Unprepared students, dumbed-down teaching

Most community college students aren’t ready for college or the workforce concludes a National Center on Education and the Economy study. Colleges have lowered standards to accommodate poorly prepared students, writes the NCEE’s Marc Tucker.

Very little writing at all is required in most programs.  The writing that is required is of a very simply sort.  Students, for example, are rarely required to argue a position logically and marshal data on behalf of that argument.  The typical first year community college text is written at an 11th or 12th level (which one would think would be a year or two below the level of community college), but it turns out that most high school graduates cannot read with comprehension at that level, because the typical high school text is written at the 8th or 9th grade level.  So our community college instructors prepare Power Point presentations to make sure that the students get the main points in the text.

Community college students don’t need to know high school math, but they do need middle school math, writes Tucker. Most never really learned it. Some community college vocational programs require math that’s not taught in high school, such as “mathematics modeling, and the ability to read and interpret schematic diagrams and logic diagrams of the sort required for computer programming.”

The typical textbook for the programs we looked at does require mathematics, but it seems that that mathematics is neither taught nor tested, presumably because the instructors do not think the students can do it.

Many 12th graders go to community college to do 8th- or 9th-grade work, Tucker writes.  About a third of high school graduates aren’t ready for 8th-grade work. “Many of the rest, apparently, those who are admitted to credit-bearing courses at their community college, have only the shakiest command of 8th and 9th grade mathematics, reading and writing.”

Community college standards are clearly in the basement.  They should be much higher.  But, if we were to talk to the community college instructors about this, they would undoubtedly say that they are doing the best they can, that we should go and talk to the high school people, who are responsible for sending them students who have been very badly educated.

Raising community college standards would mean failing a huge percentage of students, the NCEE warns.


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[...] Community colleges have lowered reading, writing and math standards to avoid failing their poorly prepared students. Many high school graduates leave 12th grade to study 8th- and 9th-grade material in community college, writes the NCEE’s Marc Tucker. About a third are not ready for 8th-grade work. [...]

[...] This is the fundamental problem we face. On the math issue, as I’ve said before, outside of people majoring in certain fields I’m willing to cut a lot of slack for not knowing high school math.  The reading issue, and how we respond to it, is more fundamental.  I know people in certain 4-year institutions who say “Well, students don’t read the book, but I have data showing that they learn from videos, and we need to accept that.”  And even in the most positive take on that, you’re still basically saying that reading is for ****. [...]

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