Thursday, January 28, 2016
Save the Bunnies!: A Response to Rebecca Schuman
Agreed. But what if they show that they cannot attend class more than once in the first two or three weeks of the semester? What are the odds of passing if you don't turn in the first essay or take the first exam?
The point should be that neither the increasingly embattled institution (performance funding for community colleges exists) or an increasingly embattled faculty (ditto for tenure review based on passing rates and outcomes) should be held responsible for something that is not under their control.
Faculty members will get upset if a large number of poorly prepared or unqualified students are admitted to their classes. What do you as an instructor do when they fail the first couple of tests, when they don’t do the homework, or if they don’t even show up for class? If you tell them that they should drop your class, this could count against you with the administration, especially if you have a lot of these problem students and you are perceived as having a drop rate which is too high. And if you keep them in your class but fail them at the end of the course, you could be dinged by the administration if they start to think that the student failure rate in your class is too high. In such an environment, you can be punished for things that are largely out of your control. If you are uintenured or if you are a contingent faculty member, it may be best for your career if you simply pass nonperforming students along, lest you attract the negative attention of the administration
Even the community college administration could get into trouble if it starts admitting too many marginal students, those who have little chance of success and who will probably either drop out or flunk out. If the dropout rate gets too high, the state agencies might ding the school for poor performance and may start to think about cutting the funding. If the graduation rate drops too low, the accrediting agencies may start to have a problem and will imagine that something is going wrong at the school.
But if a community college starts graduating too many non-performing students simply in order to meet their numbers, employers may start to imagine that the school is little more than a diploma mill, and even well-performing graduates from the school may start to have difficulty in getting good jobs. Students may start staying away from the community college in droves, assuming that a degree from the school isn’t really worth very much.
I'm a math instructor at a community college, and I'm all for giving everybody a chance. And sometimes I'm all for giving students a second chance. But many times we go too far (at my institution), giving them third and fourth chances, and occasionally fifth chances, to the point where anybody with a brain would be able to see that these students are just wasting their time (along with mine, along with their classmates', and along with taxpayer money).
Math is hard; I get it. And we're doing everything we can to be creative and find ways to help our students get through it all. Free tutoring 50 hours per week on campus. A new pilot program with online tutoring. Accelerated and self-paced courses. Cohorts. New pathways. A math bootcamp. We are bending over backwards to find ways to help our students succeed and to get them where they need to be.
But then you have a student who tries to add a class a full two weeks into the semester. The class isn't full, so you're legally obliged to add them. And when you're trying to cover simplifying algebraic expressions and solving equations, that student is still struggling with 3-8. And they're interrupting the discussion every three minutes because they can't follow along with the basic calculations that everybody else knows because they made it a priority to be present for the first two weeks.
So then imagine that in this scenario, this is the student's second time taking the course with you. And you've already gone over all of this with them. And you've already told them about the importance of showing up to class regularly. And you had a talk with them at the end of the previous semester about how they're not going to pass a math class unless they show up every day. And then a month later, after winter break, they pull this.
We need to recognize as a society that college isn't for everybody, at least not "now" (in the sense that some people might not be ready for college at the moment, but some time in the workforce might help prepare them for the level of responsibility it requires). We need to have better alternatives like vocational schooling and apprenticeships so that students don't choose college as a default. And we need to recognize that our mission of giving everybody a chance should be contingent on them actually putting in the effort of showing up and following through with other basic requirements.
There's a point - and I don't think it's before the student starts, nor do I think it's in the first two weeks of the semester, or even the first semester - where we need to realize that it just isn't working out for a student. And this is unrelated to retention rates or cooking the books; it's because we need to realize that there's a point where keeping a student enrolled is just wasting everybody's time and money.
Unfortunately, there is no 'might' or 'may' in "the state agencies might ding the school for poor performance and may start to think about cutting the funding" in my state. That is already a fact of life, and also applies to universities, some of whom have already started gaming their system. (If you tell smart people the rules to a game, they will figure out how to win it.)
Also, my sympathies to CC Math Instructor. We have a strict policy of no adds allowed after the second day of classes (one meeting of the class) without permission of the Dean, and my Dean will only do it with the permission of the instructor and perhaps a discussion of the student's transcript. We also do not allow anyone in the room who is not registered, so no story like "I have been attending for two weeks, something must have gone wrong with my registration so you have to add me".
And I'll also tell you that you are not alone. Several math colleagues share the experience of the repeat student who replicates the exact same behavior leading to the exact same grade. Some sort of cargo cult feeling seems to exist that pure chance will lead to a passing grade if they take the tests.
*We are not permitted to question this reason when given by the parents. If anyone knows a religion that demands a month in Hawaii I'd like to know, because I want to join it!
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