On Learning and Connecticut’s SB40

Monday, May 21st, 2012

If Connecticut’s governor signs the S.B. 40 legislation, I fear we’ll be taking steps out of semi-lit and into even darker rooms. It’s hard to say whether a piece of legislation is a backward step, as the course that legislation is meant to adjust may not have been progressive in the first place. The latest public writing about this comes from Jaggar, Bailey, and Hughes in the Hartford Courant. The author’s state their claim in the third paragraph

Overall, we applaud Connecticut’s efforts to rethink its system of remedial education. Nationally, as many as 60 percent of community college students take at least one remedial class, and only around a quarter of these go on to complete a credential. It is essential that states focus on developing policies that will help colleges achieve better results. Given the paucity of knowledge about what works for remedial students, however, Connecticut’s bill is too inflexible.

There’s a subtle charge in this paragraph: that the promoters of the law are either misreading the evidence about “remedial” education or they’ve gone a tad bit too far in the intent

To allow all students open access to entry level courses in a college level program and prohibit public institutions of higher education from forcing any student to enroll in a remedial course.

Section 1.c of the act reads thusly

(c) Not later than the start of the fall semester of 2014 and for each semester thereafter, if a public institution of higher education determines, by use of multiple commonly accepted measures of skill level, that a student is below the skill level required for success in college level work, the public institution of higher education shall offer such student the opportunity to participate in an intensive college readiness program before the start of the next semester. Such student shall complete such intensive college readiness program prior to receiving embedded remedial support, as provided in subsection (b) of this section. The Board of Regents for Higher Education, in consultation with Connecticut’s P-20 Council and the faculty advisory committee to the Board of Regents for Higher Education, shall develop options for an intensive college readiness program.

Section 1.b goes like this

(b) Not later than the start of the fall semester of 2014 and for each semester thereafter, if a public institution of higher education determines, by use of multiple commonly accepted measures of skill level, that a student is likely to succeed in college level work with supplemental support, the public institution of higher education shall offer such student remedial support that is embedded with the corresponding entry level course in a college level program. Such embedded support shall be offered during the same semester as and in conjunction with the entry level course for purposes of providing the student with supplemental support in the entry level course.

It’s tough understand with also including Section 1.d

(d) Not later than the start of the fall semester of 2014 and for each semester thereafter, no public institution of higher education shall offer any remedial support, including remedial courses, that is not embedded with the corresponding entry level course, as required pursuant to subsection (b) of this section, or offered as part of an intensive college readiness program, except such institution may offer a student a maximum of one semester of remedial support that is not embedded, provided (1) such support is intended to advance such student toward earning a degree, and (2) the program of remedial support is approved by the Board of Regents for Higher Education.

If the above appears easy to understand, then please send me something on a get-well card.

It would seem to me easier to simply ask colleges to review the effectiveness of their systems and to do some innovation, where they see the need. Colleges by their nature have, after all, a vested interest in their students’ success. The above three section parts are very difficult to parse in regards to “why this is a solution.” At the college, my colleagues have strained themselves crazy over the years trying to figure out how to make access smoother and prep student to accomplish their goals. They are not disregarding under preparedness. Indeed, they understand under preparedness very well. And they don’t want to trick students into forking over their’s or the taxpayers’ money just to line their own or their institutions’ pockets, which are always empty but for the little puffs of lint. These are some of the hardest working people I know.

The problem is that students are enrolling in college underprepared for the work, and so, what is a college to do? More students who are underprepared are enrolling in college, and, so, what is a college to do? This is why a quarter of students in the above mentioned group either drop out or otherwise don’t complete. Because they are underprepared. A larger issue has to do with the requirement of universal higher ed, but that’s a different story.

It’s certainly not unreasonable to ask colleges and universities to evaluate their entrance requirements. Do the tests measure what they’re meant to measure? Are freshman courses too difficult or too strict in their standards? We could ask hundreds of questions. A significant issue about which to wonder has to do with the legitimate concerns of people working in academic and professional disciplines.

The reader may ask, why are so many students underprepared? And for the umpteenth time the response will be the same: testing obsession, grade inflation, curriculum mismatch, the simple arithmetic of bodies, the need to reform cores as cooperative communities, the tectonics of technological ecology, and, most significantly, struggling communities of people. How about a year or a few years off to grow up a little for college bound students? My metaphor has always been “Aristotle in the 9th grade.” Maybe someone else has a better name. But I hope the general point is clear. I’d bet that if general knowledge tests were de-emphasized, then students who actually want to go to college would be a little better prepared or less tired when they get there.

But, then again, when I was a kid, I didn’t want to learn any of the stuff my teachers wanted me to know. I wanted to read my own books, play in the band, and goof off.

Ultimately, I would argue that the legislature in this regard is ignoring the reality of the totality of education in the state and is looking for an easy out, an easy target that will play act as a solution.


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