High Remediation Rates Mean Paying Twice for Learning

Posted by Nikhil Swaminathan

The AP has a disconcerting story that illustrates just how poorly prepared public school students are for college. According to Department of Education numbers, more than 30 percent of students entering American colleges require remedial training in at least one subject—in community colleges, it's more like 40 percent. Students forced into remedial classes are much more likely to drop out of college.

The cost of remedial education ends up being passed onto the taxpayer, who ends up paying twice to teach a student a particular subject. (That fact is less important than the human impact of failing to prepare students for college-level work, but monetary arguments are often better for prompting change.) According to the AP story:

The price of providing remedial training is costly. The Alliance for Excellent Education estimates the nation loses $3.7 billion a year because students are not learning basic needed skills, including $1.4 billion to provide remedial education for students who have recently completed high school.

Recently, I had an opportunity to chat with Kati Haycock, president of the advocacy organization Education Trust, which focuses most of its work on closing achievement gaps that leave low-income and minority students behind. The problem of remediation and college- and career-readiness was a big topic of our chat, especially in light of the new Common Core State Standards proposed by the National Governors Association in March. Here's what Haycock said:

The basic goal here, especially on the college side of college- and career-ready, is to have higher education agree that the new "proficient" means ready to begin credit-bearing work in college without the need for remediation. The ultimate test of that is: Will higher education use these assessments as their assessment of college readiness and not retest students with another test to throw them into remedial courses?

As Haycock emphasized, ending remediation will require colleges and K-12 educators to be on the same page with regard to what level of reading, writing, and mathematics is necessary for success in higher education.

The bonus is that doing so will save us all some money.

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