I have been reading a lot lately about remedial education at colleges and universities. Today I found a link on Inside Higher Ed to a report by the New America Foundation on the topic. I know nothing about the organization except what I read quickly on the website, but I went ahead and downloaded that document. In the Executive Summary I found this:
High schools, colleges, and universities have not worked together to establish expectations or common standards as to what students should know and be able to do.
Whoever and whatever this organization is, this seems like a very insightful statement. How can we prepare students for the next level if we don’t know what the next level demands? Could this be the problem, the reason remedial education has become so common in colleges and universities around the country? Would common expectations eliminate the need for remediation?
Of course, there are at least two problems with the statement:
- As educators, we have all been through that “next level”. Don’t we have a fair idea of what it demands?
- Could we not also reasonably expect that the next level should look at what we do at our level and seek to build on it rather than expecting by divine right that students come to us prepared for what we want?
As to the first argument, I can only say that elementary schools have changed since I was in third grade. And high schools have changed since I was a student there. I don’t think I could begin to understand what is going on at those levels unless I were to sit down with a teacher and have her explain it to me. (And actually, of course, I do that on a regular basis.) Even universities are different from when I was doing my undergrad work more than 30 years ago. It would be foolish for me to think I understand what is going on outside of my own little corner of the education world unless I consult with other educators about what is going on in theirs.
The second argument is a harder one to counter except to say that it probably isn’t going to happen. As an ESL instructor at the university level, I have never had a professor ask me what my students are capable of doing when they leave my program. When I have tried to tell them, they don’t seem to comprehend that leaving ESL does not mean their English is not at the level of a native speaker. . They will, in their defense, sometimes offer my former students additional help, but they do not change what they do in any substantive way because my students struggle. I have to tailor my program, to the best of my ability, to prepare my students for what is going to be expected of them when they leave ESL. This means the types of assignments, level of readings, speed of speech, and everything else that forms part of a regular university class.
If we could get educators at all levels would sit down and consult with each other, would that solve the problem? Would it help?