Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Remedial classes failing to help college students.

OVERLAND PARK, Kan. — Each year, an estimated 1.7 million U.S. college students are steered to remedial classes to prepare them for regular coursework. But a growing body of research shows that the courses are eating up time and money, often leading not to degrees but student loan hangovers.

The expense of remedial courses, which typically cost the same as regular classes but don't fulfill degree requirements, runs about $3 billion annually, according to research by Complete College America, a Washington-based nonprofit.

The group says the classes are largely failing the nation's higher education system at a time when student-loan debt has become a presidential campaign issue. Meanwhile, lawmakers in at least two states have pushed through changes, and numerous institutions are redesigning the courses.

Read more: http://www.mysanantonio.com/news/article/Remedial-classes-failing-to-help-college-students-3591153.php#ixzz1wFglmMPm


  1. I have taught these courses, they often are not rigorous enough to actually prepare a student because administration designs them not faculty.

  2. The Complete College America report also says research shows that half or more of remedial students would be better off placed in required classes and having the schools building in extra help, such as tutors or more frequent class meetings.

    And who's going to pay for the extra instructor time? For the tutors? And it won't do any damn bit of good if the pace of the class overwhelms them, and "they choke."

    I had an aspiring pre-med place into remedial math. We worked him through his first year, with college algebra in the second semester, and he still couldn't handle general chemistry. Not everyone is cut out for college, nor can people "dream it and do it." Some subjects actually take more brains than a box of rocks.

    I'd have more respect for my colleagues if I didn't see students who flunk out of gen-chem getting A's in their classes.

    And now I will go climb into my asbestos undies.

  3. I agree with introvert prof. Very few people want to admit that many, many students are just not cut out for college. I read somewhere that you need to have an IQ of around 115 to finish a BA. Most people don't have an IQ of 115.

    It's to the advantage of the bean counters in many schools that they let in nearly everyone. But "everyone" cannot finish and get a degree. The graduation rate at my college is about 50%.

    What happens is this:

    The average person, with help, can probably get through the first year of school. The 100 IQ person. But then as the years go by, that same student is just not bright enough to handle the increasingly difficult material.

    But colleges like mine need enrollment, and they need the money that these students provide the college, because none of them get scholarships. So these students climb just so high and no higher, and then flunk out.

    Harvard graduates 97% of its students. Why? They don't let in just anyone. They let in smart, motivated kids that can handle the work.

    Now, I do appreciate the fact that in the US, people feel that they have a "right" to go to college. And they do. But the right to go does not translate into the ability to get a degree.

    Remedial courses can only do so much with students who are not capable of learning the material.

    1. YES, to both you and ^introvert.prof.

      We're open admissions where I teach. More and more of our students are placing into low-level or NDC courses.

    2. I do not know about IQ's. Hard work skills beat brains any day. I am in a non-selective school, and I see kids denser than a sackfull of hammers making it. Not if they have to work 8 hours a day, thou.

    3. I agree about the IQ thing. I see kids who don't have the IQ or EQ or whatever it is, to function. If they can't figure out where to buy a book, how in the world are they going to think analytically about their coursework that is so much more complicated than figuring out how to buy a book.

  4. It's time for a good apprenticeship program. I have deep respect for people for whom college or academe in general are not the right thing. Why should they sit in remedial classes failing when they could be succeeding as apprentices? It can't feel good to them.

    I do blame our public educational system for failing to deliver an adequate high school education, though. I don't think you can function in any but the lowest tiers of the service industry on a 7th grade education, which is what a high school diploma amounts to now. And for godsake we need an educated citizenry. So an apprenticeship program would solve only part of the problem.

  5. The problem is that remediation--a.k.a. developmental classes--are designed for students who need to boost skills before taking college-level work, and our colleges are seeing scores of students who need much more than a boost.

    I teach primarily developmental writing at LD3C, and I cannot in one semester right the wrongs of thirteen years (or more, or less) of pre-college formal education. In many cases, students capable of doing the work in my developmental classes have several factors working against them: poverty, inefficient or substandard public/charter education (and I blame administrators and NCLB, not K-12 teachers), a culture that actively works against valuing education and learning, chaos in their personal lives, no personal support system, and no understanding of what it takes to be a student.

    Add to that the large number of students with low intelligence (I'm sorry, but that's an issue) or other cognitive impairments (such as head/brain injury or damage/impairment from long-term drug use), students with behavioral issues that most people who don't teach developmental courses would not believe, and students who have been incarcerated or otherwise institutionalized for so long that they don't know how to function at large.

    On top of that, sprinkle in the students who are straight-up lazy and/or entitled, rude and/or defensive, and students who just don't give a tea party and are there for their financial aid check.

    All of that mixes into every single developmental classroom in open-enrollment schools. All of it. LD3C is not alone.

    On top of all of that--nearly every single thing that would prevent students from succeeding in developmental courses, including the complete lack of basic literacy in math and English--add administrations that are now pressuring developmental teachers to be crusaders, urging us to call students at home and alert counselors about potential problems with individual students in the name of retention because the colleges look bad with so many developmental students failing.

    At many community colleges, too, factor in larger-than-recommended class sizes and very little formal research (beyond anything Bill Gates wants to throw at us, along with some money) about how to improve the situation.

    Of course students aren't passing developmental classes. They don't have the skills--academic skills, life skills--to begin to succeed in these classes, let alone carry them on to completion, and developmental teachers rarely get the support they need from colleges/administrations to do meaningful work.

    The media and legislatures are going to begin to point the finger at us developmental teachers soon, just as they have at K-12 teachers. In one semester, I'm supposed to take someone with a fifth-grade reading level and minimal sentence skills from where he or she is to someone who can pass freshman composition, because that's my job. Right?

    There are many variables that affect student success in any given class, but the biggest one--the one over which teachers and colleges have no control--is the student. As usual, lawmakers and think tanks are looking only at the end result--student failure and massive student loan debt--rather than the process itself. It's a process that begins long before students enter a developmental college classroom, and it's a process put into motion by the legislators, policy makers, and think tanks themselves.

    Address poverty. Stop taking money from public K-12 to throw at private charter schools. Fund public education responsibly. Reduce K-12 class sizes and foster a culture that values education and learning.

    Finally, stop throwing money at the rich in the hopes that they'll create jobs for these students when they're done with their education, whether they finish after 12th grade or grad school. Just create the jobs, dammit, and give people in school something real to work toward.

    Yes. I needed to rant.

    1. "The problem is that remediation--a.k.a. developmental classes--are designed for students who need to boost skills before taking college-level work, and our colleges are seeing scores of students who need much more than a boost."


      YES. You are dead-on. All of it. Every word. Thank you.

    2. To echo BurntChrome: this is MY kind of religion. Greta, you've NAILED it.

    3. Right there with ya, GLG. Preach it, sister. Public schools full of students who can't read, write, or multiply? Better take away more money, to punish the teachers and students towards learning. It's coming pretty soon for higher ed, starting with the CC's...

    4. O dear Greta, yes. And bless your fuzzy heart for what you do. Holy cow.

    5. At some point, we were not allowed to call our courses "remedial" any longer. Instead, they evolved into "developmental." However, a tremendous difference exists between these two terms, at least in my mind. "Remedial" means the students already knew it and just need a bit of practice or a refresher in order to get back into the swing of things. It now has the connotation of "something is wrong with the students, so we have to fix them"; thus we had to quit using it. "Developmental" means they didn't have the skills to begin with. No one taught them, they weren't taught in a way they could learn it, they were not capable of learning it, or they didn't want to learn it and there were no consequences. Thus we have to "develop" skills that may or may not be in any particular student's capacity. But it sounds much nicer, as if they are all equally capable and just need a little help.

      Meanwhile, the hammer is falling on us to get them through as quickly as possible. Although we keep calling it developmental, much of the "innovation" I've seen in this field (which seems to be coming from corporate moguls and the non-profits they hide behind) is most definitely of a remedial nature. I'm all for shorter terms as it gives students fewer chances for life drama to get in the way, but we're seeing expectations that we can "develop" them in as little as two or three weeks. They also want to combine developmental classes with credit classes so Johnny can take his Basic English at the same time as Freshman Comp I even though his placement scores put him at the bottom of Basic English.

      We're told that class size should not matter and technology will solve all our problems. No one takes into account the behavioral issues Greta describes either. That's just an added bonus on top of all the other problems.

  6. Greta--

    The bottom line in all of this is that though the colleges in the US are overall the best in the first world, the K-12 schools in the US are some of the worst.

    I blame this on the education departments in colleges everywhere. There is a vast dividing line in expectations at the K-12 level, and the quality of teaching that goes on there, and the expectations in college. The truth is that pretty much anyone with a pulse can get bachelor's degree in education, and the competition for jobs, and the weeding-out process, is not learly so stiff and arduous as it is for college professors. In fact the process for teachers K-12 should be stiffer.

    People pretty much know that the Ed.D. in many schools is kind of a joke. I keep my eye on all the Ed.D.s and most of them are either unimpressive intellectually or out and out doofuses to an embarrassing level. Those programs turn out jargon-spouting chuckleheads who then go on to supervise and "teach" the bottom of the barrel students who gravitate there. There are exceptions, spectacular exceptions, but they are a rarity. I've been advising the students and working with the professors for nearly a quarter of a century so it's not just some theory I came up with. Becoming a K-12 teacher is not an intellectually rigorous process. Many education people these days don't even believe you have to know the subject you're teaching, because you're just a "facilitator". Seriously?

    You want a real high school education? Go to a private school staffed with Ph.D.s, who don't have to meet the "certification" requirements, which are a fucking joke anyway.

    We need to rid the country of ed departments and pull in the smartest kids with the most motivation, talent, and intelligence into teaching, training them in their subject area instead of bogging them down with dumbass courses. At K-6 levels, of course methodology is more important. There, entirely removing NCLB will help things.

    Better parenting will help as well. No one thought a thing of stacking 35 kids in a third-grade class in 1950. Because kids could actually sit down and shut up back then. These days, half of the kids have ADHD or "oppositional defiance disorder". 25 kids in a class is considered huge, and there is usually a teacher's aide there to help. WTF? The push for "small class sizes" is a joke. Small class sizes don't make students better-educated, even smaller kids. Students behaving themselves and listening makes better educated kids. The push for smaller class sizes is a misdirected effort that attempts to solve a discipline problem, not a learning problem. Put my kid in a class of 40 intelligent, disciplined kids and she will learn reams. Put her in a class of 20 miscreants and she won't. Because the teacher will be spending her time telling students to sit down and shut up.

    Guess I felt like a rant today as well.

    1. I am absolutely with you on Ed departments. My husband got a teaching certification in his 40s and the courses were numerous and ridiculous. He uses his other degree (the one in his field) for teaching that subject and virtually nothing from the Ed program. But class sizes is another matter. In addition to all the children with ADD and other learning and behavioral issues (which I'm not so willing to blame on parents), we have to add English language learners, children stuck in poverty, those who are members of gangs, etc. that make a class size of 35 a nightmare. As you point out, when a teacher is spending half his time telling kids to shut up, no one can learn. This is the reality of the public school system. Cutting this population down by 15 kids makes a huge difference to these teachers. Certainly some of these problems can be solved by better parenting, but many of them cannot. Moreover, the situation will only get worse as the charters pull the kids from the higher socio-economic brackets and push out those with learning disabilities and other disorders, leaving the public schools to feel the misery.

    2. Your ideal educational system perfectly describes what they're actually doing in Finland, with a few added things (teachers have autonomy on testing for one thing). You can't teach K-12 in Finland without an M.A. in an academic field, and not in education; once you've got your MA in your chosen subject then you can apply to get into their teacher's college. Teaching is a well-respected field in Finland and teachers are treated - and paid - as professionals.

      But all the money for education in Finland went towards making certain everyone had equal access to education. They've been doing this since the 70's. The results have been stellar. Private schools don't exist in Finland - everyone goes to a public school, and all the money goes to public schools in consequence. Parents can choose to put their child in a different school if they want, but as an administrator there put it, "all the choices are the same". All the schools are good. And they don't use standardized tests at all.

      I really, really wish we all lived in Finland.

    3. Stella, I agree with both education departments and poor parenting. The reason the best students don't go into education is because it's not intellectually rigorous, requires babysitting and the salaries are 50-70% of what your can get in industry (for chemistry). Better parenting helps to fix the behavior issues. How do you attract smart people to a job that requires them to know less than what they learned in their freshman level course and get paid a lot less?

      I wish it were not true but I can't help but think that teachers will always be the students who might love teaching but didn't do well in the difficult classes of their major.

  7. Ursula,

    Unfortunately you're talking about the perils of mainstreaming, which doesn't work for kids that actually can sit down, shut up, and listen.

    Mainstreaming has funneled all the kids with less ability and/or problems in with the kids that have more ability and no problems. Who is helped by this? Not the kids that have more ability and no problems.

    I was in grade school in the 60s and 70s. There were nine separate "levels" for kids back then. No one told me this but I figured it out right quick.

    No one disrupted class. No one was in a "gang". There were a couple of non-English speaking kids that picked up the language in few months (easy at that age), and those students moved up through the ranks quickly.

    I understand that there are some problems for which children are not at fault, but crushing poverty is absolutely NOT an excuse for kids to be misbehaved and do poorly in school. I know this because my father was brought up in crushing poverty. He and his siblings did very well in school.

    What I know about kids is that they are smart little bastards, and will suss out immediately what they can get away with in every single situation they are in, with every single person. A kid basically knows which parent is more of a hardass by 18 months old, maybe earlier.

    Making excuses for them because they are in a bad situation at home doesn't fly with me. They will figure out how it is in school right quick.

    What the schools need is a lot more money to provide fee-free "afterschool" for kids that are not doing well--at least two hours of extra "school" for them if they don't do their work properly. Teachers who wanted to volunteer for this program would be paid for their extra work.

    Wanna know what? If a kid sees they're going to have two hours extra of school if they don't shape up, they'll shape up.

    Kids are like that.

    Merely: Finland definitely does it right.

    1. Yuuuuup. On all counts.

      My daughter's elementary school got Title I status this year. She's in a classroom where one of the students *should not be there at all* because he has a number of behavioral issues. He gets extra help and spends part of each day with a specialist, but when he's in the room, his behavior is so distracting and the teacher has to stop what she's doing to redirect him. My daughter and her classmates seem to have gotten used to it, but I find it incredibly frustrating.

      We applied to, and got her accepted into the school district's new STEM academy. I am really hoping that this will ameliorate some of the problems she's been having with concentrating. The STEM thing is only for grades 3-5 so I'm not sure what's going to happen with middle school, but I am leaning very strongly in the homeschooling direction because frankly, what I see in the public school just scares the shit out of me. The homeschooled students I have had in my classes over the years have been light-years ahead of their classmates in terms of work ethic and skills.

  8. The problem can be fixed sooner when we realize that- gasp - some people aren't cut out for more in life than asking "would you like fries with that". Kids nowadays are raised being told they're all smart and special and unique. Guess what? They aren't. Most are around average, 49% are below it. At some point "equal opportunity" got twisted into trying to pound a round peg into a square hole. I suggest a Brave New World model. Give people with low intelligence levels an 8th grade education and call it a day. Spend the money on students who can use it.

    1. It's always nice to be able to blame the student for being lazy, or stupid, or whatever, isn't it; because that means we don't have to try. Where the effort has to go, however, is long before they go to college. A lot of students you are writing off as too stupid to benefit would have been fine if they had encountered good K-12 education.

  9. Oh, please, let's just say it. This is not your father's crushing poverty. The lower-income kids in the deepest trouble are for the most part black, and those racialized "levels" are no longer an option in the public schools for good reasons. We forget that for lower-income African American kids, "crushing poverty" is the cumulative result of two decades of the drug trade and the War on Drugs, with two terrible results: a generation of parents who were left to fend for themselves as kids during the crack wars, and the contemporary imprisonment of far too many African American men (read: husbands, fathers) for minor drug offenses. Add to that the decline in sectors that have traditionally employed working-class black people, compound it with horrendous projects like the one a half mile from me, and you've got something neither Finland nor our father's generation has never seen. These kids need more than a "shut up."

    1. Oops, double negative. Neither/nor ... ever.

    2. Damn straight. It's worth pointing out that Finland started pouring money into equal access education with highly trained teachers in the 1970's, but it took 20 years to start seeing results, too. Equal access education is one of the bases of reduced income inequity, which will, in turn, produce good results in the schools. When you've got spectacular inequity outside the classroom, and spectacular inequities across school districts (public and private) inside the schools too, you can't fix just one. Though if you were going to fix just one I'd go for the income inequity first.

  10. F&T:

    Crushing poverty affects African-Americans disproportionately, but it is not a white issue or a black issue. More white people are on food stamps than black people. More white people get medicaid, welfare, etc. And everyone's got their cross to bear. I don't think we should make excuses. Even rich kids might be from an evironment where no one gives a shit about them, and daddy has maybe not gone to jail, but is just "gone".

    If you give a kid an excuse not to do well, I'll tell you what--they won't do well. Making exuses (Your dad is in jail. Your mom was a crackhead.) isn't the answer. The answer is, "Yeah, life sucks but you can do better for yourself. You can."

    Of course they need more than a "shut up." Which is why I favor increased taxes to help any kid who seems to be having problems keeping up. I think most kids can do the work. They're not perhaps in an environment that can encourage it, but they're very capable. Keep them extra at school to bring them up to speed.

    I would guess the most distracted kid, who doesn't give a shit, will start to straighten up and fly right with the prospect of more school if s/he doesn't. Not child care after school, where the kids get to hang out and watch movies, but SCHOOL. Intense time with teachers there to help them.

    As they improve, and they will, believe me, those students can spend less time in the program, and when they are up to snuff they can instead go home, or go play. It would be a sort of permanent "detention" where they had to do their work properly, or they would not be released to play.

    For kids that liked to work harder than most, it would be an opportunity for them to really improve to a stellar level. It would be open to all kids.

    Raise my taxes to pay for that. I'd be happy to pay.

    1. I think the poverty issue extends beyond having high expectations. Without home support and early preschool, some of these kids enter school so far behind their peers that it would take a lifetime of extra school to catch up. And the charters in New York, DC, and New Orleans are trying precisely the model you describe to do that. WIth few exceptions (Harlem Children's Zone, for one, which has enormous resources and free health care), it's not working all that well. What we're seeing is a ghettoized system, with poor and low-performing students spending nights and weekends in a militarized program that focuses on basics (and producing no higher test scores than when they began) while the wealthier kids attend schools with an emphasis on creativity and extracurriculars. It's easy to see that this system will reinforce the social stratification that already exists.

      And yes, the Finnish model is amazing. There, however, in addition to teachers trained in their subject areas (and in pedagogy, we should point out) the class size is under 20 and the child poverty rate is under 3%.

    2. Well, I understand what you're saying, Ursula, but the key point in there is that it IS working at the Harlem Children's Zone, which has "enormous resources and free health care". Doubtless the other schools are not pouring enough into their programs.

      I favor tax increases that would provide those enormous resources and free health care for kids not in Harlem.

    3. Yeah, I don't think we fundamentally disagree -- wraparound services from pregnancy to college are what's in order here. Instead, we get some sorry-assed wars.

    4. Late to the party, but I'm with Stella on this not really being a racial issue. The only black kids in my local SD are upper-working-class, with two involved parents at home. They are doing well.

      On the other hand, one of my newest Eagle Scouts, a white boy, has a clueless mother with revolving-door boyfriends and damn little support at home; the people at the school mostly think he's not worth their trouble. At the HS graduation, he showed up to collect his diploma, then left. I don't blame him a bit; one of the teachers I chatted with after the ceremony expressed great surprise that he earned his Eagle.

      Damn, I've outed myself... fuggit. Anybody who recognizes me from this story won't care.

  11. I had to do remedial math when I started college because I refused to learn it in HS. But I was motivated and went from pre-algebra to pre-calculus in 2 years. I didn't ENJOY it, but I did it because I had to.

    Then I taught a remedial writing course at an inner-city CC and it was awful. About 1/3 of the students actually wanted to be there. Most of them thought writing was stupid and they shouldn't have to do it. Needless to say, most of them failed and then wrote me horrible evaluations.

    I agree with everyone above who has said that remedial should be a "boost"--I had the capability to learn math, I just chose not to do it when they tried to stuff it in my head the first time. I don't know that a lot of my remedial students had the capability, even if they cared enough to try.


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