Remediation rates no cause for celebration

Maine's teachers were heartened last week when recently collected data showed that fewer Maine students entering the university system needed remediation help than students in other states.

Only 12 percent of this year's freshmen class in the University of Maine System who came from Maine high schools needed the extra help compared to 24 to 39 percent in other New England states.

Of greater concern, perhaps, is the 50 percent of students from Maine high schools entering the state's community college system needing remediation. As bad as that sounds, it's still better than the 60 percent average nationwide for community colleges.

"This proves our public schools are succeeding and we should continue to invest in a system we know produces positive results," Maine Education Association President Lois Kilby-Chesley said in a press release.

A spokesman for Maine Education Commissioner Stephen Bowen was far less enthusiastic.

"I find it mind-boggling that anyone can suggest 50 percent is a success," David Connerty-Marin told the Portland Press Herald. "It's like saying, 'Great, I'm getting a D but everyone else is getting an F.'"

We agree.

The remediation rate for students entering community colleges is a problem in more ways than one.

First, it means students, parents and the public are often being "double billed" for much of this learning.

We pay taxes to support public schools, then students and parents often pay again to learn what they should have learned the first time around.

Taxpayers, meanwhile, pay dearly to support public schools and pay again to support our university system and community colleges.

Second, students taking remedial courses to enter community college are much less likely to leave with degrees.

A study by ACT Inc., the college-placement testing organization, found that fewer than 10 percent of those entering remedial courses at a community college graduate within three years.

"U.S. colleges should not take hundreds of thousands of ill-prepared students and put them through ineffective remedial-education programs only to see them fail to graduate while running up significant college-loan debt," said Richard Vetter, who directs the Center for College Affordability and Productivity at Ohio University. 

"Many of these academically marginal students might excel in non-college-degree vocational programs that teach skills in relatively high-demand jobs, which pay reasonably well," Vetter wrote in a Bloomberg News column.

That, of course, would be music to the ears of Maine Gov. Paul LePage, who has been urging Maine schools to promote vocational programs such as welding and automotive repair for students less likely to succeed in a more academic program.

The State's Workforce Investment Board recently announced it would be pumping more of its money into "job-specific skills training." Two years ago, 15 percent of its funds were going toward such training. Its new goal is to spend 40 percent of its money that way.

One way to tackle the remediation problem might be to simply require students to take more math in high school.

A dean at Southern Maine Community College recently told the Portland Press Herald that remediation is needed mainly in math. Too many high school students apparently opt out of math courses in high school, leaving them unprepared for college work.

The bottom line is that too many students entering community college need too much remediation, which is costly and often leads to eventual disappointment.

We urgently need a better way.

rrhoades@sunjournal.com

The opinions expressed in this column reflect the views of the ownership and the editorial board.

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Comments

Amedeo Lauria's picture

My point was the educational culture currently...

eliminated "tracking." Back in the day students were tested and identified in high school, based on their performance they either followed a vocational track or a college bound track.

Some students started early by districts enrolling them in the local VO-TECH.

Now the culture in education is that EVERY student is college bound. That coupled with grade inflation, gives parents and students a false sense of security about entering college.

While the rewards of a college education are great, an average of $1 million dollars additional lifetime earnings; the flip side is a $25K+ debt if the students were not prepared for the rigors of college.

At the very least, they get a wake-up call in their freshman year, or worse at the end of their sophomore year and are stuck paying off large debts.

BTW, "kids" don't dig the hole, kids will do what we tell them they need to do; this is based upon the subject credit requirements for graduation of each school unit. If there is a hole, adults put them in it with bad graduation credit policy.

Jason Theriault's picture

Disagree

Kids absolutely dig their own hole. I know because I did in high school as well.

"kids will do what we tell them they need to do"

Have you even seen teenagers? Hmmm? I mean, if this was the case there would be no underage drinking, teen pregnancy, drug use, ect...

Kids are dumb. This is because wisdom is experience and usually comes with age. Some kids are not smart enough to realize that they are dumb, and accept the advice of those who are wise.

As Benjamin Franklin said, “There never was a good knife made of bad steel.”. There is only so much education can do, and only so much you can put on the schools. Parents and their kids need to take some of the responsibility.

Jason Theriault's picture

Nothing is perfect

Pushing more and more remedial classes will affect other areas, and might even hold the smarter and better preforming kids back.

To be honest, we are ahead of the curve, so I don't see a problem. You, the editor, points to it as a problem because student are double billed. But as you later point out, it is their fault as "Too many high school students apparently opt out of math courses in high school, leaving them unprepared for college work.".

If kids dig them selves a hole, and then have to dig out of it, that's on them. As someone who did that a few times in college, I can tell you it forces you to grow up.

And while they may do better in a vocational school, that, again, is their choice.

This seems to be a manufactured problem

Amedeo Lauria's picture

The Governor gets it...many don't...

"Many of these academically marginal students might excel in non-college-degree vocational programs that teach skills in relatively high-demand jobs, which pay reasonably well," Vetter wrote in a Bloomberg News column.

"That, of course, would be music to the ears of Maine Gov. Paul LePage, who has been urging Maine schools to promote vocational programs such as welding and automotive repair for students less likely to succeed in a more academic program."

Is that such a bad thing; that the Governor's position on this issue is validated?

We had strong vocational education programs across America, and still have a few in Maine, that produced motivated students who learned hands on skills, landed jobs and appreticeships, and started careers right after high school. Producing young Americans who could work for and with someone or start their own small businesses and achieve the American dream.

There need to be mulitple pathways to success for our students here in Maine. The one size fits all "everyone goes to college" mantra needs to be relooked. It is very expensive in both time and treasure.

Just ask any parent or student paying off astronomical college student loans and has nothing to show for it when all is said and done.

Jason Theriault's picture

How is this my problem?

Just ask any parent or student paying off astronomical college student loans and has nothing to show for it when all is said and done.

Isn't that their choice? Isn't that what make America great? I mean, you take on debt, making a calculated risk that the debt you take on in the long term will be paid off by the increase in income you will make as a result of your education. Now, if you make a bad choice, that's life. Now, as it has become known that there needs to be more vocational workers, I bet more kids will choose that path. But that will take time to catch up with demand.

But making costly mistakes is part of life, and I don't know that focusing on vocational education will bring a better result. I think that being ahead of the curve is a good place to be

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