What Does It Really Mean to Be College and Work Ready? Community colleges expect little of first-year students — and get even less, concludes the National Center on Education and The Economy.
The report paints a grim picture.
High school graduates have trouble reading textbooks written at the 11th- to 12th-grade level, so instructors provide study aids to help poor readers get by. Students do little writing. When they do write, ”instructors tend to have very low expectations for grammatical accuracy, appropriate diction, clarity of expression, reasoning and the ability to present a logical argument or offer evidence in support of claims.”
Despite taking high school algebra, geometry and often advanced algebra, most students are placed in remedial math. They’re not prepared for “college math,” which amounts to “Algebra 1.25,” basic algebra with a bit of geometry and statistics. Yet what students most need to succeed in college courses is mastery of “middle school mathematics, especially arithmetic, ratio, proportion, expressions and simple equations.”
Community colleges enroll 45 percent of U.S college students: About half hope to earn a bachelor’s degree, while the rest are pursuing a vocational credential, NCEE estimates.
It’s not enough for community colleges to raise expectations, the report concludes.
We need to bear in mind that a very large fraction of high school graduates does not meet the very low expectations that community colleges currently have of them. The nation may have to learn to walk before it runs, which means that it is important, first, to enable our high school students to meet the current very low standards before we ratchet those standards up.
Common Core Standards, if implemented well, will help, eventually, the report concludes. But there’s a long way to go.
Researchers analyzed textbooks, tests, assignments, student work and grading at seven community colleges in different states. The study focused on general education and popular career programs: Accounting, Automotive Technology, Biotech/Electrical Technology, Business, Criminal Justice, Early Childhood Education, Information Technology/Computer Programming 1 and Nursing.
Only one program at one college required mastery of advanced algebra, the study found.
Increasingly, high schools are requiring students to take Algebra I, Geometry and Algebra II, with hopes they’ll make it to Calculus. That should be only one option, the report recommends.
Mastery of Algebra II is widely thought to be a prerequisite for success in college and careers. Our research shows that that is not so. . . . fewer than five percent of American workers and an even smaller percentage of community college students will ever need to master the (algebra to calculus) sequence in their college or in the workplace.
Students shouldn’t take algebra till they really understand middle-school math, the report advises. If they wait till 10th grade, that’s OK. They can study statistics, data analysis, applied geometry and/or mathematical modeling to prepare for a range of careers.
States should “build alternative math pathways through the last two years of high school that are aligned with student interests and career plans,” says Harvard Education Professor Robert Schwartz. “If the Report’s assertion is correct —that only 5 percent of jobs require the mathematics embodied in the calculus pathway —then our education system should focus more on the mathematics that most young people will actually use in their civic and work life, e.g. statistics, data, probability.”
However, the path to 12th-grade calculus usually starts with eighth-grade algebra. At 12 or 13, students would have to decide whether they’re aiming for a university degree in engineering or science. Imagine a STEM-prep track for 5 percent of students — or even 20 percent — with everyone else preparing for a low-tech university degree or a community college job training program. The future engineers and physicists are likely to predominantly Asian-American, white, middle class and male.
An all-day conference on the report will be livestreamed today starting at 9 am EDT.
Core Knowledge got its start from E.D. Hirsch’s years teaching literary theory as an English professor, he writes in How Two Poems Helped Launch a School Reform Movement in The Atlantic. He discovered the importance of background knowledge when he looked at ways to improve college students’ writing.
When the topic was familiar to readers, you could measure the benefits of good writing (and the problems caused by bad writing) quite consistently. But the time and effort it takes to understand a text on an unfamiliar topic completely overwhelms the effects of writing quality.
At a Richmond community college, students couldn’t read or write clearly because they lacked a base of knowledge, Hirsch writes.
These students, primarily from disadvantaged backgrounds, could easily read a text on “Why I like my roommate.” But even after controlling for vocabulary level and syntax, they could not easily read about Lee’s surrender to Grant. These Richmond students, surrounded by Civil War mementos on Monument Avenue, were clueless about the Civil War. Their lack of knowledge was the reason they were unable to read well about anything beyond the most banal topics.
Researchers have found that “relevant prior knowledge — information already stored in one’s long-term memory — is the single most important factor in reading comprehension,” Hirsch writes.
Schools talk about “grade level” reading skills. This makes sense for decoding skills, but not reading comprehension, Hirsch argues. Students can comprehend a reading passage if the content is familiar, but struggle if it’s unfamiliar. ”
For understanding a text, strategies help a little, and knowledge helps a lot,” Hirsch concludes.
After serving eight years in prison for carjacking, Reginald Dwayne Betts enrolled at Prince George’s Community College (PGCC) in Maryland. The ex-con is now a poet, essayist and teacher and a published author, reports Community College Times.
Betts had spent his prison time reading and writing. At PGCC, he earned a full scholarship to the Honors Academy. Betts founded Young Men Read, a book club for African-American boys, and taught poetry at several Washington, D.C. public schools.
After graduating in 2007 with an associate degree in general studies, he earned his bachelor’s degree in English from the University of Maryland College Park in 2009.
He wrote A Question of Freedom: A Memoir of Learning, Survival, and Coming of Age in Prison (Avery/Penguin) and a collection of poetry, Shahid Reads His Own Palm (Alice James Books), while earning a master’s degree in creative writing from Warren Wilson College.
“My experiences at the community-college level taught me how to get the best out of the college experience,” Betts said. “It’s more than success in the classroom.”
There are 3 million open jobs in U.S. because workers lack skills, reports 60 Minutes.
With a solid basic education, people could learn vocational skills, writes Marc Tucker in Ed Week. Instead, people are leaving high school and college without the ability to ” read complex material, write clear expository prose, analyze problems and solve them” and use high school-level math.
A Nevada company called Click Bond needs workers who can program computer-controlled machines, fix them and ensure fasteners are made to precise specifications.
They are having a very hard time finding people who “read, write, do math, problem solve,” says Ryan Costella. “I can’t tell you how many people even coming out of higher ed with degrees who can’t put a sentence together without a major grammatical error…If you can’t do the resume properly to get the job, you can’t come work for us. We’re in the business of making fasters that hold systems together that protect people in the air when they’re flying. We’re in the business of perfection.”
. . . Click Bond, desperate for help, banded together with other employers to set up a program at the local community college. They took unemployed people—and Nevada has a very large supply of such people—tested them for aptitude, interviewed them for attitude, and then trained them for the work that was available. The students were taught to operate the computers, read blueprints, learn trigonometry to make precise measurements—all in sixteen weeks.
But it cost $60,000 to train 20 workers.
Education requirements are climbing, say many employers. In the future, an administrative assistant probably will need an associate degree.
When students read e-textbooks, e-books will be reading students, reports The Chronicle of Higher Education. CourseSmart, which sells digital textbooks, will provide “a new tool to help professors and others measure students’ engagement with electronic course materials.”
Say a student uses an introductory psychology e-textbook. The book will be integrated into the college’s course-management system. It will track students’ behavior: how much time they spend reading, how many pages they view, and how many notes and highlights they make. That data will get crunched into an engagement score for each student.
The idea is that faculty members can reach out to students showing low engagement, says Sean Devine, chief executive of CourseSmart. And colleges can evaluate the return they are getting on investments in digital materials.
Students will be able to opt out if they don’t want Big Teacher monitoring their reading habits, Devine said at the Educause conference. “We do understand the Big Brother aspects of it.”
Grand Rapids Community College is teaching English, math and biology instructors how to teach reading reports Michigan Live. Reading Apprenticeship focuses on helping students understand their textbooks.
“Reading a biology textbook, many students will gloss over it and think they’ve read it, but they won’t take what they need away from it,” said John Cowles, GRCC’s associate dean for counseling, advising and retention services.
. . . You have individuals from the factory worker who has been laid-off and is very rusty,” he said. “You maybe have the recent high school graduate who maybe didn’t take high school so seriously. Or maybe they were told they weren’t going to make it and they didn’t try.”
About 45 percent of first-time, full-time GRCC students leave in a year, including dropouts and transfers. Of students who started in fall 2008, 15 percent had earned a degree within four years and 33 percent transferred.
“Accelerated Learning” is all the rage on community college campuses, writes David Clemens, an English professor at Monterey Peninsula College, on the National Association of Scholars blog. But is it a bullet train to success? Or an oxymoron?
Though advocates have trouble defining acceleration, it’s usually applied to remediation, Clemens writes. But why should colleges do remediation at all?
Why do colleges and universities maintain extensive and expensive machinery and personnel for remediation of students who have already and persistently failed at high school, junior high school, even elementary school skills?
Katie Hern of the California Acceleration Project argues that “placement is fate,” he writes. Few students who start three levels below college ever pass a college-level course, so she proposes eliminating low-level remedial courses and placement tests.
Twenty years ago, he watched “the construction of the remediation labyrinth.”
One dubious colleague called it “The Great Mitosis” as remediation crusaders split bonehead English into bonehead reading and bonehead writing, and the downhill race was on. Each course became two courses, then new courses, new and lower levels, more teaching load credit, an English Skills Center, a Math Skills Center, a Reading Center, a Lindamood-Bell Center, a Tutorial Center. . . . Today, students’ financial aid now can run out before they ever reach college level (such as it is).
“Accelerating” remediation collapses all those levels, “integrating reading and writing, just like the old days but with speedy, pervasive computing,” Clemens writes. ”So acceleration just might be the ticket…but to where?”
Shari Brown,who teaches family literacy at Caldwell Community College and Technical Institute in North Carolina, is the National Toyota Teacher of the Year for 2012.
“As the proverb goes, instead of giving a family a fish, I am able to guide my families through the process of learning to fish by developing lessons around their interests and needs, allowing them ample opportunities for short- and long-term goal achievement in a secure environment, and enhancing self-esteem and building confidence so they will reach for their dreams,” Brown said. “It also is what we are fostering in parent engagement activities, so parents can be the guide for their children.”
When parents improve their reading skills, their children start school ready to learn and are more likely to graduate from high school.
Adult students have a 94 percent persistence rate in the literacy program. Some adults who started at the lowest levels of English as a Second Language have earned GEDs and go on to college.
Virginia community colleges are redesigning remedial education, writes Rose Asera in Innovation at Scale for Jobs for the Future. The goal is improve success rates — completion of a workforce credential, associate degree or transfer to a four-year institution — by 50 percent for all students, 75 percent for blacks and Hispanics.
By 2013, developmental mathematics will be taught as a series of nine one-credit modules with students taking only as much math as they need for their fields of study. Developmental English will combine reading and writing and will let some students co-enroll in a developmental class and college-level English.
Math is the biggest obstacle for community college students, an analysis found. In most parts of the state, more than 76 percent of new students aren’t prepared for college-level math. The need for reading and writing help is not as severe.
Only a third of students placed in remedial math graduated or transferred within four years; a quarter of those placed in remedial math and remedial English graduated or transferred.
Until now, all students have been required to pass the same math sequence, whether they’re planning to major in engineering, liberal arts or go for a career tech certificate. That will change in the new plan.
“We are ‘overmathing’ our liberal arts students,” said Frank Friedman, co-chair of the math redesign team.
“Let’s give students the math they need,” said Jane Serbousek, a math instructor at Northern Virginia Community College. “A nursing student doesn’t need the same amount of math as an engineering student. We were taking our weakest students
and expecting them to complete in one or two semesters the math they did not
master in all of middle school and high school.”
In addition, the community colleges hope to persuade high schools to give placement tests so students will understand that community colleges don’t offer open admissions to college-level classes.
By working with local high schools on college readiness, El Paso Community College has cut the percentage of new students placed in low-level remedial math, notes Jack Rotman on Developmental Math Revival. Previously, 31 percent of new students started in the lowest remedial math level and 28 percent in the highest level. That’s shifted to 22 percent at the lowest level and 41 percent at the highest level.
EPCC worked with 12 local school districts (in a “blameless environment”) and with the University of Texas El Paso to create a “college readiness protocol” in high schools, reports (pdf) Achieving the Dream.
As juniors and seniors, virtually all El Paso-area students complete a joint admissions application to EPCC and UTEP. They prepare for and take the Accuplacer test to determine college readiness, review scores with counselors, “refresh” their skills and take the test again, if necessary. Some enroll in a summer bridge program to strengthen their basic skills.
With all this, most EPCC students aren’t ready for college reading and very few are ready for math. In the two-year period before the readiness protocol was used, 3 percent tested as ready in math, 30 percent in reading and 51 percent in writing. That increased to 5 percent in math, 35 percent in reading and 66 percent in writing.