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.
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.
“Mike” is taking remedial English for the fourth time, working hard and making no progress, writes Bob Blaisdell, a professor of English at City University of New York’s Kingsborough Community College, in Inside Higher Ed. It’s hopeless.
It’s only the second week of class and Mike has become already the touchstone of incomprehension. Everyone understands better than Mike. If they don’t, they know they just weren’t listening. Mike’s presence is reassuring (“I’m not that confused!”), but it’s also worrying (“If I’m in the same place as this guy …”). I don’t want the other students to feel misplaced. They are in the right place — but they will make progress and Mike never ever will.
Apparently, Mike is mentally retarded, though the professor only says he uses the special services program. Blaisdell doesn’t want to give Mike false hope, but he can’t bear to tell him that he’ll never pass the exam. A year later, Mike is still trying to pass remedial English — and failing. Shouldn’t someone steer him to a vocational program with reading and writing demands he might be able to meet?
The students in English 002 stand at higher education’s threshold. If they make it through, they advance to college-level courses that count toward a degree. Otherwise they must decide whether to try again, running down their financial aid, or give up on college and make do without it.
. . . Nationally, of the students who place into remediation—as many as 90 percent at some community colleges—only about a quarter go on to earn a degree.
Greg Wahl teaches writing, syntax, grammar and punctuation, alternating between a cinder-block classroom on Tuesdays and the computer lab on Thursdays.
Each week there’s more grammar to practice: parts of speech, verb tenses, coordinating conjunctions. Chapter by chapter, the class reads The Absolutely True Diary, a young-adult novel about a poor, 14-year-old Spokane Indian named Junior. Some of his struggles reflect theirs. Every two or three weeks, an essay is due.
Each class starts at 10:15, but students regularly arrive 15, 20, 30 minutes late, sometimes in headphones spilling tunes into the room.
One student, who’s repeating the course for the second time, sits slouched in the back corner. He rarely raises his hand, but often whispers the right answer when other students are stumped. He asks Wahl to help him recover his backpack, which has been confiscated by authorities for reasons he doesn’t explain. Wahl offers to try.
Instructors here often must be social workers, too. If you take students in, Greg believes, it’s your obligation to support them.
Half of Wahl’s students are repeating the course. County residents pay $742 for the non-credit course; out-of-county students pay double. At the end of the semester, half his students pass, though some will go to an English 101 course that offers extra support in grammar (for a higher price).
In an essay, Kenneth Okorafor, a Nigerian immigrant, analyzes the “two great obstacles that are hindering me from where I want to be in life.”
My two greatest obstacles in EN002 this semester are not paying attention in class, and not managing time …
Not paying attention in class is an obstacle for me because I usually get side tracked by other things that are going on around me such as in talking to friends or texting on the phone. I intend to overcome this obstacle to pass EN002, the only way I could do that is by sitting in front of the class which I have been doing so I could hear everything the teacher had to say.
. . . Another obstacle is not managing my time, because I usually go to bed late at night staying up watching movies or talking on the phone with friends till around 3am. However I noticed doing this wasn’t doing myself justice at all. Because I almost failed my EN001 class last semester by going late to class and Turing in homework’s late. There was a time I applied for a job, got an interview; I went to the interview late and lost the opportunity. This semester to pass my EN002 class, I am making sure I do everything that has to be done on time, even going to bed on time , turn off my phone so I don’t talk to friends late at night any more.
Okorafor failed the class. He’s trying again in the intensive six-week version of the class. Okorafor enjoyed a high school cooking class and thought about studying hospitality management in college, but couldn’t afford an elite private college. Someone should steer him to Montgomery College’s hospitality management program.
Learning online is especially difficult for lower-achieving students concludes a working paper by researchers at Columbia’s Community College Research Center. Younger students, males and blacks also did worse in online courses than in traditional face-to-face courses, researchers found after analyzing nearly 500,000 courses taken by more than 40,000 community and technical college students in Washington State.
“Low-cost online courses could allow a more-diverse group of students to try college, but . . . also widen achievement gaps,” notes the Chronicle of Higher Education.
All students who take more online courses are less likely to attain a degree, the study found. But it’s worse for more vulnerable students.
“We found that the gap is stronger in the underrepresented and underprepared students,” said Shanna Smith Jaggars, one of the authors. “They’re falling farther behind than if they were taking face-to-face courses.”
Online learning can still be a great tool, she said, particularly for older students who juggle studying and raising a family. For those students, as well as female and higher-performing students, the difference between online and physical classrooms was more marginal, according to the study.
“So for older students, you can sort of see the cost-benefit balance in favor of taking more courses online,” Ms. Jaggars said. “They might do a little worse, but over all it’s a pretty good trade-off for the easier access. But where a student doesn’t need online courses for their access, it’s unclear if that is a good trade-off.”
Writing courses attracted many poor learners, the study found. Online students had the grestest difficulties with social science courses, such as psychology and anthropology, and the applied professions, such as business and nursing.
Researchers suggested screening out students likely to do poorly, providing early warnings for struggling students, teaching online learning skills in some courses and/or working to improve the quality of online courses.
Community colleges are helping train a new generation of K-12 teachers, reports Community College Week.
Samuel Simpson, 54, a high school math teacher at All City High School in inner-city Rochester, is one of the first fellows of the Community Center for Teaching Excellence (CCTE), which is based at Monroe Community College (New York). “My efforts in doing the kinds of best practices that many people in the education field talk about doing — looking at data, using it to inform instruction, and teaching differently and smarter — have brought significant results,” Simpson said.
Community college educators, university professors, high school teachers and the Center for Governmental Research are collaborating on “high-impact teaching strategies” through CCTE, reports Community College Week.
A number of fellows incorporated collaborative learning techniques in their classes, such as peer teaching, paired writing and group note-taking, to increase student engagement. A few teachers experimented with integrating 21st-century technology tools into their lessons, such as creating digital versions of their notes with embedded audio and having students contribute to blogs.
MCC Assistant Professor Maria Brandt and a colleague are working with a teacher at Rush-Henrietta Senior High School to create common writing assignments and assessments.
Focused on improving students’ abilities to read critically and communicate coherently and accurately, they had students write summaries of selected authors’ work and evaluate their own writing at the beginning and middle of the fall semester.
“Through the course of the semester, students in my English 101 class have improved in two areas: their ability to summarize a text and their sense of the importance of reading closely, that you cannot formulate an accurate and responsible argument without understanding the texts involved,” Brandt said. “The students are much more aware now that they need to listen first or read well to grow as readers and writers.”
“Our goal is to better understand the gap between how high school students are performing on average and how first-year college students are performing on average and help them have higher success levels,” Brandt said.
Many schools need science, technology and math teachers. Community College Week looks at STEM programs at Cerritos College (California) and Rio Salado (Arizona), which belong to the National Association of Community College Teacher Education Programs (NACCTEP).
Ten Maryland community colleges now offer a fully transferrable associate of arts in teaching degree in secondary math, writes Colleen Eisenbeiser, director of the TEACH Institute at Anne Arundel Community College. Nine offer secondary chemistry and eight offer physics.
Two Maryland community colleges partner with their local school systems “to recruit, prepare, place, and instruct career changers in hard to fill secondary content areas, including math, chemistry, physics, and technical education.” Anne Arundel has helped a variety of career changers become certified teachers, including a computer software engineer, a health information analyst lawyer, a nurse, researchers from a lab that studies the habits of migratory birds and the Institute of Genetic Medicine at Johns Hopkins School of Medicine, and a biologist who worked at the National Aquarium and National Institutes of Allergies and Infectious Diseases.
Community colleges were supposes to be “democracy’s college,” writes Keith Kroll, an English professor at Kalamazoo Valley Community College in Michigan. That “grand experiment” is coming to an end, Kroll writes. From President Obama on down, community colleges are seen as job training centers providing workers for local employers, not as places where students begin higher education.
Within the next 20 years, 80 percent of classes will be taught online, he predicts. Ninety percent of faculty will be part-timers who may never meet their students or each other.
In the community college of the future each department will have one full-time “faculty manager,” whose responsibilities will include distributing prepackaged, business-driven curricula and course syllabi; selecting the common textbook from which all faculty members will “teach”; scheduling and assigning classes . . . and managing the online grading program that all faculty will use to assess student performance. There will no longer be in-person department meetings, faculty representation on college committees, shared governance, or professional development . . . (faculty) will no longer be teachers, but technicians with no say in what they teach and how they teach.
English instructors will teach writing solely to give students the practical skills required by employers, he writes. Literature — indeed all the liberal arts — will be eliminated on grounds they have “no economic value.”
The revised mission statement of the Association of American Colleges and Universities is “to make liberal education and inclusive excellence the foundation for institutional purpose and educational practice in higher education.” I’m not sure what “inclusive excellence’ means.
High-level remedial writing students are more likely to complete college-level English courses if they participate in Community College of Baltimore County’s Accelerated Learning Program (ALP), concludes a Community College Research Center follow-up study. Furthermore, ALP students were more likely than non-ALP students to persist to the next year.
ALP lets developmental students take classes with college-ready students. College-ready students in ALP English 101 did as well as similar students in wholly college-ready sections, but slightly lower subsequent college-level course enrollment and completion.
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.