FREE NEWSLETTER

Falling Short

Howard Rohleder, 4:02 am ET

I SERVED ON a scholarship committee for a local foundation. We offered awards to college students entering their sophomore year. Our coordinator had the unhappy job of explaining to some students and parents that, even though their students had a full freshman schedule and passed all their classes, they didn’t actually have sophomore standing. How can this be? The answer is remediation.

Almost 24% of entering college freshmen at Ohio universities required remediation in English or math and 6% needed both. What this means is that the student must take remediation classes (and pay tuition for them) and yet get no college credits. The need for remediation is a key indicator that students are less likely to complete their college degree.

Simply put, these students didn’t learn in high school what was minimally necessary to enroll in freshman English or math. After spending several years on a small town’s school board, I’m still trying to figure this out. Who do we hold responsible? There’s no shortage of suspects. I can make a case that it’s the school district’s responsibility, but I also recall the enthusiasm and creativity we saw in our teaching and administrative staffs.

We could blame the victim: You can send a student to school, but you can’t make him or her learn. The students are not (choose your adjective) “motivated,” “disciplined,” “responsible” or “engaged.”

And I certainly have strong feelings about the mandates from the state regarding curriculum, standardized testing, school choice and school “report cards,” which suck up administrative time and attention while detracting from educating students.

In management class, we learn that if something is everyone’s responsibility then it’s effectively no one’s responsibility—and it doesn’t get done. In the end, I put the primary responsibility on parents. An investment truism is that no one cares as much about your money as you do. The same can be said for your children. If you want them to succeed in college, you don’t delegate that responsibility to someone else. Schools have students six hours a day, 180 days per year starting at age six. Parents are there from birth and during all those non-school hours. They also set the priority and expectations for learning. Ways to do this include:

  • Fill your house with books and turn off the screens.
  • Ask questions and show interest in what’s going on academically.
  • Find outside enrichment activities to build on school learning.
  • Support the authority of the teacher.
  • Volunteer in the school.
  • Prioritize academics over sports and extracurriculars.
  • Prioritize school attendance over allowing absences for convenience or vacations.

Parents should be warned: This is clearly a “pay now or pay later” scenario. If parents don’t focus on their child’s performance in kindergarten through 12th grade, they risk paying for it in additional college tuition or, worse, no college degree at all.

Browse the Blog

Subscribe
Notify of
7 Comments
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
Jim Wasserman
Jim Wasserman
1 month ago

Great piece. As a parent and former teacher, I whole-heartedly agree. When my sons were in elementary school, we were asked by a friend how we cajole our kids into doing homework. “I beg, I plead, I offer rewards if he will do the work and not play video games, but I can’t convince him!” she cried. We were stunned and explained to her that we did not present it as a choice to our kids. It was their job like teaching was mine. I’ll finally add that my big advice to parents, similar to yours, was to ask questions and let the child explain what they are doing to you. If you never show you care (or are too busy to), why should your child?

Ginger Williams
Ginger Williams
1 month ago

When I was a high school librarian, I had 10-12 students from each year’s entering class to help with course choices throughout high school. It was a structured program, put in place because the guidance counselor couldn’t individually advise everyone. At every meeting, we reviewed progress, emphasizing that English and math were the two courses you had to pass to be promoted so those should be the first subjects studied if you were struggling. When a student’s parents were paying attention to academics, those meetings lasted 15 minutes. When parents didn’t pay attention, I might spend an hour with a student, discussing grades, priorities for studying when you realized you weren’t going to pass everything, and how to ask teachers for help.

It was heartbreaking to realize how many children get very little parental guidance. At least once a year, a student would bring in a trusted adult, so I could go over the same information with them. The school sent that information to parents, but many of them didn’t understand its importance. Two or three individual meetings a year with a teacher simply can’t replace an adult at home, asking how school went and saying “better study for that math test now so we can play ball later.”

Ormode
Ormode
1 month ago

There are real colleges and pretend colleges. At the pretend colleges, the students play students, and the professors play professors, but everyone is vaguely aware that this is a farce. The “graduates” get jobs as waiters and sales clerks, and the “professors” have a job that pays the rent.
Over at the real colleges, they’re a million miles ahead of everyone else. The graduates become top doctors, lawyers, and CEOs.

R Quinn
R Quinn
1 month ago

Very glad to read this and I agree 100%. Education is a partnership and a joint responsibility between educators, parents and students.

However, I am interested in your view on testing. How can we truly measure the success of the student and the teacher if we don’t objectively evaluate their performance?

Too often I read about opposition to standard testing using the same issue you raise, but that seems to me yet another excuse not to evaluate teacher performance as well. How do we do that fairly?

In a time when politicians are pounding the drum of free college, how do we assure students are actually prepared for college.

I graduated high school in 1961 with a good basic education that served me well. Today the proficiency rate for math in that school is 2% with reading nearly the same. College free or not won’t do most of those students much good.

Howard Rohleder
Howard Rohleder
1 month ago
Reply to  R Quinn

[Note: I only know how this works in Ohio.]
You hit a lot of my favorite topics! When I joined the school board, I figured state report cards were a reasonable way to rank school districts and that student test scores were a good way to evaluate teachers. After talking to school administrators and doing my own independent analysis of state testing data across districts and within our district, I changed my thoughts.
Ohio gives letter grades to schools and school districts based almost 100% on the results of test scores (there is a small factor for attendance). Ohio also has a “third grade reading guarantee” that requires a certain reading proficiency by third grade or else the student is held back for reading. New kindergartners are assessed on their readiness to read at the beginning of the year, before the district has had any impact on them. Forty percent of our kindergartners were not where they needed to be. The superintendent showed me research that showed that nationally some kindergartners were already 2 years behind when they start kindergarten… two years at age six!!. We were a small town district with a broad representation from very poor to very well off. If you looked at wealthy suburban districts with higher socioeconomic representation, they had virtually 100% of kindergartners academically ready to read. At the end of third grade, for most years, we did not have to hold back any students, although their average reading scores trailed the suburban districts. I contend that starting with 40% not ready and ending with all of them proficient enough to advance after third grade is quite an accomplishment compared to starting with 100% ready to read and advancing 100% at the end of third grade. Here is my point: The state’s report card grades districts against a standard. The standard is based on everyone being prepared for college after graduation. It does not account for the fact that not all students should be preparing for college and it does not account for where they started.
Anecdote: We had a Rotary Club that gave every student a dictionary in third grade. Students sent thank you notes. I remember the note where the student said this was the first book she had ever owned. I think of my kids and grandkids who literally had libraries of books when they were born. Who do you suppose was ready to read in Kindergarten?
The result is that if you look across all the districts in Ohio and you plot standardized test performance in a district against the percent of students considered “disadvantaged” (primarily this is the percent qualifying for the free lunch program), you have close to 100% negative correlation: the wealthy districts with the fewest disadvantaged students have the highest test scores. I will go so far as to say you could throw out all testing in Ohio and rank the school districts by income and get virtually the same report card ranking.

To your question, schools and teachers should be given credit for progress made rather than against a standard. We need standards, of course, as something to strive towards. But teachers cannot undo what is happening in the home and should not be penalized when they advance a students performance faster than expected but not up to an arbitrary standard.

You also asked how do we evaluate students? The problem with testing in
Ohio is that, particularly as the students get to middle school and beyond, the testing is measuring their progress against a college prep curriculum. That is helpful for those likely to succeed in college (See my Humble Dollar article on “College or Plan B.”) For everyone else, it is asking the teacher and the student to focus on a curriculum that is not appropriate to the student’s goals. Everyone should be able to read and do math at a certain level, but the student not going to college would be much better off learning about and being tested on basic financial literacy than being evaluated against college prep advanced math.

And, don’t get me started on free college! To me, this just delays the inevitable reckoning. Adolescence is extended for 2-4 more years. Yes, many less than qualified students are getting into college now and not succeeding. Make if free and we will greatly increase that number with no guarantee that they will be any better off. But, as a society, we will all be poorer.

It would be interesting to look at your alma mater with its 2% math proficiency. If you knew the topics being tested, would you agree that it is math appropriate for basic live skills or math appropriate for the college bound? I’m guessing it has a poor socioeconomic profile. Should we be driving all those students to take tests to see if they are ready for college or should we be testing to see if they have basic reading and math life skills? Remember that your answer to the question will drive the curriculum at that school because the administration and teachers will try to teach to maximize their test performance.

R Quinn
R Quinn
1 month ago

My 50 year business career tells me everything needs to be measured to see how you are progressing.

We don’t know which students are going to college or not. When I was in high school there were college prep courses and general courses. College was never mentioned in my house so I took general courses. A few years after being in the workforce I decided to go to college at night. I then found I had to go two years worth of non credit courses to get to credit courses. I tried for one semester became frustrated and gave up.

Only after a couple of years in the army, married with four children did I go back for a degree taking nine years to do so. I got a degree but no useful knowledge.

I recall great teachers in my school years. I was a very average student, but in one area, reading, I excelled testing two to three grades above level. That served me very well.

I worry that without periodic testing a child gets out of high school not ready for college and by then for many it’s too late.

Even if there is no college in their future, one must be proficient in reading and writing and basic math or as we called it arithmetic.I would add basic economics and financial literacy as well. It’s the lack of those skills that get so many people in trouble and taken advantage of. IMO.

Howard Rohleder
Howard Rohleder
1 month ago
Reply to  R Quinn

I agree about measurement. My only point was that if you are a 5th grade teacher and Johnny starts fifth grade reading at grade level 4.1 and you get him to read at grade level 5.6 by the end of the year, you have made 1.5 years progress in one school year. But Johnny is still short of where he should be at 6.0. Were you a success or a failure? This can be extrapolated to schools and districts.

Free Newsletter

SHARE