Remedial College Courses and Real Problems

From a recent discussion on the Concerned4DCPS list about a recent NYT article on the numbers of students taking remedial courses at the college level. I have taken the opportunity to revise and extend my remarks. If you want to read these in chronological order, start at the bottom.


(From me:)

More on Advanced Placement Tests, 1955-2011

Last post, we looked at the total number of students taking Advanced Placement exams since 1955.

What about pass rates? Are more kids taking them but flunking them?

In a few places, that may be true, especially schools that are trying to do well on Jay Mathews’ fairly short-sighted ‘Challenge Index’. But look for yourself at the graph below, which shows how many students get scores of 3, 4, or 5 (passing)  on their exams and how many get scores of 1 or 2 (not passing). This graph only goes back to 1991, because that’s all that I could find on The College Board website.

passing + failing numbers of AP exams 1991-2011


I present the pass rates next as a percentage, rather than the absolute numbers.  In general, pass rates are declining a bit, but not tremendously. It would be better if the pass rates were bit higher, but consider this:

If a test is really rigorous, as these tests are, NOT EVERYBODY IS GOING TO SUCCEED.

Remember: neither you nor I would probably be able to pass the AP Chemistry test unless we happened to be an AP Chemistry teacher.

Nor could we succeed at being on ANY national Olympic Decathlon team, to pick a sport at random!

pass rates on AP exams 1991-2011


Once again, my point is this: despite all the problems that they really do have, and despite all the pressures and attacks on American public schools they are, in fact, doing some things much better than ever before, despite everything.

And it’s taken a lot of hard work by professionally trained and experienced teachers and administrators, with support from families and local school boards, to accomplish this.

Neither Bill Gates, Michelle Rhee, Wendy Kopp, nor Arne Duncan attended public schools. At best, they don’t know what they are talking about. At worst, they are trying to destroy American public education completely.

Rhee’s Legacy and the Future of Education in DCPS

Rhee’s presence was extremely divisive here in DC, largely along class and racial lines. Many wealthy whites thought she was wonderful, because they thought she was ‘reforming’ a corrupt, incompetent, black-run and black-staffed school system, and because they saw her replacing black veteran teachers, staff members, and administrators with brand-new, young white and Asian replacements. (I am not exaggerating.)

Of course, very very few of the white population have kids in DC public schools – and even fewer in the charter schools, so they don’t really know what’s going on in side the majority of schools. However, they did notice that many of the schools in mostly-white areas of DC got physical makeovers — not because of Rhee, but because of moves that were made before her arrival — and attributed those improvements to Rhee anyway.

Not surprisingly, most hispanics and african-americans in DC saw her in starkly different terms, as did almost all teachers (old or new); even the new TFA types found themselves being labeled (libeled) as part of the problem after a month or so on the job. The current local and national leadership of the teachers’ union completely caved in to Rhee’s demands.

The fact is, however, that in terms of actual teaching and learning, especially on the secondary level, it’s still a nightmare in most of DCPS. Teachers are still forced to pass students regardless of actual school attendance rates, homework completion, or passing of teacher-made tests; student absenteeism at the HS level is astronomical and completely unchecked by administrators; there is exactly zero support for teachers in the areas of student discipline or having a coherent curriculum; and teachers feel enormous pressure to teach entirely to the local NCLB standardized test.

Teachers of Advanced Placement courses find that students who have absolutely no desire to take the course are enrolled in the courses against their (the students’) will (and of course against the recommendations of teachers who know them); teachers who go to the trouble of making up different versions of a test so as to cut down on cheating are punitively transferred for … expecting that there might be  cheating; and much more. And the statistical manipulation of standardized test scores is phenomenal. A number of my blog entries deal with that.

Another part of Rhee’s legacy has been the phenomenal increase in the proportion of the city’s educational system that is run by charter schools. Thus, we have even less and less of a public school system than ever before, and more and more of little tiny quasi-private entities beholden to no one, with zero public accountability.

Unfortunately, I don’t think that the new DCPS administration will be all that different. The new interim chancellor, Kaya Henderson, was Michelle Rhee’s right-hand-person and spokesperson, and uttered many of the statistical lies of the DCPS administration. She never once gainsaid any of MR’s numerous falsehoods. The presumptive mayor-elect keeps saying he will continue the same type of ‘deforms’, and I unfortunately think he means it.

As far as I can tell, the flogging of teachers will continue until,  miraculously, both morale and student achievement somehow improve. Or until there is yet another uprising of parents, students, and teachers against this monstrous corporate Deform agenda.
%d bloggers like this: