Reformers Take Aim at Remediation at Community Colleges!

Dear Commons Community,

Community colleges increasingly are coming under pressure from education policymakers to examine their remediation programs as more and more students enroll in developmental reading, writing, and mathematics courses.  The Chronicle of Higher Education has a featured article today examining this issue.  Here is an excerpt.

“As more students enroll [in developmental courses], the debates over remedial or developmental education have intensified.

To some, the field remains a necessary bridge to a college degree and a way to ensure that college classes retain their rigor. To others, it is a trap that prevents too many students from graduating.

But as educators and policy makers tweak and trim to get students into college classes more quickly, compromises are emerging that reflect a more nuanced understanding of the challenges underprepared students face. Bite-sized modules and concurrent remedial and college-level classes are helping better-prepared students move ahead while the least-prepared students continue to struggle.

The stakes are huge for colleges that promise to meet students where they are and provide them a college education. Where they are may be miles from the finish line.

Nearly two-thirds of students entering community colleges are required to take remedial or developmental math or English courses before they can take college-level classes, according to the Community College Research Center at Columbia University’s Teachers College.

Many of them, discouraged and in debt, drop out before they get to their first college-level class, the center’s research has shown.

Remedial educators say it’s unfair to blame the programs for the students’ struggles; after all, many of them enroll with glaring academic deficiencies. The classes are disproportionately filled with low-income, minority, and first-generation students who attended underperforming schools. They often have needs like child care and transportation that extend well beyond the classroom. And most of the courses are taught by adjuncts who lack the training and support that full-time faculty members receive.

“There is no question that we could and should do a better job of remediation,” says Hunter R. Boylan, director of the National Center for Developmental Education, based at Appalachian State University. But claiming that remediation causes dropouts is like “claiming that statues cause pigeons.”

Relations between remedial educators and reform-minded groups like Complete College America have been testy at times, as the push to limit stand-alone remedial classes gains traction in statehouses around the country.

“Journalists, bloggers, and advocacy groups with little understanding of the realities on the ground have made up the mantra that ‘remediation doesn’t work — let’s get rid of it,’” Mr. Boylan wrote in an email. “Then they have all quoted each other. This echo chamber has created a mythology that drives policy makers, frequently, toward rash actions.”

The article goes on to describe innovative practices such as accelerated and modular courses that potentially may be helpful in improving the success rates in remedial programs.  Worth a read.



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