Something I Haven’t Read

My beloved was and is a high school English teacher (though she doesn’t teach at the present), and she gets a weekly email “Newsblast” from something called the Public Education Network. I just signed up.

In this week’s, though I haven’t read it yet, the Newsblast says that in this report there is a profile of Northern Virginia Community College. The synopsis from the PEN email states:

Whereas most community colleges are just at the beginning stages of understanding what works and why, NOVA gives students a structured system of support from high school to community college to a four-year university. Pathway is centered on the student and designed to meet a range of needs — academic, financial, or personal — through one coherent program. “In an otherwise bleak landscape,” the authors write, “colleges like NOVA offer hopeful examples of how individual colleges can make the most of what they have, not by relying on new funding sources or waiting for policy changes, but by using existing resources shrewdly, aligning practices to goals, and continually improving.”

Sounds interesting at least. Let me know if it isn’t. I’ll be grading papers, I suspect.

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.

Developmental Writing Needs Attention, Too

Back in mid-March, a flurry of articles came out about changes in teaching composition, especially related to developmental writing. I’m sure you all remember the hootenanny about developmental math, and the discussions related to the district hopes for revising our current process. Developmental math is a big part of our incoming students’ experience, but so, too, is developmental writing.

Lest we be accused of ignoring this important topic, here is some interesting reading inspired by events and presentations made at the Conference on College Composition and Communication about:

1. Some research into what happens when English composition courses are moved in part or in whole to online environments. From the article:

The early results show some encouraging signs (such as better course retention rates that some might expect) but also some findings that worried some here (such as a minimalist approach to training instructors and little evidence that colleges are thinking about the pedagogical implications of the shift).

And there are signs that a pattern that has long been a reality for classroom writing instruction — in which colleges ignore guidelines about recommended class sizes — may be repeating itself online.

2) The pressure on community colleges to make space for students overwhelming suggested educational policy related to the optimum class size for writing instruction. From the article:

Class sizes and teaching loads for composition courses at community colleges — courses typically required of most students and seen as crucial for college success — appear to be growing well beyond levels that are considered educationally sound.

3) The mismatch between the need for skilled teachers of composition at community colleges with the sorts of preparation most English and Literature majors receive from advanced degree programs. From the article:

“I was incredibly well trained to teach college writing, but only one course at a time. How do you teach five classes when you’ve only been trained to teach one?”That was the question of a community college writing instructor who has taught herself how to manage the workload she now has. Her experience reflects the sense shared by many composition experts that it’s time for a new approach to teaching those who will teach writing at community colleges.

3b) Just yesterday, this follow up, by one of the people who hosted the workshop showed up on the same site, with warnings for both PhDs and Community College departments. It has some interesting links in it, too.

So, writing instructors out there, what else do we need to know?