It's back to basics for many in college
Most freshmen at community institutions need remedial classes to get up to speed
By JASON SPENCER
Nearly two-thirds of 2004's graduating high school seniors now enrolled in Houston-area community colleges are taking remedial classes because they weren't prepared for college.
Sixteen local school districts sent 6,552 newly graduated students to the Houston Community College System and the North Harris Montgomery College District this fall. Sixty-four percent of them, or 4,217, are taking high school-level courses, according to the colleges.
"It's sinful to allow a student to show up at a community college and tell them they'll have to spend the year learning what they should have learned in high school," said Gene Bottoms, senior vice president of the Southern Regional Education Board, a coalition of states working to improve education. "It's a problem everywhere."
Some students in area community colleges need up to 1 1/2 years of remedial math just to catch up.
Although the problem is generally worse among school districts with high poverty levels, such as Houston and Aldine, some of those with wealthier populations, including Spring Branch and Katy, face the same predicament.
And it's not just community college students who are struggling. Even those attending four-year universities lack many of the basic skills necessary to tackle college-level work as freshmen.
A report released this spring by the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board found that half of the state's 2001 high school graduates needed remedial help in college.
Among Harris County's largest school districts, the percentage of 2001 graduates required to take high school-level courses in college ranged from 62 percent in Houston Independent School District to roughly a quarter of Katy ISD graduates. About one third of all college-bound students from Spring Branch ISD and Cy-Fair ISD needed extra help.
"We recognize the need to do a better job of preparing students for college and we are working hard to do that," said Terry Abbott, spokesman for HISD.
Jose Lopez had a decision to make entering his senior year at HISD's Lee High School: enroll in an Algebra II math class, or take an easier elective course.
"I took welding," Lopez, 19, said recently in the student lounge of the Houston Community College campus on the West Loop.
Lopez's three years of high school math — pre-algebra, Algebra I and geometry — were enough to get him a diploma in 2003. But more than a year later, Lopez is taking a remedial math class to learn the skills he was supposed to master in high school.
State education officials and local school districts say they are ratcheting up graduation requirements to make sure students are ready for post-secondary schooling.
This year's freshman class of Texas high school students is the first that must take Algebra II to graduate. To get there, a student typically takes up to three years of math.
Some national education experts wonder if that's enough to prepare graduates for even the most basic college curriculum. The 11th-grade Texas Assessment of Knowledge and Skills, which students must pass to get a diploma, is more difficult than the old Texas Assessment of Academic Skills, but still only tests geometry and Algebra I.
"I'm not sure many youth know that they have to perform on a different level on that graduation test to avoid remedial studies," Bottoms said.
High schools should identify 11th-graders who are likely to need remedial courses in college and require them to take more math as seniors, Bottoms said.
"All those students who are slated for remedial math need to be in a specially designed remedial math course their senior year. The district and the college ought to work that out," he said. "You're going to more than cut that remediation rate ... in half."
Even a fourth year of math doesn't guarantee college success.
Vilma Saravia, 19, graduated from Sharpstown High School in 2003 after passing algebra, geometry, Algebra II and pre-calculus. So she was shocked when her score on HCC's entrance exam sent her to a remedial math class.
"In high school, I passed," she said. She's also taking remedial English and reading at HCC. "It was kind of surprising."
The community colleges and school districts recognize the problem and are beginning to do something about it, said Charles Cook, HCC's vice chancellor for educational development.
The college system's board recently voted to offer free remedial-level courses to students still in high schools in the system's service area, he said. "We're extending a hand to help close that gap," he said.
Doing so would save taxpayers hundreds of dollars for every student who gets into college ready to take credit-level courses.
The state pays HCC $250 to $300 per student for every remedial course they take.
"This points out some challenges that we face," North Harris' executive vice chancellor Steve Head said when asked about the number of students taking remedial courses.
"It also points out that we need to be working closely with the (school districts) to make sure that students who finish high school are prepared for college level work."
For its part, the Houston school district now requires qualified students to take Advanced Placement college preparation courses.
"Just last year we opened the new Challenge Early College High School, which will allow high school students to obtain a junior college degree," Abbott said.
The North Harris Montgomery Community College District is beginning work with the school districts it serves to align high school teaching with college curriculum, Head said.
"We want our college faculty to be talking to high school faculty to make sure ... you can move in a seamless educational transition from high school to college," he said.
"If you pass your high school classes and the (Texas Assessment of Knowledge and Skills), you should be able to move into college-level work. We all agree there are a number of issues we need to work closer together on."
Wanda Bamberg, Aldine ISD's assistant superintendent of curriculum and instruction, said she wasn't surprised to see that 72 percent of the district's first-year community college students aren't up to speed.
"A lot of the students who go to North Harris College are going (there) to get their grade point average up in order to get into a four-year college," she said. "(Still), we want all of our students to be prepared."
Texas' push for tougher high school graduation standards hasn't hurt Bob Kushner's math tutoring business.
"There are kids even in calculus in high school who can't do the simplest things," said Kushner, who has been tutoring students from HISD, Spring Branch, Alief ISD and HCC for 10 years.
"Unless you're in some kind of advanced program, you don't get good math education. It's dumbed down. The textbooks are dumbed down. Too many pictures and not enough math."
Depending on how they score on the entrance exam, incoming HCC students may be required to take as many as three semesters of remedial math, said Neal Tannahil, the system's academic dean. The first semester is the equivalent of a high school pre-algebra course.
Brenda Treviño, 21, said she took Algebra II before graduating from Northbrook High School in Spring Branch in 2002.
Despite that, Treviño is just finishing her third semester of remedial math at HCC.
"It was kind of awkward. I felt like, why do I have to be in this class?" she said. "It's more money that we have to spend and we're not even getting credit for the classes. It's kind of a waste."
Apparently in the 12 years leading up to college they spend too much time teaching Kwanzaa and rewriting history.
At least the students know all about condoms, how to be an PC little worker drone, and to have good self-esteem. <sarcasm>
From what I've seen, the kids keep getting more and more stupid. Yah, the govt schools are doing a great job.
A test in 11th grade is a little late.
Yet another C.S. Lewis cut-n-paste - from "Screwtape Proposes a Toast" (written in 1961, I believe)
These differences between pupils – for they are obviously and nakedly individual differences – must be disguised. This can be done at various levels. At universities, examinations must be framed so that nearly all the students get good marks. Entrance examinations must be framed so that all, or nearly all, citizens can go to universities, whether they have any power (or wish) to profit by higher education or not. At schools, the children who are too stupid or lazy to learn languages and mathematics and elementary science can be set to doing things that children used to do in their spare time. Let, them, for example, make mud pies and call it modelling. But all the time there must be no faintest hint that they are inferior to the children who are at work. Whatever nonsense they are engaged in must have – I believe the English already use the phrase – “parity of esteem.” An even more drastic scheme is not possible. Children who are fit to proceed to a higher class may be artificially kept back, because the others would get a trauma – Beelzebub, what a useful word! – by being left behind. The bright pupil thus remains democratically fettered to his own age group throughout his school career, and a boy who would be capable of tackling Aeschylus or Dante sits listening to his coeval’s attempts to spell out A CAT SAT ON A MAT.
In a word, we may reasonably hope for the virtual abolition of education when I’m as good as you has fully had its way. All incentives to learn and all penalties for not learning will be prevented; who are they to overtop their fellows? And anyway the teachers – or should I say, nurses? – will be far too busy reassuring the dunces and patting them on the back to waste any time on real teaching. We shall no longer have to plan and toil to spread imperturbable conceit and incurable ignorance among men. The little vermin themselves will do it for us.
Of course, this would not follow unless all education became state education. But it will. That is part of the same movement. Penal taxes, designed for that purpose, are liquidating the Middle Class, the class who were prepared to save and spend and make sacrifices in order to have their children privately educated. The removal of this class, besides linking up with the abolition of education, is, fortunately, an inevitable effect of the spirit that says I’m as good as you. This was, after all, the social group which gave to the humans the overwhelming majority of their scientists, physicians, philosophers, theologians, poets, artists, composers, architects, jurists, and administrators. If ever there were a bunch of stalks that needed their tops knocked off, it was surely they. As an English politician remarked not long ago, “A democracy does not want great men.”
Schools don't set the standards - the state does.
One of my largest nit-picks with the school district I work is for is having to change out curriculum every year since the state changes the tests.
For example: The state decides they will test all children on reading a specific way. You then teach kids how to do well on the state test. The state changes the guidelines and now the children test poorly.
The state does NOT test kids to prepare them for college. They test them to see how much funding they are going to receive. They also test for the NCLB - a useless piece of legislation that is making it worse, not better.
We teach our kids to do well on state tests - it sounds bad and it is. We make sure each kids brings in the maximum ammount of funds. Why do schools want a high enrolement rate? Not because we want to teach kids, the reason is part of our funding is determined by what precentage of children are in school. We WANT warm seats - damned if administration cares wether or not the kids are learning anything.
Public education needs to be overhauled in the country, and I work on the inside.
That's what happens when you educate to the lowest common denominator. Afraid of developing different classes of kids and giving the illuision of disparity? No problem, treat everyone as special ed...
I can vouch for some of what is coming out of the schools - sitting in the computer lab the other
night (surfing ARFCOM, of course!), killing time until my 'Fire Investigation' class started,
this kid comes in, sits down next to me and starts working on a paper.
I'm guessing that it was for an English class. I don't make a habit of reading over people's shoulders,
but the mass quantity of red-underlines (Word's hint to you that you can't spell worth a damn)
caught my eye.
That had to be some of the most atrotious spelling that I've ever seen in my life, not to mention the
fact that the first paragraph was one huge sentence!
If he is a representative of our future, we're doomed!
Math was never my strongest subject... I took remedial Algebra in community college, and will probably have to take it again in state college.
Do I blame the schools? Yes, in part... because lower level HS courses are chock full of dummies who pretty well cause a disturbance during the entire span of the class putting a serious lag in the flow of educational process. The teachers can only control them so much and school discipline is pretty much a joke... What trouble maker student is really phased by detention or suspension.
Having said that, I was hardly a stellar student... in fact at the time I was pretty much a "proud to be dumb" kid when it came to subjects I had no interest in (while ironically I excelled in other classes). If I knew then what I know now I'd have done a hell of a lot better because I wouldn't have been with so many behaviorly retarded kids. But as always hindsight is 20/20 and there's nothing I can do about now but teach my son from my mistakes.
My gripe also lies with the colleges who are becoming more and more of a money making institution. When my career path is clear and I an ready and willing to learn the skills I'll be using in a job, but I have to take required courses to basically line the pockets of the college I get a serious case of the ass. Add to that the fact that the text book publishers come out with a new "volume" every term making it impossible for students to sell back books (and for other students to get a used book at a cheaper rate)... that shit burns me up.
Anywho... that's my rant.