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The Right Place for Remedial Education

In an ideal world, all students accepted at college would be prepared to handle the work.  But the reality is that too many students are being admitted with significant deficits that are identified by an assessment test ("Colleges Rethink Remedial Education to Get Students on Course to Graduation," The Wall Street Journal, Sep. 28). Once placed in noncredit classes, they soon become discouraged and fail to go on to graduate. That's why I maintain that remedial education followed by a trade school would better serve them.

Nevertheless, several states next fall will allow such students to concurrently take basic-skills classes with college-level classes.  The hope is that this approach will keep motivation high by allowing students to see the connection between their remedial classes and their other classes.  The question is whether this innovation will be successful.  On paper, it makes sense.  But I wonder if it is fair.  I say that because professors will be forced to adjust their instruction to the lowest common denominator.   That may be acceptable at community colleges, where nearly two-thirds of students are placed in at least one remedial class.  But I don't think that four-year colleges are the proper place.

I realize that Colorado, Indiana, Tennessee and West Virginia have reported higher pass rates.  But at what price?  Students in regular classes will be shortchanged by the presence of their peers who are simultaneously taking remedial classes.  Don't they have a reasonable expectation that the instruction they receive is truly college-level?  Yet what is happening is only going to get worse because we persist in the fiction that college is for everyone. 

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The opinions expressed in Walt Gardner's Reality Check are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.

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