Friday, April 1, 2011

On the demise of remedial education

The CCC administration has pounded long and hard on the issue of remedial education. We have reported on how Chancellor Hyman, not long after taking over the reigns of the CCC, blurted out during August 2010 that the she wanted to severely curtail remedial education— and that the strong rejection of these plans by the faculty, because it would end one century of open enrollment at the CCC, compelled her and her crew to publicly back off, at least for a while.

They came up with a different formulation: that they were going to study the issue, that it was going to be submitted to the famous Task Forces for research and recommendations. On the meantime they have continued their agenda of promoting this remedial education cutback behind the scenes. Furthermore, they had the editorial board of the Chicago Tribune endorsing this cutback.

Unfortunately this has had an effect even on sectors of the faculty who have begun to doubt the historical mission of the CCC and the responsibility that we all have toward all students that are rejected by the rest of higher education because the Chicago Public Schools (CPS) failed them, or because they are immigrants, etc.

Recently, on March 2011, a faculty member circulated a link to a New York Times article about remedial education ( The faculty member quoted from the article and added some comments:

“The article states, “A recent nationwide study that followed community college freshmen over six years found that only 35 percent earned any sort of degree.” As instructors and advisers, how should we address statistics such as these with our students? How do we encourage students to continue pursuing their goals while still being realistic with them about their chances of success?”

This is very ominous. This sounds like an argument for convincing students that they should give up, but that we should tell it to them softly. This is preposterous.

  1. These students have their significant delays in math and reading/writing because the City and CPS failed them. It is the responsibility of the City to make them full. The City must develop a structure to fully support these students, at the City’s cost (currently pre-credit students have to pay for their pre-credit courses because financial aid does not cover it), not only by assuming the total cost of the remedial education, but also by offering additional resources to these students in the form of financial aid, childcare aid, etc. (i.e., social services) that will ease their burden and give them a better chance of overcoming their academic deficiencies. It is at this point that these students will be better equipped and more self-confident to take on a college-level academic load. But the administration agenda is geared to either convincing the students to quit, even before they start, or to discard them early in the process. That is why the Chicago Tribune, the major business paper in town, loves it.
  2. Going along with the first and foremost goal of the Reinvention (degrees and programs of “economic value”) any student that after so many years has not concluded a degree, even if they have approved a series of college courses, is a failure and they have gained nothing of value. This is dead wrong, on only acquires meaning (very grotesque) under the business-model criterion of “economic value.” Recently, an officer of the American Association of University Professors (AAUP), and an emeritus and still active professor at a Research-1 university, while in town, expounded on this issue. To paraphrase him/her: to look at a student and say that after so many years she/he has not finished a degree and conclude that this student has gained nothing is a one-sided mistake; this student has certainly benefited personally from the number of courses taken and has grown intellectually and socially. We cannot negate this added value to this person’s life; the issue cannot be resolved only in economic terms.


  1. Anything of value? I am a product of the City Colleges of Chicago. I am a child of immigrant parents and a first generation college graduate. It took me 11 years to earn my bachelors degree. Throughout that time, I lived life. I got married, had a family, worked, and went to school...all in a variety of combinations that life allowed. Particularly instrumental in this success was the fact that the community college afforded me the opportunity to make this happen. Today, I have earned my Masters Degree and then some and am tenured faculty with the system. My children have never been enrolled in daycare and we live a modest lifestyle where education is a priority. Anyone who reports the system being a failure is off their rocker! Not everyone is "college bound" and "traditional" and quite frankly, why would everyone want to be? Just my two cents...

  2. In defense of my colleague (who certainly doesn't need me to defend her), it is important to remember that asking a question is not the same thing as making an argument. Considering possible positions, even those that are impolitic or outrageous, is not the same as endorsing any of them.

    It is not ominous to ask a question, I would argue, but it is a little irresponsible to go from the asking of a question to a presumption about what the asker's beliefs on the issue at hand might be.

    The asking of questions, and a thorough consideration of all of the possible answers is, I would argue, an aspect of intellectual responsibility. It is the casting of aspersion on anyone who would engage in genuine, unfettered inquiry, I would argue, that is ominous.

  3. Oops. I meant to add that, the above notwithstanding, I find your argument in this post to be a compelling one, PEARL and one with which I agree.

  4. PhiloDave,

    You do have to remember that there is a specific political climate in which any question is asked. In the current climate of overt attacks against remedial education, to pose the question in the way it was posed, "How do we encourage students to continue pursuing their goals while still being realistic with them about their chances of success?,” is at the very least naive or at worst insinuates a particular agenda. This is what worried us, that the question wasn't further qualified, leaving itself open to be used as a wedge by the administration. It may as well have been followed by a question such as "Or is this the way we might like to inquire about this sensitive subject?."

    We have to understand that what we say publicly and how we construct such discourse is very important these days. Imagine a well-intentioned person who wanted to oppose lynching in the Jim Crow south asking the question: Is lynching the better way to respond to crimes committed by blacks?" I don't need to describe the kind of commotion that this would have generated within many circles in the 1960s...

    Anyway, our intention was not to mischaracterize this person's individual opinions regarding this subject, and we apologize if any of our statements seemed to indicate so.