Dr. Stat

Dr. Stat is a Statistics Professor. This blog is his opportunity to share ideas and opinions about education (especially math education), politics, and whatever else comes up.

Monday, March 14, 2005

College, university freshmen lack math, English skills

Sarah Schmidt, The Ottawa Citizen, March 9, 2005:
Ottawa's colleges ... are ... dealing with increasing numbers of ill-prepared freshman students who require remedial classes in everything from English to math. ... the growing gap between expectations and skills is forcing institutions ... to take action.... According to officials at Algonquin College, administrators of the print journalism program don't even bother to look at applicants' grades when reviewing applications. Instead, they admit students who score at least 22 out of 30 on a language diagnostic test that reviews basic grammar and spelling and requires a short writing sample.... No more than two in 10 ... meet the admissions threshold.... schools are dumbing down first-year English courses to include segments on basic grammar, composition and writing skills once reserved for high school classrooms. "The competency level of students coming into our programs has dropped over the years," said Janet Gambrell [of] Sheridan College.... "What we don't want to do is point fingers and blame our high school colleagues, saying, 'Why are you graduating those folks?' "

But why not? Obviously the problems described here are not only applicable to Canada, for the same problem is rampant in the United States. This problem exists largely because we subscribe to two conflicting goals for education, which are, "Everyone should graduate from high school" and "The meaning of a high school diploma should be that a person has achieved a certain level of education." These goals are conflicting because we are unwilling to admit that not everone is capable of achieving that certain level of education, and secondarily, that not even everyone who is capable of achieving it is willing to achieve it. There is a fear that by admitting that not everyone can achieve at a certain level, we will be, in effect, discarding a large class of students, an excessive proportion of which will be minorities. In fact, by denying the truth, we hamper efforts to find real solutions. By hiding the facts that everyone knows, we make it impossible to address and solve problems. So let's admit it and deal with it. Then we can talk about what should be done to get "every child" to succeed. But success must be a meaningful standard, not merely a social promotion. A high school diploma MUST be made to mean that a certain minimum level of skill and knowledge has been gained. Those who cannot attain the standard need an honorable alternative path, which can still lead to success in life without the pressure to perform academically at a level that is not reasonable. This can only happen if strict standards are enforced at various levels in the educational process. Let's bring back the 8th grade diploma, for example. A true eighth grade education is all that is required for a large number of jobs that need to be done by somebody. Why not provide this as an honorable alternative to enter the work force?