Posts published in November, 2009

The College Remedial Trap And How To Get Out Of It

Qualifying for a transfer level course often requires taking multiple pre-requisite courses. This multi-semester sequence provides many chances for students to fall off track.

Depending on where a student scores in placement tests, they may face up to two years of required remedial courses in a developmental math sequence before even enrolling in a transfer level class. The length of this sequence entails a coordinated number of course registrations decisions over time, a successful negotiation of instructional expectations with multiple faculty, and acceptable student performance over multiple learning contexts. Taken in aggregate, this creates multiple opportunities for students to fall off track.

A simple mathematical model illustrates this problem. Suppose a sequence of four developmental courses and we optimistically project that 80% of students succeeding in each course, and 80% of those who succeed continuing on to the next course. Over the four-course sequence, a starting cohort of 100 students would reduce to 18. And that is based on a success and continuation rate that is higher than average.

Here are some principles to solve this problem:

Create a cohort model that lays out a clear course sequence, publicize it, and counsel students to follow it.

Individualize instruction – Create a modular curriculum that lets students move through at their own pace, and spend time as they need on topics.

Deploy hybrid course models which introduce more scheduling flexibility for students and thereby making it easier to fit academic requirements into their “complex other lives.”

Re-organize classes so that students co-enroll in two courses in the same semester and the two courses are taught as a single block.

Thanks to Carnegie Foundation for providing this content.

Male/ Female Gap In College Completion Still A Mystery

Last year females were  58% of college graduates at four year institutions. The ratio has been rising steadily, and is much worse for Latinos and African Americans. I read with anticipation the review of six new books on the cause for this in the November 23 edition of the Chronicle of Higher Education on line But there was nothing new in any of the books except more speculation and no hard data. Various causes are argued , but no strong empirical evidence to support the assertions. At least the title is correct for the book reviews-The Puzzle of Boys

State Data For College Transition and Readiness Getting Better

The data quality campaign – www.DataQuality has released its annual survey of state data systems. Stimulus money and other causes have fueled an expansion of k-16 linkage. 30 state collect data on high school students that require remediation, up from 8 in 2005. 31 states can match records between k-12 and postsecondary education, up from 12 in 2005. Most surprising is that 37 states now have some form of collegereadiness test , up from 7 in 2005 .

I wonder what these state college readiness tests look like. They could be just scores on SAT or ACT rather than something based on state curriculum content standards and career education. Moreover, how is all this data being used for state and local decision making?

2 Million Students Now Attend Private For-Profit Colleges

  Private for profit-colleges are growing faster than public  and non profit colleges, and award 16% of all associate degrees. Students tend to complete associate degrees more quickly, and at higher rates than non profit instiutions according to the USA Department of Education. 60% graduate from for  2 year for-profit colleges compared to 22% at public community colleges.   But for profit colleges have higher student loan default rates. despite their high costs of recruiting new students.  Moreover, 54% of students graduate from 4 year public colleges compared to 44 %  at for- profit colleges. Tuition at for profit 2 year colleges is 6 times higher than a public community colleges. Revenues at for profit colleges of all types is projected to reach 42 billion in 2014.

 All this and more is in the November 8 issue of the Chronicle of Higher http://chronicle.comducation

Study Points Way To Improving Developmental Education For Community College Completion

Rethinking Developmental Education in Community College (CCRC Brief No. 40)

By: Thomas Bailey — February 2009. New York: Community College Research Center, Teachers College, Columbia University.

Community colleges are charged with teaching students college-level material, yet a majority of their students arrive with academic skills judged too weak to allow them to engage successfully in college-level work in at least one subject area. Colleges address this problem by providing extensive programs of developmental education designed to strengthen students’ skills so they can successfully complete college-level courses.

This Brief, based on a longer paper, reviews evidence on students who enter community college with weak academic skills, and it summarizes study findings on the effectiveness of developmental education. It suggests that, on average, developmental education is not very effective in overcoming student weaknesses. The Brief concludes with recommendations for a broad reform agenda based on a comprehensive approach to assessment, more research that tracks students through their early experiences at college, a blurring of the distinction between developmental and “college-level” students that could improve pedagogy for both groups of students, and strategies to streamline developmental programs and accelerate students’ enrollment in college-level courses.

Link to: Challenge And Opportunity: Rethinking the Role and Function of Developmental Education in Community College (Working Paper No. 14)

Common Core Standards Draft Has Several Major Flaws

Paul Barton , former director of the  ETS Policy Information Center and an expert on school to work transitions, has provided a multi- faceted critique of the Common Core Standards proposed by the National Governors Association and the Council of Chief State School Officers ( Forty eight states are participating in this endeavor. Barton supports my earlier contention that  claims in the draft contending that college ready standards are identical to standards for readiness to begin worforce preparation programs is not supported by the evidence in the draft ,or the current research base. Here is a summary of Barton’s conclusions:

Although the draft standards represent a very large step toward developing an understanding and agreement about what should be taught in public education,

The case is not made that succeeding in college and succeeding in work, whether one goes to college or not, requires the same high school curriculum—that one size fits all.

The case is not made that one size fits all even for going to college.

There is a knowledge base on what work requires that can be exploited to inform curriculum decisions and to advise students about opportunities and what it requires to prepare for them.

Benchmarking efforts that examine the international experience need to broaden their look to include not just the differences in curriculum and an assumption that those differences account for the better performance of some countries.

The standards need to be considered in the light of how they relate to and impact the great diversity existing in the different levels of math and English courses in high school, and the diversity in existing types of secondary schools, not to mention the variations in the interests and aspirations of individual students.

The standards need to be placed within a vision of the whole of a complete curriculum that fulfills the purposes of the free public education provided through 12 years—a purpose much broader than college and career readiness.

Standards need to take their place along side a concern about reducing school dropout rates as well as a concern about taking those who graduate to higher levels of achievement.

For a copy of Barton’s paper go to and request the paper: Comments Regarding Draft Common Standards And “Validation”

College Success: The Most Disheartening Story Of The Month

 I have read many October stories on the problems of college success, but nothing exceeded the story in the October 9 Chronicle of Higher Education “At Transfer TimeThousands Of Students Hit A Dead End”. These are sad stories of California community college students who have all the credits to transfer to a four year state university, but there is no place for them.  California State U is taking few or no transfers in spring 2010. So these students stay in community college taking redundant courese or stop out. Many will give up, and feel betrayed by the promises that they could transfer if they did the right things.

Today Cal State announced cutting 40,000 incoming first year students who have met their admission requirements. How can we increase college completion with policies like this that are forced by state budget cuts? Are there alternatives to Cal State policies in tough economic times?

College Ready Standards Are Not Enough To Improve Student Preparation

 In an October 14 commentary in Education Week three leading scholars from the National Academy of Education make the point that college ready content standards are just the first step in a long chain of policies to implementation in classrooms.Curricula,tests,textbooks,lesson plans,and teachers’ on the job training will have to be revised to reinforce college ready standards. The authors all point out that current interim or benchmark assessments are mostly designed to predict end of year test scores, but really need to guide the details of teaching. Teachers need help on how to actually teach college ready standards, and how to adapt teaching based on student responses in their classes.

 See Education Week website to get this article-

Most Colleges Are Getting Easier For Admission

In a new paper Carolyn Hoxby, Professor of Economics at Stanford demonstates while a few selective colleges have become more difficult to get into over past 5 decades, most colleges are easier to get into. For example, since 1955 the number of high school graduates is up 132%, but the number of freshman seats rose by 297%. The trend from 1970  for freshman seats for minimally qualified high school graduates is also up significantly. So all the hype on admissions selectivity applies to a handful of colleges-about 5 to 10 % of the total postsecondary students.

See paper at

Tear Down The Wall Between K-12 And Postsecondary Education

By Bill Maxwell,  St Petersburg Times Correspondent

Although America’s education system is one of the best in the world, the philosophy that underpins the system is seriously flawed.

We have two separate cultures in education: elementary and secondary schools (K-12) and postsecondary schools (undergraduate and graduate institutions). This separation is expensive, wastes human capital and harms the public welfare.

Each year, we send more than a million freshmen from our high schools to our colleges and universities who are not “college-ready,” ill-prepared for the intellectual rigor of postsecondary study. They must take humiliating noncredit remedial courses, which many never complete, in their attempt to catch up.

As much as 30 percent of students enrolling at four-year colleges and 60 percent of those enrolling at community colleges take remedial courses, meaning that our colleges and universities spend millions of dollars annually to teach skills that should have been taught in K-12.

A major reason for this problem is that an overwhelmingly large number of U.S. educators have drawn a sharp line between secondary and post-secondary education, resulting in a lack of communication that has led to a paralyzing blame game.

Large numbers of university professors, along with administrators, disdain the very notion of speaking with, let alone working with, high school teachers, and many high school teachers are resentful of their higher-status university counterparts. Additionally, government departments and committees at all levels deal exclusively with either secondary schools or postsecondary institutions.

A consequence is that postsecondary institutions do not inform public schools of the basic skills and core knowledge students need to become college-ready and successful candidates for graduation.

Of late, however, a budding trend seems to be gaining ground as a new breed of educators recognizes the wisdom of establishing effective K-16 and K-20 collaborations. Ideally, they argue, American education should be one seamless system for lifelong learning and success.

Two weeks ago, I was encouraged when I attended the PK-20 Summit at Santa Fe College in Gainesville. With the theme of “Achieving Student Success through Collaboration” and sponsored by the Palatka-based North East Florida Educational Consortium, or NEFEC, the event brought together more than 100 participants, including the chancellor of Florida’s public schools and the chancellor of the state’s community colleges, their top staff members, superintendents and administrators from 13 school districts and the presidents of seven community colleges in the region.

James Surrency, executive director of NEFEC, said the purpose of the summit was to get key educators in the same room “to strengthen collaboration and to improve the college/career readiness for all students.” A highlight of the event, he said, was the “presentation by Seminole State College and Seminole School District relating to the turnaround in their percentage of high school students needing remediation. It was truly amazing and a great model for secondary/postsecondary partnerships.”

Nine years ago, the college’s math chairman was so frustrated with the problems and expenses associated with remediation, he met with the district’s high school principals to learn why 71 percent of their students annually scored poorly on the College Placement Test, which required them to take at least one remedial math course when they entered SSC.

The main problem was obvious: Florida was requiring high school students to take only three years of math. Most did not take math in 12th grade. The chairman offered the principals a special 12th-grade course he would bring to their campuses to reduce the number of students needing remediation when they entered SSC.

Only one school, Oviedo High, initially accepted the challenge. SSC provided the course content and mentoring, and Oviedo’s teachers taught the course.

Within a few years, Oviedo High reduced its remediation rate from 70 percent to 10 percent. A team of SSC and Seminole County public schools administrators began meeting once a month for breakfast at a local Denny’s to collaborate and replicate the Oviedo program in all Seminole high schools.

These administrators rose above the blame game, shared critical data and spoke honestly about their goals. Even more, they became friends — eating together, riding to meetings together and visiting schools together.

Currently, Mathematics for College Readiness is being taught at all of the county’s nine high schools, and officials are tracking the data to determine the course’s impact on the need for remediation. The long-term goal is to reduce the number of matriculating seniors needing remediation in math from 71 percent to 21 percent.

Numbers from 2007-08 for the pilot schools indicate that the rate for math remediation already has declined from 71 to 59 percent.

I am convinced that the effort between SSC and the Seminole School County District is a model for the nation. The administrators and teachers there understand that education from K-20 should be a seamless process.