June 21st, 2012

WATCH: Rethinking Basic Skills In Community Colleges



According to Stan Jones of Complete College America, U.S. taxpayers are spending close to $3 billion per year on supporting remedial classes at the community college level. Remedial courses — designed to help students catch up, and often taken on a non-credit basis — often aren’t successful at preparing students for their primary, credit-earning coursework.

At the same time, though, the presence of remedial classes is often a cash cow for the colleges; the courses can end up providing funding to other areas.

What can be done to improve the situation? Producer John Tulenko traveled to two community colleges in Maryland that are taking different approaches to the problem.

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This program is made possible by the following funders:
Grade Level Reading Fund of the Tides Foundation, The Sergey Brin and Anne Wojcicki Foundation, The Wallace Foundation, and The William and Flora Hewlett Foundation.


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7 comments

What you did not cover, and what’s critical to this kind of malfeasance, is the role of AccuPlacer, the test community colleges commonly administer to “recruit” candidates for their ineffective remedial classes. Although they do make this test available to area high schools, so those most “at risk” might assess their real liabilities, very, very few ever take it, since most of the “risky” high schools have such ineffective - or compliant, or conspiring - counseling departments.

Perhaps worse than this invitation to malfeasance, the College Board explicitly describes this test in diagnostic, rather than pass/fail terms: “You cannot “pass” or “fail” the placement tests, but it is very important that you do your very best on these tests so that you will have an accurate measure of your academic skills.” This gives often the lowest income students precisely the wrong information, since “passing” means avoiding critical expenses, often un-reimbursed by college grants or loans, and “failing” means paying an often very large bill before the “admissions” actually take place. And, for that very large bill, as you DO report, they often get … nothing.

This video ends praising online classes. Who is to say that the woman therein wouldn’t have passed if she took math a third time in a face-to-face class? Online classes are not the answer, especially for remediation courses. I don’t know who this would be news for, except those who work in academia yet are far removed from close interaction with students.

Interesting story. Too bad there was no mention of the promising work being done by the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching to completely retool developmental mathematics. Worth a look:
http://www.carnegiefoundation.org/developmental-math

I do like the idea of placing developmental-level students in the same class with those at grade level but giving them an extra hour session to hone their skills. I wonder what the grade level students think of this extra access to the teacher that they don’t receive but maybe office hours take care of that complaint. Good idea overall - time and practice (hard work) are big difference makers in my mind.

@ Ryan Palmore - I believe the delivery format they are referring to is what our university has adopted and we call it TERM. It is not the typical “online” format; they meet with a professor one hour a week and spend at least two more hours in a tutoring lab doing the assignments so that they can get immediate assistance. It has been very successful for a good number, though I wish we had not completely ended the face-to-face option for our remedial math since some students will learn better that way. Maybe Carnegie’s approach will help others.

I’m quite intrigued by the English approach and would like to see our school try it, especially with those results.

Guys — these are good comments. If you’d like to speak with Tulenko (the producer of the piece), you can e-mail him at jtulenko@learningmatters.tv.

The issue of math remediation at the college level is a complex issue. The current story is incomplete and could be misleading in certain aspects.

What we discovered that the institutions of higher education, including the community colleges, are a big education fraud for the students who are enrolled in these courses, and the federal government that is paying for it in the form of financial aid. These institutions require all students to take a placement test, like the Accuplacer, before they register for the class. After the students have taken the course, and the professor has given a passing grade, these students move on to the next remedial course, and if they are lucky, to the next college level math. But the irony of the situation is that there is no post-testing of these students who are passing the courses by the same instrument, Accuplacer, at the end of the course. Where is the accountability.

These institutions want public to believe that the teaching provided by their professors is better than what the students received in their high schools. Please give these students a break. The institutions are escaping accountability by not testing these students at the end of the semester by the same instrument.

The solution of this very serious problem lies in the actual preparation of these students in Basic Math and Algebra so they can succeed in higher level math and science courses. The game of musical chairs, restructuring courses, and buying new equipment for the same old teaching pedagogy has not worked in the past, and will not surely work in the future. There is no substitute for a student who is well grounded and well prepared in basic math and algebra skills.
The group at the University of the District of Columbia has conducted five pilot and research studies during the past 5-6 years during summer months. This group was able to close the remedial math gap in a short and intensive eight-week program for 91% of the students who participated in the program—91% of the students, who miserably failed the Accuplacer in the beginning of the program, actually tested out of two remedial math courses measured by the Accuplacer in post-testing. The details of the program are documented at: http://www.gatewayacademicprogram.org.

The program is well documented in a recently published book, “Math Remediation for the College Bound: How Teachers Can Close the Gap, from the Basics to Algebra” by Rowman Littlefield Publishing Company. Also look for the upcoming book, “A Teaching Guide for Revitalizing STEM Education: Phoenix in the Classroom”, to be published by August 2012.




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