Monday, May 19, 2014

The Remedial Disconnect

By Professor Doom

     The people doing the actual teaching in higher education know that the biggest problem is in remediation. Simple statements of fact: more than 90% of community college work is at the high school (i.e., remedial) level or lower. More than 90% of remedial students fail to get at least a 2 year degree within 3 years. Those are only two dots, and yet administrators and educationists are simply unable to connect them. 

     A large percentage of community college students fail to perform academically, almost certainly because they’re at the school simply to get a check. Just a bit of effort to cut down on fraud would go a long way to fixing this glaring problem.

      A recent article at Insider Higher Ed just glosses over these facts, and instead suggests the way to deal with remediation is…wait for it…wait for it…to pour more money into the system. Despite being written by an educationist, the article is fairly coherent, although quite ignorant of the reality of what’s going on in higher education.

     Let’s have a bit of a dissection of what’s said:

“require that they address non-academic issues that may prevent students from succeeding,”

     This is an important problem; many of the students in my remedial classes had to deal with legal issues (often drug related, but sometimes actually criminal, like…scamming for government checks), or were pregnant, or had multiple infants to take care of. The article doesn’t offer suggestions, and I just don’t know how to address students that have to spend time in jail (or at least the courts) during the semester. I’ve always been willing to work with students that have tiny children to deal with, but ultimately, the material has been watered down to the sub-high school level, and assignments are basically non-existent. Content free, assignment free courses are the norm at many schools, and that should go a long way to facilitating success. What else is there to do?

 “improve the quality of instruction at all levels,”

Certainly this is a nice, obvious suggestion. Seriously, is anyone advocating reducing the quality of instruction? The educationist here seems to be unaware admin is very motivated to pay as little as possible (every dollar not spent on instruction is a dollar available for administrative salary, after all), and knows they can pay much less when they hire dubiously qualified instructors.

revise financial aid policies, “

“Revise”? Holy crap, even mainstream media acknowledges as much as 25% of student grant money is given fraudulently, and my own eyes would put it somewhat higher (but still somewhat below half). This is the only hint in the whole article that, maybe, the problem with remedial students failing is because…they’re not there to learn.

“provide better advising to students at risk,”

Again, I’m glad to see the educationist isn’t advising to provide worse advising, but I have to admit, for an educationist to even state what is obvious to normal people is pretty good. Thing is, years ago, students had to see an advisor before they could sign up for classes. Now, in many institutions, students can just take whatever, as long as the course has no pre-requisites, and most courses, especially the courses admin likes to offer, have no pre-requisites. So it’s quite common to have students with many dozens of hours of introductory courses, and with no actual skills that anyone is willing to pay for.

Administration killed the advisor system, because without advisors students could hurt themselves throwing away vast sums of loan money on pointless courses. How does the educationist not know this?

integrate instruction and support services,”

Again, no kidding. It’s funny, attempts to do this have been completely disastrous. How does he not know this?

“teach college success skills,"

Good advice…but if you’d just get rid of the scammers, that would do far more good than adding yet more empty credit hours in worthless “college success” courses that will be of no value when it comes time to get a job.

“invest in professional development"

Oh, please no. Year after year, I’ve been subjected to professional development by educationists and diversity specialists. It gives me great anecdotes, but I’d belong in Hell if I actually bought into that crap material.

Having actually taught remedial courses, it seems so obvious to me: just get rid of all the scammers, and you’ll see massive improvement in passing rates, and you’ll see it quickly.

Let me demonstrate. Let’s suppose we have 100 remedial students. Basically 50% pass the course, the other 50% don’t try (and are almost certainly there for the check). Let’s say 10 of these 100 students will actually get a degree within 3 years (I emphasize, this is better than what real data says what will happen). That’s a 10% graduation rate.
But get rid of the obvious scammers right away? Now you’ve got 10 of 50 students actually getting a degree. That’s a 20% graduation rate. Hey, I’ve just doubled the effectiveness of remediation, and that’s without changing a thing.

The only reason 50% pass remedial is because standards have been lowered so far that students can literally accidentally pass these courses; put real standards in and make the courses legitimate, identify the fraudsters more easily, and there will be further improvement.

But, for some reason, the article never mentions this stupid-obvious thing to try.
Instead, the article goes on in some detail about all the ways we could spend more money on an education system that is mostly bogus, on hiring more administrators to enforce more bogus standards, and on having more evaluation methods of the bogus remedial courses.

As is so often the case, what an educationist has to say is massively disconnected from the reality of what’s going on. Get rid of the fraud, and you’ll do far more for education than yet another hi-falutin’ untested theory.