Monday, June 03, 2013


Weirdly Brilliant

I have to give the state of Florida credit.  There’s something weirdly brilliant in this.

The state of Florida is planning to increase dramatically the percentage of students who are ready for college level courses by...wait for it...calling them ready!

I had not thought of that.

Starting in 2014, any student who entered the ninth grade in Florida after 2003-4, and who has a standard Florida high school diploma, will be automatically exempted from remedial classes.  The exemption also applies to all active-duty members of the military.

As I read the story, students won’t be banned from remedial classes; they just won’t have to take them.  Students who want to, apparently could.  (How that would work with financial aid is left unclear.)  I don’t imagine that many would, but they’d have the option.

I’m glad that Massachusetts isn’t doing this, but I’m also glad somebody is.  Between Connecticut’s “one and done” remediation model and Florida’s massive exemptions, we’re seeing a couple of potentially revealing natural experiments.  If nothing else, these should both provide valuable lessons for other states, whether positive or negative.

In a perfect world, of course, Florida’s law would be redundant.  High school graduates would have the skills they need to be college-ready right out of the gate.  This law would be as unnecessary as the NBA passing a rule that the average height of players on any given team must exceed six feet.  

But this isn’t that world.  

Even in the Florida case, they’ll have adult students who missed the window, high school grads who moved in from other states after the start of ninth grade, out-of-state students, and people with GED’s.  So the exemption isn’t total.  But it’s certainly sweeping.

The research I’ve seen over the last few years strongly suggests that much remedial coursework accomplishes little or nothing in terms of graduation rates; if anything, by increasing time to degree, it makes it likelier that life will get in the way.  (I’ve also been less than impressed with the lack of predictive validity among placement tests.)  To the extent that remediation is either ineffective or counterproductive, there’s certainly a strong argument for retiring it.  

I’m still wary of such blunt-force interventions, though.  Were it up to me, I’d prefer to see a combination of accelerated “boot camp” models, embedded as-needed help, and beefed-up tutoring centers.  (My psychic powers tell me that this rule change won’t come with more money for tutoring.  Call me cynical.)  But ultimately, whether my preference would be more effective, or whether we should just rip off the band-aid and be done with it, can be settled empirically.  After a few years, we should get a pretty good idea of the effects of Florida’s change (and Connecticut’s, for that matter).  

Thanks, Florida, for volunteering to do something audacious, hamhanded, and possibly stupid.  One way or another, the rest of us will learn from your example.

There's a reason why has special Florida tags.
Would you be more impressed if they randomly picked which colleges have to follow this rule?
Better Florida than almost anywhere else, because Florida has a longitudinal data tracking system that is second to none. It wouldn't surprise me to learn that research firms and EdD grad students are already lining up to study the data from the first semester or two of this non-IRB-approved experiment, because they will still have placement scores in the data set and a very wide spectrum of students will be taking Intermediate Algebra and Comp I.

Individual colleges with a decent IR group should have the results in less than a year.

Any predictions? I'd expect success for students that goes pretty deep into the cutoff score before it tails off. Why? NCLB has trained them to pass a test, forget it all in a few days, then recover and restart the next fall.

It also wouldn't surprise me to learn that there will be less money for tutoring and that most Math and English profs are not looking forward to this!
The cynic in me says that if it's an experiment in education and it's happening in Florida then the lesson for other states will be negative.

And I wonder if any thought has been given to the students who will be screwed by the new policy. This is why I hate policy-level "experiments"such as two famous ones coming out of Milwaukee: welfare-to-work (further impoverished low income families without improving their job prospects) and private school vouchers (producing no better educational results than the underfunded public schools): not only do they continue not to work, but people's lives are further damaged in the process.
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