Obama Administration Joins Efforts to Fix Remedial Education

The Obama administration has thrown its weight behind a growing 
movement to fix remedial education - one of the main barriers between 
millions of students and college degrees.

The U.S. Department of Education indicated this new focus in its 
guidelines for how states can use education-related funds provided 
through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. While the 
department does not specify ways to allocate the money, it instructs 
states to raise standards consistent with the 2007 America Competes 
Act, which set a goal to reduce, and even eliminate, the need for 
Remedial education "is such a drain on state dollars," says Julie 
Davis Bell, education-program director for the National Conference of 
State Legislatures. "The number is so awful in terms of students 
going into remedial ed who don't graduate."

According to a study by the Education Department, 61 percent of 
students who attended two-year public colleges from 1992 to 2000, and 
a quarter of those enrolled in four-year institutions, needed 
remediation. And studies show that students taking developmental 
classes are far less likely to complete their degrees, with only 30 
percent to 57 percent d oing so, depending on how many remedial 
courses they must take.

Most of the stimulus money will go 
toward <>plugging 
holes in state budgets, but Ms. Bell says reforming remedial 
education is a top priority for many states.

The need for remediation among recent high-school graduates has been 
a national dilemma for years. The debate centers on which 
institutions should be responsible for bridging the gap between 
secondary and postsecondary curricula: the high schools that graduate 
students, or the colleges that accept them?

In many states, both seem to be stepping up to the plate. Experts 
highlight growing cooperation between community colleges and their 
surrounding school districts to make students more prepared for 
college. Also taking part are nonprofit projects like Achieving the 
Dream: Community Colleges Count, and Achieve Inc.'s American Diploma 
Project. The College Board's National Office of Community College 
Initiatives also began looking into the issue about a year ago.

"The government's on the right track thinking about alignment," says 
Stephen J. Handel, national director of the College Board's 
community-college office. "It's the right thing to do."

Working Together
El Paso Community College and the University of Texas at El Paso work 
closely with their area's 12 school districts to reduce the number of 
students enrollin g in remedial courses. Using the College Board's 
Accuplacer test, the colleges evaluate high-school students for 
college readiness in their junior and senior years. Those with low 
scores can take short intervention tutorials, offered jointly by the 
high schools and colleges, in reading, writing, and mathematics.

The tutorials have produced results: The percentage of new graduates 
ready for college-level English and reading has increased 
significantly, and far fewer of them are placing into the lowest 
levels of remedial math.

"Sometimes students need only a few hours of refresher lessons to 
test into college-level work - not an entire semester," says Richard 
M. Rhodes, president of the community college.

This year the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board called for 
the Legislature to provide $30-million to offer those short classes 
statewide. Because of tight economic conditions, the state built in 
only $5-million to get the project started. "We're glad that it got 
the state's attention," Mr. Rhodes says. "But our stance is that 
we're beyond piloting. We're ready for implementation."

Raymund A. Paredes, the state's commissioner of higher education, 
says the project would not have received any money had the federal 
stimulus dollars not freed state funds.

As Texas works to overhaul remedial education, Mr. Paredes says, the 
early data on community-college and high-school partnerships have 
prove d promising. "We'll probably encourage other community colleges 
to do the same, but it's not the only solution," he says. "It's not 
the magic bullet."
Other plans include providing better curricular training, and hiring 
more permanent faculty members, rather than adjuncts, to teach 
remedial courses. Texas also intends to experiment with developmental 
curricula by combining courses in reading, writing, and English - a 
method it hopes will be both innovative and cost-effective.

"There is nothing more important in higher education than 
developmental education. These students have high potential, but they 
aren't ready," Mr. Paredes says. "Every teacher at every level has a 
responsibility for these students."

In Florida, where 55 percent of students who entered public colleges 
in 2003-4 needed remedial courses in math, reading, or writing, the 
Legislature passed a law in 2008 requiring high schools to work with 
colleges to provide remedial instruction to seniors who test below 
the state's standards on the SAT, ACT, or the Florida College 
Entry-Level Placement Test.

In California, private foundations and the state's Department of 
Education have worked with the California Community Colleges and 
California State University to improve precollege education.

Some experts cite the America Diploma Project, started in 2005 by 
Achieve Inc., a nonprofit education-reform organization, as a leader 
in the momentum to advance college re adiness. The project 
coordinates governors, state education officials, college leaders, 
and business executives from 35 states in aligning high-school 
curricula with college demands.

Remedial education could get another boost from the Obama 
administration through the proposed College Access and Completion 
Fund, which would allocate $500-million annually over five years for 
student retention.

The program would encourage grants for college readiness, says Daniel 
J. Hurley, director of state relations and policy analysis at the 
American Association of State Colleges and Universities. "There is 
potential that states and institutions will use some of the resources 
to facilitate college completion for students who are underprepared 
academically," he says.

No Adult Left Behind
As policy makers work to increase college readiness, they must focus 
on improving remedial education, not just eliminating the need for 
it, says Bruce Vandal, director of the Postsecondary and Workforce 
Development Institute at the Education Commission of the States. "It 
is often seen as a redundancy, a failure in the system. And they hate 
investing money in a failure." Instead, he says, remedial education 
should be seen as an economic-development investment.

That's particularly true when it comes to adults returning to college 
after years - or decades - out of school, he says. Improving the 
high-school curriculum will not necessarily reduce=2 0the need for 
remedial education among those students.

Mr. Vandal suggests that states tap into the federal Broadband 
Technology Opportunities Program, which awards competitive grants 
totaling $4.35-billion from stimulus funds to promote educational and 
employment opportunities. At least $200-million will be designated 
for upgrades in technology at public computing centers, including 
community colleges.

That money could be used, in part, to pay for technology-based 
remedial courses. For example, Cleveland State Community College, in 
Tennessee, and the National Center for Academic 
Transformation <>have 
seen success with a project that replaces traditional lectures in 
basic math, elementary algebra, and intermediate algebra with 
self-paced work in computer labs.

The stimulus package has also directed $3.95-billion toward Workforce 
Investment Act programs, which the Department of Labor expects 
work-force-investment boards to use to help postsecondary 
institutions, particularly community colleges, provide retraining for 
adults seeking to improve their occupational skills. Mr. Vandal says 
some of that money could be used to improve remedial education for 
returning students.

Colleges will need to make such improvements, he says, for the 
country to reach President Obama's ambitious goal of making the 
United States the nation with the highest proportion of college 
graduates by 2020.
"We can't get the re from here if we rely on the number of 
high-school students alone," Mr. Vandal says. "We have to work with 
adult re-entering higher education."
Section: Students

Norman A. Stahl, Ph.D.
Professor and Chair
Literacy Education

Past President, National Reading Conference

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