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Remedial Education Under Fire — From The Left

September 7, 2017 Frontpage No Comments

By JAMES K. FITZPATRICK

One can understand why some readers of this column will be reluctant to give credence to a report prepared by the Center for American Progress (CAP). CAP is the think tank funded by George Soros and staffed at various stages of its existence by former members of the Clinton and Obama administrations, such as Tom Daschle, Neera Tanden, John Podesta, and Austan Goolsbee.
The group describes itself as a “public policy research and advocacy organization dedicated to improving the lives of all Americans, through bold, progressive ideas.”
But the old clichés about even broken watches being right twice a day and blind squirrels sometimes finding a nut apply here.
It strikes me that, in spite of its bad advice on many other issues, CAP is on the mark with its recent report on remedial education programs at American colleges. Indeed, it could be said that their criticism of remedial programs is all the more valid since CAP is usually on the side of the American education establishment.
The remedial programs CAP is analyzing are the courses provided by American colleges for incoming students, to help them overcome academic shortcomings that are likely to prevent them from doing well at the college level.
CAP does not think the courses are working, describing the remedial education system “currently in place in the United States” as a “black hole” from which students are unlikely to escape.
According to a recent column in Education News (educationnews.org), CAP’s report, “Remedial Education: The Cost of Catching Up,” points out that “millions of students enroll in college each year across the country and discover that they need to take remedial education courses. Teaching students what they should have learned in high school, these courses do not count toward a degree program, but still come with a financial price tag. Estimates suggest the courses are costing students and their families in all 50 states close to $1.3 billion each year.”
In fact, the authors of the report contend that students who enroll in these courses are “less likely to graduate.”
One student interviewed by CAP stated flatly, “I felt the remedial courses were a waste of time. . . . If I was taught and learned how to think more critically and pushed to achieve more or reach higher standards in high school, I think I would be doing much better in college, and it would be easier.”
This student, a first-generation college student from Texas, had already dropped out of college by the time she was interviewed as part of CAP’s report.
CAP’s point should be underscored. This liberal think tank is saying that a government program is too expensive and unproductive — not what we usually hear from liberals and progressives.
CAP’s report provides important data for this discussion: “Between 40 percent and 60 percent of first-year college students in the United States require remedial help in English, math, or both. These classes not only increase the time it takes students to obtain a degree, but also decrease the likelihood that they will complete a degree program. Although rates vary, the on-time completion rate of students who take remedial courses is consistently under 10 percent.”
The irony is that the problems caused by remedial courses are “noticeably larger for low-income students and students of color, who have higher rates of remedial education participation than their white and higher income peers. A recent study notes that 56 percent of African-American students and 45 percent of Latino students enroll in remedial courses in comparison to 35 percent of white students.”
The study also recognizes the financial burden that these courses cause for students. According to the authors’ analysis, students are spending around $1.3 billion on these classes in all 50 states and the District of Columbia.”
What does CAP propose as an alternative to these remedial courses? According to Education News, “The authors state that higher academic standards should be implemented in high schools across the country in order to ensure that students do not need to take remedial courses when they begin their college career.”
In the words of Education News’ reporter, CAP suggests “that the higher education and K-12 systems work together to increase academic continuity between the two in order to align requirements,” rather than counting on remedial college-level programs to accomplish what should be accomplished at the high school level.
CAP also contends that our colleges should make a greater effort to make clear to high school students “the knowledge, skills, and coursework that will be necessary in order to succeed in college,” so that high school students will know what courses to take while in high school if they expect to succeed in college.
Another good idea. Incoming college freshmen should not be caught by surprise by the level of difficulty of a college course. High schools may feel that the “social promotion” of students with undeveloped academic skills is a compassionate activity. It is not. It leaves students with a false idea of what academic success requires. Eventually the piper must be paid.
It is hard to say if progressive educators or those with traditional views will be made more uncomfortable by the experience of agreeing with each other over remedial education. It should not matter, if an intelligent consensus can be achieved on remedial education.
A reminder: I am stepping down from writing my weekly columns in The Wanderer. I will be 75 this September and would like to spend more time traveling and pursuing leisure-time activities than a two-column-per-week deadline permits.
It has been my great pleasure and honor to write each week for The Wanderer and to correspond with readers over these many years.
My plan is to continue to submit an occasional article to the editors at The Wanderer; it is just the weekly columns that will stop.

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Please send all correspondence for First Teachers to Shaun Kenney, c/o First Teachers, 5289 Venable Rd., Kents Store, VA 23084.

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