25.2.15

AFTER EVERYTHING ELSE HAS FAILED.

Has it been ten years since I proposed that higher education go out of the remediation business, and nine years since I suggested that colleges and universities identify the sources of Distressed Material and send them a bill for the remedial work?
Perhaps the most salutary reform the public universities could obtain would be to announce something like "Effective 15 April 2007, admission to Enormous State University (flagship, land-grant, compass-direction alike) is contingent on passing the mathematics and writing placement tests. Enormous will no longer offer no-credit remedial mathematics, writing, and speaking courses for high school graduates who have not really received a high school education. Furthermore, Enormous State's Office of Institutional Research will report placement test passage rates by school district." My sometimes sparring partner at Anonymous Community would no doubt be a bit unhappy to receive additional remedial students at the same time that his state is griping about having to pay for the same courses twice. Fine. As part of the reform, bill the school districts for those remedial courses and reimburse the community colleges. Principals now have a choice: offer token academic courses and suffer a budget cut, or spend money to improve their academic content. Some school districts might choose to outsource those classes directly to the community colleges. Fine. Outsourcing is a way of exploiting comparative advantages. Economics again.
That post elicited a response from Dean Dad, and a follow-up by me.  At the time, he was of the mind that putting the onus on the high schools would create some screwy incentives, and I concurred in part and dissented in part. "That changes may appear 'pretty screwy' is not necessarily reason to stop thinking along those lines, particularly when the status quo is not working." (In my view, it's going on forty years of failure by the special-educationing of higher education.)

Now, courtesy Dean Dad, who I now refer to as at "Pioneer Valley Community" (technically inaccurate, geographically precise enough), has reacted to an actual legislative proposal to ... "require Tennessee public school districts to reimburse the costs of recent high school graduates who have had to take a remedial course."  It's not law, yet, and the reactions of government school administrators and members of the legislature suggest the proposal might be more symbolic than substantive.

But after forty years of failure ...

Here's part of Dean Dad's reaction.
Rather than punishing poverty, I’d prefer to see resources directed to ways to prevent the need for remediation in the first place.  Start by requiring four years of math in high school; I maintain that any state that fails to do that has no standing to criticize community colleges.  If the students are in high school anyway, why not teach them math?  It may make sense to use the senior year to solidify and review the basics for some students, but that’s a fair sight better than nothing.  If it sets the students up to succeed in college, it’s worth it.
Let's stipulate for the sake of discussion that poverty correlates with weak school districts.  But if you're going to require math (to precalculus? into calculus?) through the senior year of high school, implicitly you're insisting on stronger academic discipline beginning in kindergarten.  Let the conversation over whether the common schools ought be encouraging the work habits of the upper-middle class begin.
Ultimately, the solution to remediation will have to involve conceiving of K-12 and higher ed as part of a larger ecosystem.  Whether that means the Common Core or not, it’s counterproductive for the two systems to continue to talk past each other.  I’d prefer to start with voice, rather than invoice, but I’ll give credit for sparking discussion.
It is an ecosystem, whether legislatures grasp it or not.  And well-off parents perceive it as such, which is why good school districts come bundled with granite countertops, and why U.S. News guides sell so well.  All the same, it might be fun to implement the invoicing and see how much of the Distressed Material turning up at regional comprehensives is middling students from well-off districts being shipped off to extended summer camp, or to finishing school.

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