Reforming Remedial Education


Many observers agree that one of the best ways to boost the economy and reduce income inequality is to improve educational outcomes at both the K-12 and postsecondary levels.  One of the main barriers to accomplishing this goal is the huge K-12 achievement gap between students from low-income families and those from middle class families.  This creates a huge need for remedial education in college as shown in the chart below.
CaptureA recent article in the Wall Street Journal, “Remedial Courses in College Stir Questions Over Cost, Effectiveness,”  shows the dramatic increase in the number of undergraduate students taking remedial courses in recent years and also the extent to which these remedial students are receiving financial aid in the form of Pell grants.  The article points out that some states such as Connecticut, Florida and Tennessee are no longer requiring remedial education for students who test poorly.
But the educators Jane Wellman and Bruce Vandal say not so fast in an article “5 Myths of Remedial Education

  • Myth #1. Remedial Education is K-12’s problem. Colleges could do a much better job of specifying clear benchmarks for college success.
  • Myth #2. Remedial Education is a Short-Term Problem. Even if the Common Core curriculum raises high school standards, there will still be a large number of poor performers, as well as older adults returning to school, who will need remediation.
  • Myth #3. Colleges Effectively Determine College Readiness. College placement tests do not provide a precise diagnosis of student skill deficiencies.
  • Myth #4. Remedial Education is Bankrupting the System. Remediation using non-tenured faculty and making heavy use of technology is not expensive and can be very effective. (The UNO Math Department, where I work, is a good example of this.)
  • Myth #5.   Maybe Some Students are Just Not College Material. This is an elitist point of view which minimizes the importance of postsecondary education in today’s economy.

As the article concludes, “Remedial education is the 800-pound gorilla that stands squarely in the path of our national objective to increase the number of adults with a college degree. … Our nation can no longer afford these myths.”

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