There's a lot to like in the educational reform proposals swirling around the Capitol these days.
At Governor Malloy's urging, the legislative spotlight is shining brightly on the topic's many meaningful conundrums — How does one of the richest and best educated states in the nation produce an appalling 'achievement gap' in its K-12 system? Why do so many high school graduates lack the basic math and reading skills to do even community college course work? How, in a state with a crying need for skilled labor, do we produce so few interested in developing the math and science skills that will land them jobs?
For the business community, the interest lies in assuring we, as a society, produce the next generation of workers with the skills required by an increasingly global economy.
There are a lot of battles to be fought before we have meaningful progress along that road. But a proposal to allow community college students to opt out of remedial classes seems counterproductive.
For years, as a society, we've bent over backward to acknowledge the uniquely individual aspects of each situation. We have strained to retrain rather than dismiss. We have constructed alternative approaches in search of a way to find a spark. And there are shining examples of how these extra steps worked for some individuals. What we haven't done is stood strong and said, 'If your math and reading skills don't reach this bar, you can't go forward.'
In the interest of not hurting anyone's self-esteem, our schools have favored the social pass. And the resulting carnage has piled up at the doors of the community college system, where an estimated 80 percent of incoming students need remedial help with the basics of math and language.
These remedial classes eat up a disproportional share of the resources at the community college system. Statistics cited at a recent legislative hearing show just one in eight students who take remedial classes graduate with a two-year degree within four years. Taking remedial classes takes too long and saps the will of the poorly prepared students, the logic goes. So let's just not require them to do the remedial work.
The academic side of the house is standing tall, saying remedial classes are the only way to go until our high schools clean up their act and start graduating students who really are ready for college.
The politicians, however, see it differently. Perhaps they're sensing the prevailing populist wind when they argue everybody deserves a chance to compete. And they do. Of course making sure they have a chance to clear the bar would be preferable to lowering the bar, yet that seems to be the subtext of the conversation.
The situation is a microcosm of society's ills. The students correctly think because they have a high school diploma, they are ready for the next level. They're young and don't understand what's needed to compete in the 'real' world. Politicians shouldn't be so easily fooled.
The existing system leaves the community college system to deliver a nasty life lesson — take the extra time to learn or fail now. The alternative of lowering the standards is worse, further delaying that lesson.
As a society, we've let too much slide. This seems the place to make a stand for achievement, not attendance.
We look forward to the day when remedial classes are unnecessary. And we're rooting for the legislature to accomplish the kind of thorough overhaul that makes the K-12 system more effective. But until we have proof that high school graduates can actually read and calculate at a high level, those remedial courses are the best bet for developing students who will have a meaningful future in the 21st Century economy.