The Irascible ProfessorSM

Irreverent Commentary on the State of Education in America Today

by Dr. Mark H. Shapiro
I never let schooling interfere with my education ...  ...Mark Twain.
Commentary of the Day - March 19, 2000: A Radical Solution to the "Remediation" Problem:
Those of us who work in the California State University system recently received a bit of good news.  The number of entering freshmen (freshpeople ?) needing remediation in mathematics or English finally has begun to drop.  As the accompanying graph shows, the percentage of entering first-year students who fail our math entrance exam dropped from 54% in 1998 to 48% in 1999.  That's a statistically significant change.  The percentage failing the English entrance exam dropped from 47% in 1998 to 46% in 1999, which may or may not represent the start of a trend.

The fact that nearly half of our entering freshman can't pass a simple mathematics exam and a basic English exam is quite depressing for what it says about secondary education in California.  The math exam covers nothing more difficult than second-year high school algebra, while the English exam only demands that a student be able to write a simple, coherent paragraph.  As the Irascible Professor is fond of saying most of our students can't write a sentence in the English language (or in any language for that matter), and can't count to twenty without taking their shoes off.  This statement sometimes causes my colleagues, particularly the ones on the education faculty, to become quite upset, but it - nevertheless - is not far from the truth.

It is important to understand that these students are not stupid.  All of them have graduated in the upper third of their high school class.  All of them have passed high school courses in both mathematics and English, usually with grades of Bor higher.  In fact the average high school GPA for students needing remediation is only slightly lower than for students who do not need remediation (approximately 3.16 vs the 3.26 for all entering freshmen).  You can draw your own conclusions about grade inflation at the high school level.  These are students who should be capable of college-level work.

The problem is that many of these students have passed courses in mathematics or English that are undemanding to say the least.  The cost to the California State University system is enormous.  We must spend millions of dollars each year on remedial classes.  Here at the Krispy Kreme U campus (one of 23 in the system) we have the motto "Cal State Fullerton, where learning is preeminent", but in reality we are a system in which remediation has become preeminent.  The money spent on remediation is money taken away from such things as instructional equipment and infrastructure support.

The Irascible Professor wishes to propose a simple but radical solution to this problem.  Let's charge the high school districts for our remedial classes!  In other words the high schools ought to be willing to guarantee the quality of their product.  If they certify students as being ready for college work in English or mathematics by virtue of awarding grades of B or higher in these courses, then they ought to be willing to pay for remedial courses at the college level if their students can't pass the entrance tests.  The IP suspects that once the high school districts have to pay for the consequences of their inflated grades, they might do something to correct the problem.

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©2000 Dr. Mark H. Shapiro - All rights reserved.