Fix Remedial Education System

In 100 years of fighting poverty, the Connecticut Association for Human Services (CAHS) has seen again and again that a good education throughout one’s life is critical to family economic success.

CAHS produces research to drive advocacy and draws attention to the “developmental achievement gap,”  in which thousands of students now graduate from high school without the skills to succeed in college or compete in the job market.

Some 60 percent of high-school graduates entering community colleges need remedial education, and most of those fail to graduate or gain a degree. Inside Higher Ed reports that “Students typically pay tuition for remedial courses that do not come with credit. Even worse, only one in four students in remedial classes will eventually earn a degree from a community college or transfer to a four-year college.”

A bill before the legislature, SB 40, would end remedial education at state colleges and let all students who are admitted enroll in credit-bearing classes, with embedded support, after taking an initial intensive remedial and skills course.

Many are objecting to the plan, saying that students with very low skills, and others with family or work obligations, won’t succeed under the plan.

But they are not succeeding now. Consider the current state of affairs: 75 percent of students taking part in remedial education classes that cost them money but offer no credit wind up dropping out of the system. They have incurred debt and remain stuck in the same low-wage jobs. So do their families.

While some students with devoted teachers no doubt do well under the current system, far too many do not.

Research shows, and pilots in Connecticut are proving, that several methods are known to yield better results: combining remedial instruction in the context of a student’s interest area such as auto mechanics; “chunking” material into blocks of time shorter than a typical semester; providing needed support services and judicious use of proven on-line learning. These are all options. These have all proven their effectiveness and should be the building blocks of our system. These are educational strategies that the community colleges are already using in pilot efforts; reform constructed under SB40 should include remedial course delivery methods that have proven effective across the country.

Of course any new system should be carefully crafted, and the bill’s timeline of 2014 implementation allows time for this planning and design to occur. It can also allow for the important inclusion of the workforce development and adult education systems — which are serving many of the same students, with the same needs and goals.

This bill also requires an important step to reach back and reduce the need for remediation by requiring high school students to be assessed for college readiness and helped in time if they do not measure up. This is a key component of successful pilot programs and will help public schools be more successful in the future.

We can’t consign thousands of adult learners to a system that is not working for them just because change is uncomfortable. We know what kind of programs work — and we know the current system does not work. Let’s design a system that will let thousands of adults get the education they need to contribute to our economy and their families.

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