a reduction in academic rigor.
And note that Rebecca Eisen, at least, knows that Jeff Gold is lying. The remedial students were leaving because they couldn’t do the work. The change will make the students stay. Because the classes will be made easier and the students will get credit for them in this reduced academic environment.
Edsource checks in at Cal State Dominguez Hills, which has already been converting its remedial courses to “co-requisite” courses in statistics and algebra and that remedial students taking the co-requisite courses are passing at roughly the same rate as those who aren’t remedial.
Left unmentioned is that Cal State Dominguez Hills’ converted SAT averages has a 75th percentile SAT score of 450. Everyone at CSUDH is remedial by a “typical” college’s standards–and by CSUDH’s standards, eighty percent were remedial in both math and English, which gives a small hint as to why the college might want to end remediation.
While Gordon reports the news without any context on the student ability level, he hastens to assure readers that ignoring remedial status is a public university trend. “Several other states, such as Tennessee, reported success in putting students in so-called corequisite courses starting in 2015. The City University of New York is taking similar steps by 2018 and also is starting to allow math requirements to be fulfilled by statistics or quantitative reasoning classes, not just by algebra.”
Meanwhile, this decision “dovetails” (read: is driven by) the CSU Graduation Initiative, which is a plan to increase the four-year completion rate from 19 to 40 percent.
So in 1996, California wanted to completely end remediation by 2001. Now, in 2017, California wants to give students college credit for remedial courses so that in eight more years two out of every five students will graduate in four years.
I once wrote an essay calling for a ban on college remediation. But events are just getting way ahead of me. Anticipating that colleges would start giving degrees to people with middle school skills was something I foolishly rejected as implausible.
But as bad as this is, my dismay and disgust is deepened a thousand-fold by this fact: high schools aren’t allowed to teach remedial courses.
We can’t say hey, this kid can only read at the eighth grade level, so let’s give him more vocabulary and leveled reading. Heavens, no. In fact, you see education advocates arguing that giving kids reading above their ability level is going to improve their reading (something unestablished at the high school level). In practice, this means that all but the most severely deficient readers are expected to read and thrive on Shakespeare and Sophocles.
We can’t say hey, this kid can’t do pre-algebra, much less algebra, and at his current knowledge and interest levels, he can’t possibly succeed at the three or four years of math past algebra that high schools require for graduation. No, we have to teach second year algebra concepts to kids who aren’t entirely sure what 6×8 is because we know they’ll graduate before they end up in pre-calc. High schools with diverse student populations can’t offer courses for the entire range of abilities encountered. Schools with entirely low-ability students can just lie.
Thanks to the education reforms of both the right and left, high schools are under tremendous pressure to force all their students into advanced courses and not given any options for students who aren’t ready. There is no “ready” but college-ready.
It’s gotten so idiotic that many high schools have started “dual enrollment” programs for their at-risk students. The best students are taking demanding high school courses. But the at-risk kids are going to college to get the remediation their high schools aren’t allowed to give them. They shade the truth, of course, mouthing nonsense about giving kids a taste of college. But read between the lines and you’ll see that the students are getting remedial courses. So high schools are paying tuition for low-level kids to take middle school courses at their local college.
But why? I’ve asked, time and again. Colleges are allowed to remediate. Why not let high schools provide the remediation, get kids closer to college ready? Any remediation we do will reduce the burden on colleges.
Ah, but that’s where the idiocy gets intense. The same public universities offering (or ending) remediation require that all students take advanced courses in high school. CSU application requirements include algebra 2. If CSU remedial students were even approaching second year algebra ability, the university system wouldn’t be ending remediation.
But CSU, and all the other colleges with admissions requirements well above the ability of the bottom 30% of their student population, know this. So why?
I’ve thought and thought about this, and can only come to one conclusion. Colleges are desperate to give opportunities to black and Hispanic students in a public atmosphere with no tolerance for affirmative action. They’ve tried every way they can think of. Standards have already been lowered. Course demands have been almost entirely eliminated–top-tier public schools will issue bachelor degrees with no additional math courses (after the remedial course, that is). This is just the next step.
The public discourse has become almost entirely bifurcated. At one end, we see education reformers hammering on high standards while suggesting, tentatively, that perhaps everyone isn’t really meant for college. We see learned professors opining that of the two proposed methods of improving low-income kids’ academic achievement, “no excuses” is better than integration because at least “no excuses” won’t hurt suburban schools.
Meanwhile, the actual colleges are lowering standards dramatically to the point that we will now routinely see people–primarily but not all black and Hispanic–with bachelors degrees despite reading at the eighth grade level and minimal math abilities. What makes anyone think that actual achievement is going to matter?
I haven’t seen any education reformers discuss the constant push to end or limit remediation, which has been going on for five years or so. They aren’t terribly interested in college policies. Education reformers want to kill teacher unions and/or grab public funds for essentially private charter schools, and this doesn’t help.
So now our public universities will accept anyone with a transcript spelling out the right courses. They’ll just put them in middle school courses and call it college. Education reformers, college professionals, all the middlebrow pundits opining on our failed education system won’t care–they send their kids to more expensive schools, the ones whose diplomas won’t be devalued by this fraud.
I’d put this insanity into the bucket of “Why Trump Won”, but does Betsy DeVos even care? She’s too interested in using federal dollars to push choice to win disapproval denying federal dollars to colleges who want to “improve access”. She’s the worst of both worlds: a committed voucher advocate who wouldn’t be bothered by the destruction of public universities. But then, a Democrat EdSec wouldn’t give a damn–in fact, a Clinton or Obama presidency would probably pressure colleges to lower standards even more. No one seems to actively try to change these policies.
But public colleges like CSU and CUNY are what bright kids from less well-connected families, kids whose parents don’t have the social capital to get into the “right” schools, were once able to use to get ahead. These schools have already done themselves a lot of damage, making it harder and harder for anyone, no matter how qualified, to get through in less than six years because of the time, resources, and expense involved educating the near-illiterate–and, of course, paying for vice-chancellors of gender sensitivity and diversity awareness by accepting loads of Chinese students who prepared for college by committing fraud on the SAT.
If this doesn’t stop, America will have a much more serious problem than failed college students with huge college debts and no diploma. We’ll have thousands of college grads who got their diplomas with no better than eighth grade reading and math skills.
I’m not a high-standards maven. Nor am I patient with the pseudo-cynical idiots who think they’re in the know, smirking that college degrees have been worthless for years.
No, they haven’t. But they’re going to be.
Meanwhile, people should maybe read more David Labaree.