Community-college remedial programs get an F

But Foothill beats averages on remedial education, leader says

A scathing new report is questioning the effectiveness of remedial education in California's 112 community colleges.

The report, , commissioned by state community college chancellor's Office, says remedial education must improve drastically if the nation is to meet President Barack Obama's goal of substantially boosting college completion rates by 2020.

But Foothill College students are faring better than average, Foothill President Judy Miner said, adding that the district has been cited for its innovative approaches to basic skills.

"Large portions" of community college students enter the system unprepared, according to the statewide report, "Something's Got to Give," by the education research organization EdSource.

"Continuing to tackle the problems of readiness and remediation with the same strategies will simply not work," the report said. The state lacks data systems even to measure the extent of the problem, it said.

"Precise measures of the extent of the challenge -- and of who needs (remedial) courses and why -- are not currently available," it said.

But at Foothill, students in remedial courses had an 81.5 percent rate of successful completion -- the highest among peer colleges, according to an accountability report issued by the state Chancellor's Office.

In addition, the community college has been recognized by the Gates Foundation for innovative remedial education, Miner said.

Although the EdSource report focused on remedial education, it provided figures suggesting that few community college students ever transfer to a four-year institution or earn an associate's degree or vocational certificate.

Of the 2.9 million individuals served by the California system in 2008-09, only about one in 13 transferred to a four-year institution or earned an associate's degree or vocational certificate that year, according to the report.

"Accepting that not all enrollees hope to complete a degree or certificate, 2008-09 completions for the system as a whole still provide perspective," the report said.

Of 18,060 students enrolled at Foothill last fall, 606 transferred to the California State University or University of California systems, 503 transferred to private institutions, 459 earned associate's degrees and 162 earned certificates in one of the college's programs this past June, according to numbers provided by the college.

In regards to assessing the remedial needs of students at Foothill, a 2008 "inventory of basic skills needs" will be updated and available at a college-wide conference in late January, Miner said.

At Foothill, the term "basic skills" denotes remedial coursework. Other colleges sometimes use the term "developmental education," she said.

Foothill will get some help when it comes to improving remedial education. It is one of 13 nationally that have been funded by the Gates Foundation for its "Global Skills for College Completion" project -- an initiative to test fresh ways of teaching remedial math and writing with an eye to boosting pass rates.

The Gates Foundation hopes the effort will "create a database of effective practices" to double the national average pass rate in remedial classes, from 40 percent to 80 percent.

"If we all are successful in doing so, we will have created a powerhouse force of workers and thinkers, and estimates are that this higher pass rate will pump billions of dollars into the economy," Gates Foundation Director of Education, Postsecondary Success and Special Initiatives Hilary Pennington said.

Bill Gates himself tiptoed into a Foothill math class this past April to observe the college's intensive "Math My Way" program, designed to give previously math-phobic students the skills and confidence to succeed at college-level math.

"Math My Way continues to be held up as a model program," Miner said.

The program "was recently cited by the Gates Foundation as an example of the type of innovation that they aim to support with the Next Generation Learning Challenges grants to be awarded next year.

"We are partnering with Rio Salado College ... to propose a hybrid version of Math My Way, i.e., a portion of the course requirements that could be completed online."

Miner said the EdSource report offers "a comprehensive description of the breadth and depth of challenges statewide in offering effective (remedial) instruction."

Noting state budget challenges cited in the EdSource report, Miner said, "I am hopeful that Measure E (on the Nov. 2 ballot) will bring additional resources to Foothill so that we can hire more full-time faculty and staff who will develop, deliver, assess and improve programs and services in support of underprepared students.

"Their educational success is key not only to their future, but to all of ours."

According to college data, Foothill has taken in roughly 14 percent to 16 percent of the Gunn and Palo Alto high school graduating classes in recent years.

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Like this comment
Posted by TimH
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Nov 1, 2010 at 10:31 am

What courses and programs constitute "remedial courses" at community colleges, such as Foothill? Do students earn transferable college credits for taking "remedial courses"? Are all students entering California Community Colleges (for the purpose of earning college credit and status) passing the ACT examination? While I agree with the charter of community colleges to provide for universal learning needs, I question the validity of programs which offer college credit, and hope that remedial courses are considered as preparatory level learning and not accepted as undergraduate credit for transfer.

Like this comment
Posted by Dexter Dawes
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Nov 1, 2010 at 11:22 am

I am confounded that the EdSource is blaming the Community Colleges for the lack of preparation of the kids entering the system and the need for remedial programs. After looking at who they are, I copied the following from their web site:

"EdSource is an independent, nonpartisan, not-for-profit organization whose mission is to clarify complex education issues and to promote thoughtful policy decisions about public school improvement. For more than three decades, we have developed a solid reputation as a credible and respected source of K–12 education information, research, analysis, and data. The expertise of EdSource’s small staff of policy analysts, researchers, writers, and communication and outreach specialists is strengthened by a top-notch, diverse, statewide board of 18 directors."

So it is apparent that they represent the K-12 community. They are blaming the Community Colleges for their lack of performance. The restructuring of the states K-12 program is just starting with use of Charter Schools and hopefully, vouchers. Until the K-12 system delivers prepared students, the Community College District will have to spend a disproportionate amount of resources on doing the educational job of the K-12 system. EdSource should look in the mirror before inditing the Community College system.
Dexter Dawes
Member Foothill DeAnza Finance Committee

Like this comment
Posted by Helen
a resident of Los Altos
on Nov 1, 2010 at 11:33 am

Remediation wouldn't be necessary if the K-12 system were doing its job. So, what, we the taxpayers are expected to educate these kids TWICE? Once in K-12 and AGAIN at the community college level because they didn't learn the basics in K-12? That, my friends, is ridiculous!

Like this comment
Posted by Observer
a resident of South of Midtown
on Nov 1, 2010 at 11:56 am

This is a strange article. The text does not match the headline at all. Most of it is about innovative teaching at Foothill, ending with a plea for money for Foothill. Where's the article that goes with the headline? Can it be that someone is trying to manipulate voters?

Like this comment
Posted by observer
a resident of Barron Park
on Nov 1, 2010 at 12:11 pm

Gee, I hope "MathMyWay" doesn't mean "Connected Math" or "Every Day Math" for college students.

Like this comment
Posted by Reform-The-CCs
a resident of Evergreen Park
on Nov 1, 2010 at 12:39 pm

> The restructuring of the states K-12 program is just starting
> with use of Charter Schools and hopefully, vouchers.

Huh? What "restructuring" is this poster talking about?

However, the underlying point about the K-12 education system not delivering is true. The CSU System has seen the need for "remedial" Math and English for as many as 70+% of incoming students. The CSU System has recently come to the position that if freshman can't pass the remedial courses quickly, they will not be allowed to take up space, and will have to find the remediation elsewhere. Under those circumstances, the CCs might end up being little more than "holding zones" for students who are not qualified even for CSU-level work.

Given that people who go to a "community college" are not likely to have gained admittance to the CSU/CAL Systems, what exactly is the mission of a community college anymore? The transfer rates from the CCs is atrocious (given that the CCs have budgets in the $4B-$5B range). What are these "schools" supposed to be doing?

Maybe it's time to consider retasking the CCs--giving them a mission to provide vocational training that is closely aligned with the real needs of the industries in the regions were the campuses are located. What is also needed in meaningful feedback from employers of people employing the output of the CCs.

Cost controls also need to become meaningful inputs to the running of these "institutions". Increased use of distance learning, would help to reduce costs. Seeing the CCs as "employment engines" .. is a practice that needs to be turned around quickly.

Even though it's clear that CCs need reforming, this will be a less than successful proposition until the K-12's are reformed.

Like this comment
Posted by Paul
a resident of Downtown North
on Nov 1, 2010 at 1:11 pm

The usual elitism. Ignore it.

Like this comment
Posted by Kenneth Agle
a resident of Portola Valley
on Nov 1, 2010 at 1:37 pm

If I understand these numbers correctly, 3.4% of the Foothill student body moves on to a CSU or UC school yearly, 2.8% move on to a "private" institution, 2.3% get Associate of Arts degrees (and that constitutes double counting as many of the AA's move on to other institutions), and about 1/2 of 1% get certificates each year! And Foothill is one of the better community colleges in California? These numbers are just appalling.

However, from my direct experience with Canada College over a couple of years, I am not too surprised. Those who point to K-12 as the place to "remediate" this educational failure have the right idea but not the whole picture: students at Canada did not show up to class on time, they did not do the course work, they showed no respect for instructors or other students.

In short, by their attitude they are ill equipped for further education, for work, or for life. This cannot be corrected by remedial education in the post high school years.

Partly, this failure is the result of how the CC system works: emphasis is put on numbers attending and so administrators speak of "product" and "customers" and do not have the backbone to enforce necessary discipline in school - which is the same discipline, by the way, which is required in the work place and in life.

Like this comment
Posted by paly parent
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Nov 1, 2010 at 4:38 pm

The thing that confuses me about CC's in California is that an associates degree from a California community college does not allow you to transfer to a California University as a Junior. Many parts of the country, kids (often for financial reasons) do their Freshman and Sophomore year at a CC and then transfer to a State University. For the most part, all of their credits transfer. Some states even go so far as to certify their high school teachers as college professors. Then when they teach an honors level (not just AP) class, the student gets not only high school but college credit.

We should be using our ed dollars a lot more efficiently. And charging a lot more for both our Community Colleges and the CU system.

Like this comment
Posted by Paul
a resident of Downtown North
on Nov 1, 2010 at 5:00 pm

"If I understand these numbers correctly, 3.4% of the Foothill student body moves ... "

The important thing to understand is there are lies, damned lies, and statistics (hardly original, but as applicable as ever). You can prove anything with statistics, e.g., there is a very significant positive correlation between shoe size and reading ability. Therefore, would giving our students really big shoes make them expert readers?

It has also been asserted that, if all students who fell asleep in statistics class were laid end to end, they'd be more comfortable. Go figure.

Like this comment
Posted by Chris Kenrick, Palo Alto Weekly Staff Writer
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Nov 1, 2010 at 5:11 pm

Paly Parent,

Foothill offers a Transfer Admission Guarantee program that guarantees participating students admission to certain public and private four-year institutions -- including most of the UCs -- if they achieve specific course requirements and GPA levels. See Web Link

Like this comment
Posted by paly parent
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Nov 1, 2010 at 8:49 pm

Chris - thanks, I realize that kids can transfer. But in many/most other states you have an associates degree in addition to being able to transfer, both have value. And the set of requirements for the associates is consistent, not a different set of classes that varies from school to school.

Like this comment
Posted by Senior Mom
a resident of Menlo Park
on Nov 1, 2010 at 9:46 pm

I am very disappointed that so many don't seem to understand the different constituencies the community colleges serve. There are many programs for a veterinarian technician or dental assistant. Then there are many workers who need to upgrade their skills to keep the job they have (think computer people learning about the internet ten or fifteen years ago). There are older people who are making a career change. There are people who realize they are in dead-end jobs and recognize that they need a degree to advance. There are single mothers (or mothers whose kids are grown) who want to acquire skills to get a job. Their are older people who are taking a course for enrichment (say a class on Shakespeare). There are kids who have to work to pay their way (even at Foothill, which costs much less that a 4-year university/college). I am currently taking a class in lip reading at Foothill; there are many seniors with hearing problems not completely corrected by hearing aids. Foothill is the only place I am aware of that has such a class in the mid-peninsula.

Second, as I learned to my surprise, there are many smart people who either never understood or have forgotten whatever math classes they took in high school. They may be brilliant in other areas (English, history, etc.) First of all, everyone who passes a high school test doesn't necessarily know why they use a particular method for a particular kind of problem and forget the method as soon as they pass the test covering it. There are older people who hated math in high school, have depended on calculators since graduating and have forgotten how to do long division. I tutored people in the Math My Way program and was impressed with how it is set up to meet the needs of many different kinds of people. Work is divided into units and students are placed in the unit where they start having difficulty. People move at their own pace, so all students are not in the same unit even when they started together. This is a three pronged approach. First, there is a very good book tailored for this program from which most of the homework is assigned. Second, there are lectures where students can ask questions and get help with the homework. There are also worksheets. All work is graded and any problems that are not correct must be corrected. Third, there is a computer program (Alex) which provides more drill. The student can move back in the program to review, but this program tracks with the units and the computer won't let the student proceed until he's completed every exercise correctly. Most students are motivated to move through the program as quickly as possible, while others continue to struggle and just take more time. There is no credit transferable from Math My Way.

The UC and CSU systems work with Foothill to decide which courses will be accepted for college credit; students are informed of these decisions both by counselors and by the course descriptions. Many students will have reasons for wanting to take at least some classes where there won't be credits given; a person in engineering may want to take a specialized computer class e.g. PL/SQL for Oracle databases.

I believe that some of the teachers at Foothill are better than some I had at Stanford. My sister took classes at Foothill and then transferred to San Jose State. She also thought the Foothill instructors were better.

Like this comment
Posted by Reform-The-CCs
a resident of Evergreen Park
on Nov 2, 2010 at 7:49 am

Education is unbelievably expensive--given the uncapped salaries and benefits that the current system offers, as well as the insatiable demand for buildings and facilities. For the most part, education has become nothing more than an employment engine for about 1M people directly employed by government in California, and (no doubt) hundreds of thousands of contractors, consultants, and part-timers, whose compensation is much harder to track.

Distance learning is one way that California can meet the need of students, without having to provide the very expensive infrastructure, and pensions (which are likely to overwhelm governmental budgets for decades to come).

The LAO (Legislative Analyst's Office) has issued the following paper that recommends that California begin to use Distance Learning more effectively than it has in the past:
Web Link

The report released by the legislative analyst’s office recommended that the state legislature adopt a shared standard of course offerings among community colleges and public universities and establish statewide grants to create an online curriculum repository. It also suggested developing a course-exchange partnership with Western Governors University, a Utah-based nonprofit online institution.

Community Colleges are not living up to their original mission. It's way past time for California to reform this multi-billion dollar boondoggle.

Like this comment
Posted by Paul
a resident of Downtown North
on Nov 2, 2010 at 12:54 pm

"I am very disappointed that so many don't seem to understand the different constituencies the community colleges serve."

They either don't care to understand because they only want an excuse to criticize for the sake of criticizing, or they don't like some (or all) of the constituencies the community colleges serve. For many it's both.

Like this comment
Posted by Reform-The-CCs
a resident of Evergreen Park
on Nov 2, 2010 at 6:22 pm

> They either don't care to understand because they only want an
> excuse to criticize for the sake of criticizing, or they don't \like
> some (or all) of the constituencies the community colleges serve

Read the performance reports for the CCs and then you'll understand the basis for criticism. The CCs budget is 50%-60% of the combined CSU and CAL systems. What do they actually produce for that vast sum of money?

There is nothing wrong with being critical if your concerns are based in fact.

Like this comment
Posted by CC Dean
a resident of another community
on Nov 3, 2010 at 6:15 am

CC naysayers: Paste the following into your browser and read about what is happening in Texas.

Web Link

Like this comment
Posted by paly parent
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Nov 3, 2010 at 7:54 am

the need for remedial education is a reflection on the K-12 system (whether its Texas, California or any other state) not the community colleges.

Sorry, but further commenting on this topic has been closed.

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