Developmental Education: “Follow the Money”

So there’s been a flurry of news about developmental education (a.k.a., remediation) lately, like this, coming out of last weekend’s national conference for community colleges. We’ve had some of our own discussions about these topics, too (e.g., here and here and here and here), and I was reminded while sifting through various reports on remediation of  a comment by our own MathisSexy, which I’ve highlighted in the title.

It seems that, at the moment, remediation is where the money is.

From the article:

Community colleges should replace weak remedial programs with innovative practices as a way to increase completion rates, Melinda F. Gates, co-chairman of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, told two-year college leaders Tuesday as she delivered the closing speech here at the American Association of Community Colleges’ annual meeting.

To that end, Ms. Gates said that her foundation is spending up to $110-million to work with dozens of partners, including colleges and school districts, to develop groundbreaking models for remedial education and to replicate effective practices.

There’s a fair amount of hype about it, too, as here. Apparently, it is not Math that is sexy; it is remedial math that is sexy and remediation which will save the civitas.

Yet, as committed as I am to the idea of an open enrollment institution of higher education, I am, when this topic arises, driven back to the comments of a former colleague (and philosopher, Jim Schulz), who thought it to be a moral imperative that a college, community or otherwise, NOT willingly accept the role of preparing students to be in itself.

His argument as expressed at one of the first department meetings I ever attended was, to paraphrase, that we have few resources, and our job is to be a college, not a preparatory school for college. Thus, he argued, we should direct the resources we have toward those students who are ready to be in college and already in college with us (but otherwise excluded from the opportunity), rather than drain off significant resources from that task to do the work that ought to be done by the high schools. By agreeing to fix their failures, he argued, we let them off the hook for what they don’t do and do so at the expense of the students whom we’re supposed to serve.

I didn’t agree with him then, and I don’t now. I do, however, think about his argument often.

One thought on “Developmental Education: “Follow the Money”

  1. As I continue to think about dev. ed, math in particular, I am really torn. Clearly, the redesign being done in some places around the country, like the emporium model from older threads reference above, if on the one side of a continuum. The funny thing is, as i type this a bit scattered on a Saturday morning, I’m not sure what the other side of the continuum looks like. I feel that both ends of the continuum are about $ and accountability. They strive to get students through dev. ed and onto college work perhaps by hitting them at the front end (in high school) or when they get to CCs through quick remediation. Speed, efficiency, accountability, cost effectiveness are value of course. But what about learning? What about what students are learning? I’ve said it several times but I’ll say it again to get some conversation going among the math folks (and others interested obviously). Math 99, the final dev. ed. math is truly a pre-requisite for College Algebra (Math 140). Coll. Alg. is the gateway to calculus. Our dev. ed math is preparing students for College algebra yet many students don’t take that route. They go on to take stats, Math for Elementary teachers, Gen. Ed. math, etc. Now, I’m not saying that the material in our dev. ed. courses isn’t worthwhile but I’m wondering if there is a remedy to having students repeating dev. ed. courses that don’t directly relate to their future plans. Many schools have courses such as Quantitative Reasoning or Math for Real life. While the entry requirements and pre-reqs for such courses would need to be ironed out, I feel that this is where we should head, at least this morning because I do go back and forth on the issue.

    Something that the Quant. Reasoning assessment set out to determine were what are the take aways from HWC for mathematics over 2 years. What should students leave with respect to mathematics? Bringing back to the department, do Math 98 and 99 represent these take-aways? What is the goal? What are we hoping to “produce”? The ball is in our court as we’ve been charged to revamp dev. ed. Do we continue with the same structure or do we turn it on its head? What are we preparing our students for? What are our aims?

    Pick away at this as you see fit. I’m open to answers. I’m looking for some productive civilized debate on these issues.

    One last point, an old point, “follow the money”. For what purpose would money be funneled into dev. ed? Are we really serving students by getting them through their remediation in 2 weeks? What determines whether they make it through? Who makes up the test, because we know it’s a test? Testing is big business as we all know. Likely these tests are multiple choice so we’re essentially boiling down 13+ years of K-12 mathematics into a 1 hour multiple choice test at the end of a, in the severest case, 2 week crash course. And yet, the same entities may be talking about things like life-long learning. hmmmmm

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