Monday, April 17, 2006
Good idea all around.
The sticking point is placement exams.
The high school doesn’t want its students to have to take our placement exams. If students place ‘developmental’ (that is, remedial) in either math or writing, they are barred from college-level courses in relevant disciplines until those deficiencies have been addressed. (I say ‘in relevant disciplines’ because we allow students with shortfalls in math to take, say, drawing.) Although the high school claims that it will subject any students in the program to rigorous criteria, they don’t want to risk the placement exams. I consider this revealing.
What data I’ve seen suggest that the high school’s fear is well-founded. We have a special scholarship program for students who graduate in the top x percent of their high school class. A distressing number of those students test as ‘developmental.’
Community colleges take a lot of flak for teaching remedial courses. But as open-admissions institutions, what choice do we have? As long as students show up with legitimate high school diplomas, we’re mission-bound to accept them. If they show up with trouble writing a sentence or solving an equation, well, I don’t see how that’s our fault. We do our best to fix the educational deficits with which we’re presented. Sometimes it works, sometimes not, but I don’t think we’re wrong to make the attempt. In fact, I’d argue that we represent the last, best chance for many students.
Still, it bothers me that students who graduate in the upper echelon of their high school cohorts test developmental. That shouldn’t happen.
I don’t think it’s the tests. We use a common math test across the state, and part of the writing test is standard. Our cut scores are in the same ballpark as everyone else’s. In fact, there’s a move afoot now to make placement tests entirely uniform across the state. I’m a little wary about what kind of test would lend itself to that, but it should certainly put to rest any accusations of self-dealing. The questions on these exams are quite a bit easier than on, say, the SAT. (We also have an SAT cutoff that exempts a student from placement exams.) They’re not out of line.
Taxpayers in some states (so I’ve heard) have drawn a line in the sand, refusing to reimburse cc’s for remedial courses. The argument, to the extent that one exists, is that they shouldn’t have to pay for the same education twice. The flaw in the argument is that it punishes the wrong institution. If a high school didn’t teach a kid to write a paragraph, the high school still gets paid. The cc is punished for the sins of the high school. This is a basic confusion of categories.
I don’t know how to fix K-12 education. (If I did, I wouldn’t do this job.) Part of me suspects that the problem isn’t so much educational as economic; if there were more living-wage jobs out there that didn’t require a college degree, we could give up the fiction that every kid belongs in college without thereby consigning entire groups to poverty. There have always been kids who were, well, screwups. This is not new. In the past, those kids might join the Army, or get a union job at a factory. Now they’re afraid to join the Army for fear of going to Iraq (or they can’t get in due to entrance exams, obesity, drug use, etc.), and those factory jobs are long gone. So some of them find their way to us, despite long and uninterrupted records of struggle with (or indifference to) formal education. Then we get called wasteful for trying to teach them basic math and writing.
Sometimes I suspect that the insistence on education degrees for teachers is the culprit. Our high schools require education degrees, and are laggards on international comparisons. Our colleges and universities don’t, and our higher education sector is the best in the world. Correlation may not prove causation, but it’s awfully hard to argue that education degrees are necessary for quality control when the institutions that don’t require them are more successful than the ones that do.
More basically, housing segregation by income (and, indirectly, race) probably plays a major role. If an entire town is devoid of college-educated parents, the teachers in that high school will face an uphill battle even on good days. Since it’s not politically realistic to fail entire classes, they pass students who, by any objective measure, haven’t mastered high-school level academic skills. Then we get blamed for noticing.
I’ll admit to being an amateur in this area, and there is a vast scholarly literature devoted to it. But from the perspective of a manager in the trenches at a cc, I’m getting a little tired of being bashed for trying to help students whom other institutions have failed. The gap between what gets a kid out of high school and what equips him for success in college is dramatic, wasteful, disturbing, and sometimes fixable. If it deep-sixes our new program, I’ll be disappointed, but we can always catch those kids next year, when they come to us to learn what they didn’t learn in high school.
I'm often thinking about the most diplomatic way to send to our most popular "feeder" high schools a summary of how their graduates fared on our placement exam and in our freshman-level courses.
Our key was to work with the HSs in choosing a placement assessment. Since they were involved at the beginning, they understood that we weren't "spanking" them for poor performance, but were working with them to provide opportunities for their students. Before we collaborated on a national assessment (by the College Board), we had similar problems with them not wanting us to test their students.
Now everyone wins. We get FTE funding for those classes. The students get both HS and college credit. The HS gets to brag about their students getting a head-start on college credit...all completely transferable, BTW.
Placement exams here are a sticky subject-- could it be a case that they are intentionally doing poorly on the exam to get the remedial course. (in place of a much harder "regular" course?)
"Part of me suspects that the problem isn’t so much educational as economic; if there were more living-wage jobs out there that didn’t require a college degree, we could give up the fiction that every kid belongs in college without thereby consigning entire groups to poverty."
There are plenty of high-skilled jobs that don't require a college degree (auto tech, plumber, electrician, tool and die, locomotive engineer come to mind.) These do, however, require some of the same higher-order skills that the college boards test for. As long as the education establishment persists in the misconception that the students with the lower-order skills go on the vocational track, however, young people with mechanical aptitudes and little interest in being symbolic analysts will be ill-served by the P-20 establishment.
"There have always been kids who were, well, screwups. This is not new. In the past, those kids might join the Army, or get a union job at a factory. Now they’re afraid to join the Army for fear of going to Iraq (or they can’t get in due to entrance exams, obesity, drug use, etc.), and those factory jobs are long gone."
The military understands that there's a huge investment in preparing a trooper to work with advanced weapon systems. Cannon fodder is so nineteenth century. Manufacturing is another matter. Rising skill premiums are an inducement to invent technologies that more modestly talented people can work with. "Fordism" used a lot of people from the neck down, but they were well rewarded for their efforts. "Luddites" were the symbolic analysts of their day reacting against proto-Fordism in textiles.
"Sometimes I suspect that the insistence on education degrees for teachers is the culprit. Our high schools require education degrees, and are laggards on international comparisons. Our colleges and universities don’t, and our higher education sector is the best in the world. Correlation may not prove causation, but it’s awfully hard to argue that education degrees are necessary for quality control when the institutions that don’t require them are more successful than the ones that do."
Don't forget the market tests!
"More basically, housing segregation by income (and, indirectly, race) probably plays a major role. If an entire town is devoid of college-educated parents, the teachers in that high school will face an uphill battle even on good days."
Time to re-think school choice? Self-segregation is school choice by other means. Your school district comes bundled with the house you buy, and its price reflects the local test scores. Now toss in a little "quality-of-life" zoning and presto, you've just isolated your high school from many of those social problems. (You've introduced others, but that's outside my area of expertise.)
We'll see anyway. It's been fascinating to get to teach on both sides of the academic fence.
Here are just a few of the things that HS teachers need to deal with:
--40%-50% of students have no desire whatsoever to be there. They are there because the state says they have to be there.
--for many students, especially in poor districts, school lunch is the only meal they will eat in a day.
--one thing I've found here in working with both HS and University faculty is that, as more and more high schools have moved to "block" scheduling and affording students an opportunity to do homework in school (because parents aren't making them do it at home), students are coming to the University with no idea about how to do schoolwork outside of a structured school enviornment.
--parents who don't make children do homework.
--parents who are so desperate to be "friends" with their children that they don't make them go to bed, study, or understand any sort of social interaction.
--manditory, high stakes testing that determines raises and personnel decisions (in Ohio, un NCLB, if a school does poorly on a test for three years in a row, the principle gets canned).
While I agree that there are students who don't belong in college, yet, I think there are many who don't belong in HS. Parents and the state, however, have become so used to schools acting as babysitters that they are un-aware of their own responsibility in this. I think if we were to start kicking students out of high school earlier and forcing parents to confront the fact that they are complicit in their sons' and daughters' performance, we will start to see some change.
I had the embarassment of advising an incoming student that her test scores indicated that she needed to start in a remedial English class. She then informed me that she had college credit from our college in Comp I through our dual credit program.
We are moving toward offering several of the course on our campus through a dual enrollment program. It is easier to keep up standards when the college has complete control over the course.
Stephen -- I'm not entirely unsympathetic with school choice as a concept, but the details strike me as fatal. First, and most basically, transportation costs would skyrocket. If school choice is to be effective, it can't rely on parents driving. Do you propose having every district send buses to a dozen surrounding towns, to pick up the kids who chose it? That's a logistical and financial nightmare. (I don't think it's a coincidence that magnet programs work best in huge cities with decent public transportation.) Second, it more or less assumes that a significant number of schools are not worth even trying to help, which strikes me as antidemocratic. Finally, as Fischel argued in "The Homevoter Hypothesis," much taxpayer support for local schools is based on the fact that they're local, by which he means, tied to property values. Good schools raise property values. If that connection is severed, then school taxes are just another tax, voters would become much more hostile to them, and the sector would quickly be abandoned to those who couldn't afford private schools.
That's not to deny the reality of economic segregation, and the evils attendant to it. I just don't see school choice helping, and I do see it hurting. Zoning is another matter; we're probably much more in agreement on that. If I hear the phrase "preserve rural character" one more time, some rural characters are going to suffer.
Your list of high-skill jobs that don't require a college degree is dispiriting. Is there really a growth market in locomotive engineers? (I wish!) Is there really a growth market in tool and die? If there is, I haven't seen it. And the 'cannon fodder' line is exactly right, and exactly the problem: if the Army doesn't need the mechanically-gifted anymore, who does?
My concern is that as a society, we're acquiescing in a gradual narrowing of the ways to win, economically. Those who don't fit in the academic mold, if they aren't athletes, entrepreneurs, or salespeople, don't have many options. So kids who really don't want to be in college (yes, we get them, too) go to college for lack of any better ideas. I'm all for giving second chances (which is why I'd oppose liberalizing dropout rules), but if the kid doesn't really want the chance, it probably won't work.
"The best math students at the high schools usually get college credit in high school either through dual credit or AP. That means the the students that don't take calculus until college are the weaker math students."
Actually, my experiences (and those of every one of my colleagues whom I've discussed this with face-to-face) is that incoming freshman who have had calculus in high school tend to do *much* worse in Calculus I in college.
I think the two main reasons for this are:
1. Taking calculus in high school makes the student far too overconfident once he/she takes calculus in college. Many of these students think they know what they're doing when they don't.
2. Many high school calculus classes...well...suck. A lot. Around this region, for example, most students who take a "calculus" class in high school don't learn a thing about limits. They're just told that the derivative gives them the slope of the tangent line and they're told how to differentiate rational functions.
And some universities won't accept AP credit (or won't always accept it). For good reason, in my opinion.
Definitely stick to your guns. Don't water down the college-level courses because some students are unprepared. That's unfair to everyone.
I don't think it's so much of a problem when high school students test into developmental (remedial, pre-college, whatever you call it) classes. Let them take those classes and then move to the next level. My homeschooled son, a high school freshman, tested into a developmental level at community college. He took the developmental course, aced it, learned a lot, and is now taking freshman composition. What's the problem?
It's ridiculous to think that every student should be on the same level. Some students might not have had good teachers in school. Some might be dyslexic, like my son. Some might be slower learners. Surely quite a lot of them are not native speakers of English. As long as the students who take developmental classes learn, and pass them, it's all good.
Some public schools are not teaching students very well. That's a problem, but it isn't your problem. Even if public schools were doing a better job, there would still be students who needed remediation, and community colleges are a good place to get it.
Just a thought -- why not get a few of the HS teachers who are giving you a hard time to sit in on a class or two? If you can demonstrate that they do their kids no favors by dumping them in over their heads, then that might help the process?
I taught one dual enrollment class. After that, I asked not to be assigned any more d.e. students.
It's a great idea, but when the high school teachers don't do their part & the cc administration doesn't back up the cc instructors, it just plain doesn't work.
Frequently, students with serious attitude and attendance problems are pushed into the program by HS counselors who don't want the drop-outs or hassle -- because a kid who isn't mature enough to take high school seriously for a semester and prove she can attend all her classes on time and do well in them will change all those habits in college, where FERPA makes it very difficult to set up safety nets!
At least I know that my students did place high enough on the tests to be admitted to the highest level of developmental English or above. In order to get FTEs, most of the Social Science classes have no prereqs, because the Gen Ed requirements are very general. The only history classes that are required are the ones taken by the HS students -- atate history is always full, and they have to have one year of history in toto to graduate. Once they're in college qua college, history is not required. And since the range of history instruction ranges from a retired HS teacher who spoonfeeds them for scan-tron tests and two people who try to keep up real transfer-levels, guess whose classes fill first?
I assume they take the standard placement tests here -- and as well they should. It might not be a bad idea to do some assessment studies on the placement exams -- figure out if they are letting a certain kind of student pass when they shouldn't and placing others lower than they should be. Then you can have a discussion with the high schools with evidence about the accuracy of the test for your school.... just becuase it is called "acuplacer" doesn't mean that it IS accurate!
I've never understood the "don't fund remedial courses" mentality on the part of legislatures, since what it does is punish the colleges and universities that must offer them under another name.
And, I might add, I was denied entry into the PSEO program as a hs student since my grades were low. Ah, irony....
5-16 is compulsory education
16-18 is Further Education
18+ is Higher Education/University
FE institutions are designed to bridge this gap between schools and employment or university. Most FE institions operate standard testing during student induction, even with those who left with high grades at school.
On the issue of remedial classes all students are required to take key skills, which are similar in principle to remedial classes, until they are 18. A lot of students that I support and/or tutor left compulsory education with few or no qualifications so it does offer an opportunity for that to be rectified. Major problem with Key Skills that a lot of students resent having to complete them, even the brighter ones, because of the extra workload this causes.
The nearest thing we have to a dual enrollment system and community colleges are that some FE institutions are part of larger universities and can therefore offer university programmes as part of their courses. I doubt I could have taken my degree if this was not the case, because of the extra costs moving away would have incurred.
It also allows allows adults to obtain degrees later in life if they other responsibilities such as children. For example my courses ran at times to allow students to pick up their childsren from school.
Sorry, that went off on a tangent, didn't it... Hope that it made sense.
I teach maths in an FE college.
11-16 is compulsory. At the end of year 11, students take exams called GCSEs - separate exam in each subject.
16-18 can be in the same school as for 11-16, or in a dedicated 16-18 college.
Some of these 16-18 colleges tend to specialise in vocational courses, preparing stduents for employment at age 18.
Others, called sixth-form colleges, tend to specialise in academic courses, called A-levels, preparing students for university. Students take 3 or 4 subjects, each studied over 2 years, and thene xamined separately.
There is a historic trend for students who achieve lower grades at GCSE to be pushed towards vocational courses/colleges, while the sixth-forms set higher criteria - so GCSE grades act as equivalents of placement tests.
The key GCSEs are English and Maths. In most sixth-forms, students who arrive without a grade C (technically, all grades from G to A* are passes), will be expected to retake Maths/English (equivalent of remedial). Most universities require a pass in both.
The problems faced by sixth-forms are that students are frequently allowed to take essay-heavy subjects (such as Business, Psychology, Geography) without having passed English, and that a C in Maths does not actually provide an adequate basis for science subjects - so these students often do worse.
Universities also regularly moan about the skill level of students coming in, but since universities have selective entry (based on A-level grades), it's less of a problem.
A new development, being encouraged by the government, is for dual-enrolment - for "non-academic" 14-16 yrs to attend vocational FE colleges for some/all of their classes; and for acceleration on to A-level courses for academically gifted 14-16yrs. This is going to give us the same problems you're talking about - getting students on to courses for the correct reason, and wide age ranges in classes.
Key Skills is one of many BandAid attempts to fix basic maths and english, and is pretty much on the way out.
Hope that clarifies/helps...
As a CC professor, I must agree with your point of CC being the last hope. I often make the analogy the CC are the "educational lymphatic system". We take all the students that slipped through the cracks of normal academic circulation, filter out those that aren't ready to move and rehabilitate the rest.
Thanks for starting this conversation.