Thursday, September 18, 2008

Whose fault is this?

Joanne Jacobs has a post today on colleges having to place students into remedial classes.

Christina Jeronomo was an “A” student in high school English classes; she thought she was prepared for college. But she had to take remedial English at Long Beach Community College, delaying her goal of transferring to a four-year college where she can earn a psychology degree. From AP:

. . . a new study calculates, one-third of American college students have to enroll in remedial classes. The bill to colleges and taxpayers for trying to bring them up to speed on material they were supposed to learn in high school comes to between $2.3 billion and $2.9 billion annually.

This makes American schools sound terrible, and I have to admit that it bothers me when I hear that a teacher in a subject as important as English gives A's to kids who haven't learned very much. But there are two very simple solutions for colleges who are constantly whining about having to provide remedial classes for some of their students:

1. Don't let those students in.

2. Let them take the regular classes, and if they don't make it, fail them.

Now, I know colleges aren't going to do that, but it would go a long way toward solving the problem. They would also be doing high school teachers across the nation a huge favor. As long as students don't have to learn very much in high school in order to get into college, there are going to be a lot of high school students who don't learn very much.

Americans, including American students, are very practical people. They generally have an idea what it is they have to do to get what is important to them, and they have an amazing capacity to get that done. On the other hand, especially when it comes to high school classes, if you can't make it clear how the learning in a class will matter to them in the very near future, many of them will make very little effort to learn.

Any high school teacher can think of kids who seemed useless as students in high school, but then found something that they really wanted to do in life and ended up graduating from college in order to do it. Kids who seemed like they could never be good students became good students as soon as becoming a good student really mattered to them.

Unless there is something more to this story, it is scandalous that this girl could get an A in an English, and that teacher should have a lot of explaining to do. Nevertheless, the ending of Joanne's post left me wanting to scream:

High school was too easy, Jeronimo says. She wishes she’d been told to work harder.

She wishes she'd BEEN TOLD to work harder? Puh-lease!


Blogger mazenko said...

As I noted on Joanne's post:

Sixty years ago, roughly forty percent of high school graduates went on to earn a four-year college degree. Currently, nearly three quarters of high school students go on to college, but still only 40 percent earn the degree. The predominant reason for this phenomenon is a gap in reading and writing skills. As David Connely noted in his book "College Knowledge," there is a fundamental difference between "college eligible" and "college ready." None of my AP Language students are being forced into remedial classes because they are prepared. However, there may be a difference in readiness, considering our one-size-fits-all education system was designed for a population that was not predominantly college-bound. For this reason, Jay Matthews of the Washington Post considers AP classes to be the most important courses schools can offer, and he bases his school ratings entirely on AP classes.

While I disagree with some aspects of Matthews' formula - and I've sparred with him on issues such as vocational education - he validly argues that a student who takes one AP course in high school - even if he doesn't pass it or the exam - is forty percent more likely to finish college. Currently, it takes the average college student five and half years to complete a four-year degree, and that's after changing his major three times. Clearly, there is a problem with the value some students and communities place on college readiness. For the most part, it is basic literacy that leads to much failure at the college level. One of the problems is that schools basically teach kids to read for two years and then assign reading for the next ten. Cris Tovani, a Denver-area teacher and researcher, addresses this disconnect in her book "I Read It, but I Don't Get It." This work should be required reading for all teachers, parents, administrators, and students.

9/18/2008 8:38 PM  
Blogger CrypticLife said...

"She wishes she'd BEEN TOLD to work harder? Puh-lease!"

If she was getting an A, there would have been nothing to indicate that she should work harder. Kids naturally compare themselves to their peers. If she was doing better than all her peers, she'd assume she was doing enough.

9/19/2008 7:24 AM  
Blogger CrypticLife said...

"She wishes she'd BEEN TOLD to work harder? Puh-lease!"

If she was getting an A, there would have been nothing to indicate that she should work harder. Kids naturally compare themselves to their peers. If she was doing better than all her peers, she'd assume she was doing enough.

9/19/2008 7:24 AM  
Blogger Mrs. C said...

I noticed no one is relating this to the previous post, where it's mentioned most people are pretty happy with their own local public schools? Maybe most of us are not really seeing exactly what the "output" is and comparing it to what we'd expect from our employees.

I am NOT for standardizing education nationally, but you can see where the high school diploma from one school means way more than one from another. But I've yet to see a school district get honest and say in its literature or on its website something like, "We stink. And we smell terrible, too. Our students don't even know how to dress themselves appropriately. Here are some real photos of what it really looks like in our high school..." They're all off "empowering academic excellence in the twenty-first century with synergy and diversity" and whatnot, and young ladies like this aren't sophisticated enough to see through the bullpoo propaganda they use to pass the next bond issue. And while I feel sorry for her, I've seen worse examples of unprepared young adults on campuses.

That AP comment you made was interesting, Mr. Mazenko, because I have one child who is taking AP and/or honours courses and one who doesn't even function in a regular classroom without an aide to help organize his papers. Guess which one we think is going to college? :] But I am trying to think of nice ways to dissuade the other without crushing his spirit or telling him he's not able. I wish I knew "what to ask for" in an IEP meeting. I want to be reasonable, but not stupid and just go along with everything offered. It's a re-eval year, too, and I don't know which tests are good and bad. Anyway, I feel like a stupid idiot because I don't understand their tests or speak their jargon.

"Work harder" is kind of a silly thing to say, anyway. Even if she knew she had gaps to fill, how would she know how to go about doing that, and how much help would she have gotten from her school?

9/19/2008 10:20 AM  
Blogger Dennis Fermoyle said...

Crypticlife, you definitely have a point, and I knew that when I put those last couple of lines in my post. In fact, I sat there and looked at it and tried to think how I could put it differently, but I finally just went with it the way it was. It is certainly possible that I am being too harsh. I think if the young woman had put it differently--something like, "If they'd have raised the bar, I would have worked harder." But the way she put it really bothered me. I doubt the girl, or anyone else, ever complained about that English class being too easy when she was in it. In fact, I have seen kids flock to classes for an easy grade, and I have seen very few go into classes because they are challenging. This year, there are two or three of our top students who aren't taking my AP Government class because they're worried it might hurt their GPA, even though they get college credit for the class--even if they don't pass the AP test in the spring. I have also never heard of a teacher getting into trouble with a community because he or she were too easy. I have, however, heard of teachers who got fired because they were too tough.

Mrs. C., one thing I like and hate about my teaching situation is that I have an AP class and a basic class to go along with my four regular classes. I hate it because I feel like my class load gets overwhelming at times, but I like it because I feel like I can identify with everything you're talking about. I feel like it helps me to see the whole spectrum of education, at least when it comes to students.

By the way, homecoming is over. That big black cloud everyone has seen over my head for the last couple of weeks is gone!!! Free at last, free at last!

And finally, Crypticlife, sure, you had a good comment, but you didn't have to say it twice. Yes, I'm getting a little older, and yes, Alzheimer does run in my family, but come on! :)

9/20/2008 5:52 AM  
Anonymous Andy Esquivel said...

I just came across your blog today, and I couldn't get past your banner.

Do you mean to use a collective noun or a plural noun when you state the term public schools? Do all schools have one job? Or do they all have similar jobs?

"Public schools are important, their jobs are becoming increasingly difficult, and they are doing much better than they are given credit for."

A slight change that makes your banner statement clean(er).

Giving advice where none was sought...

9/20/2008 11:43 AM  
Blogger Dennis Fermoyle said...

Andy, I have frequently said that I am no rocket scientist, and you have just made that case again. Don't be too proud of yourself, though, because you are definitely not the first, and you will definitely not be the last. As far as your advice goes, I'll take all of that I can get. Thank you!

9/20/2008 11:54 AM  
Blogger Mrs. C said...

Wanna come say hi and have a friendly argument with me? I linked to you in my post.

PS Homecoming for us is in early October. The school figured out everyone was cutting class, so they just give 'em half the day off now LOL! So I will have my boys home for half a day that Friday because they don't seem the type that are dying to know who the Homecoming Queen is going to be. ;]

9/21/2008 1:31 PM  
Blogger Science Teacher said...

Do grades ever really show what kids have mastered? I've fluffed them up countless times to get admin off my back- although not parents.

9/22/2008 5:00 PM  

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