Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Yet Another Commission

In yet another signal that the one-size-fits-all approach of NCLB is not working (as if we need one), policy makers in Ohio are pointing to an ever-growing number of college students needing remedial work. Of course, every such problem provides a chance to convene yet another ‘commission’; this one is called the "Regional Consortia for P-20 Alignment."

Their task is "to bring high school standards in line with the realities of higher education," according to our state superintendent. With 41% of college students taking remedial course in mathematics or English something must be done.


After thirty years in this world, spanning both K-12 teaching and district administration, serving as an elected school board member and as a tenured professor, I know not to trust what the experts say. So before the State holds hearings complete with gnashing of teeth over the sorry state of public education, I have a few questions for them to consider.

One, how do we know these college students actually need remediation? Just because a college says they need it, what is the evidence? I am sure more than one parent has been shocked by tuition billings for these courses and has wondered if they are getting their money’s worth.

Further, given that graduate students teach most introductory math and English courses on our state college campuses, maybe the problem is with the teacher and not the learner. My experience a the collegiate level was that very little time is spent with faculty helping them learn how to teach; they were mostly just lecturers. Oh, but surely the problem is with the kids - it always has been, as we have heard the ‘they need remediation’ complaint for as long as I can remember.

Second, haven’t we been testing the pants off our kids for the past two decades and they still can’t do math or write. Hmmmm, wonder what the lesson is here? OK, sorry, just had to ask.

Third, what counts as evidence of what would improve the college readiness of our students? My guess is that the consortia will come up with a bunch of stuff around higher standards, a few more tests, and more curriculum guides written by college professors and state staffers who have no idea how to teach this stuff to real live kids.

In the meantime nearly 60% of the kids are, apparently, ready for college. Is anyone looking at what these kids did on the way to college to be so well prepared? Aside from my guess that most of them are middle class or affluent, had homes where they were well fed, and had health insurance, etc., I would love to know about the school environments that prepared them.

Here is a novel idea - rather than gripe and moan about what some schools are not doing, let’s look at what many schools are doing well, and actually learn from them. The national Coalition of Essential Schools (CES) conducted just such a study (disclaimer, our high school was one such school studied) and when they looked at college transcripts they found that kids from schools that followed a CES model were doing quite well in college and on track to graduate on time.

These are schools that built strong personal relationships with students, had a focused curriculum, believed in assessment by exhibition, and engaged students in meaningful work. No matter, no one in any state has followed up on this study.

Why bother? We have named another commission.

Often I have complained that educational policy-making is an ‘evidence free zone.’ Once again I am afraid we are about to see another demonstration of this as the sages of Ohio’s educational bureaucracy will mandate yet another new curricular model, and more tests, and, well, just more of the same.

Our kids deserve better.

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