Thursday, December 22, 2011

Disconnect Between High School and College

The San Jose (Ca.) Mercury News has a report that California State college campuses are overwhelmed by students needing remedial education classes before staring their course of study. 

The remedial numbers are staggering, given that the Cal State system admits only freshmen who graduated in the top one-third of their high-school class. About 27,300 freshmen in the 2010 entering class of about 42,700 needed remedial work in math, English or both.

That is 63.9% of students, nearly two out of three entering freshman need some sort of remedial classes.  And these are students are in the top thrid of their high school class.  That is staggering.

So the statistic begs the question:  What is the disconnect between a high school education and preparation in English and Math and the level of acumen required in college?  Presumably the top 1/3 of a high school class is generally groomed to attend college, so what are they NOT learning in high school that they need in freshman English and math?  If the goal of college preparatory programs in high is to actually, you know, prepare students for a college education, then how does the secondary education system explain this massive disconnect?

Of course, the problem is not limited to California.  One need only look at the course offerings and schedule of any public university in the United States and see the sheer number of remedial classes being offered. So the fundamental question is how much do high school curricula match the fundamental college curricula?  Clearly they do not meet so the next logical question is why?  Why aren't the people who write high school curricula studying college requirements to make sure that student graduating from high school have the basic English and math skills to begin college without the need for remedial education?

 As I have said on multiple occasions, while colleges like to bemoan the need for their students to take remedial classes, they have a perverse incentive to keep providing the classes on a wide basis--they make money.  I proposed a solution:

[S]tart billing that student's K-12 school system for indemnificaion for failing to do their job. That would be a big financial incentive for K-12 schools to do a better job. Can you imagine that annual bill?

So if the student graduates in say, the top third of their high school class, and they require remedial classes upon entering college, the college or the student should submit a bill to the school system to cover the cost of remedial classes for which the student receives no credit.  If there is a financial incentive in place, you can bet that curriculum specialists will be under intense pressure to actually make sure that high school students are prepared to enter college without needing remedial education.

Of course to do so would admit that the sacred cow of public education does not actually prepare our best students for a college education.  As Glenn Reynolds put it:   "California spends a fortune on schools and pays its (unionized) teachers very well."  And we can't have an education system in which our teachers feel bad about their performance.  That would be just as bad as students feeling bad about their performance--at least until they are no longer the responsibility of our public high schools.

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