Are Remedial Classes At City Colleges Too Elementary?

CHICAGO (CBS) — It was a hot topic in Thursday’s mayoral debate: how community college students are dropping out in droves because they are not prepared for higher learning.

It’s a real concern at City Colleges of Chicago, CBS 2’s Kristyn Hartman reports.

The City Colleges lose more than 50 percent of their degree-seeking students in their first 15 credit hours — some out of frustration because they have to play catch up.

English instructor Kamilah Sanders says some of her students who completed K-12 can’t put a sentence together.

“It blew my mind that these students had gone to high school,” she says.

They wind up in remediation — courses designed to bring them to college level. But some of the final-exam material seems oriented to grade-schoolers.

“So many students are not college-ready,” concedes Cheryl Hyman, chancellor of City Colleges of Chicago.

Sanders says students have told her all they had to do in high school was show up and they would be passed. That makes her angry, she says.

Once those high school grads get to college, they have to spend tuition money on material they were supposed to have covered.

Of the 2,700 Chicago Public Schools graduates who enrolled at City Colleges last fall, 72 percent needed reading remediation. It was 88 percent for English and 92 percent for math.

“I have to make sure they know the basics or I’m setting them up for failure,” Hyman said.

How does she help students master the material and move them along faster?

She has a task force looking into that very question. It’s part of her reinvention campaign to make sure more students get the associate’s degree they are seeking.

“I know we can do better, even given the challenges we have,” Hyman said.

Right now, just 7 percent of City Colleges students earn that degree. Comparable urban facilities have higher completion rates.

One of the chancellor’s goals is better communication with high schools so preparation happens before college.

  • Ted Wiecek

    I agree with the young man who blames himself. I teach math at one of the city colleges. So many, if not most, of my students say that they didn’t pay attention in high school; that they whatever they were taught didn’t sink in.

    • Valorie Franklin

      I think it would help students if city colleges focused on developing and supporting consistent instructors instead of having such a revolving door of faculty. In addition, focus on instruction should be equal to submitting a tenure project. Given the various types of students seeking college education , it is possible that the perception of the student was to just show up. The reality may not be that the student did not apply themselves to learn but did just enough to get by.
      It is understood the CPS has gone through some transitions and some students may have fallen between the cracks, however how much has this falling been promoted by the attitude of the student?

      I would love to be part of the reinvention program?

  • Tom G, Chicago

    I agree with Ted, Students- Bstudents in K-12 who study, ilike B students who get some help from AVID tutoring or other programs are the heroes( they do most of the work and get some help) to prepare for work/trade/bachelors degree are ones to learn from. I agree with Gery Chico that city colleges were more robust in 90’s.

    Heroes are teachers – teachers that some kids like and others don’t that do hard job every day. Heroes are parents, guardians, tias, and abuelas/grandparents who make sure their kids are learning at CPS- like Carol Moseley Braun said. Chicago needs a sustainable mix for business and families. Heroes are those guardians and parents of their kids who decide to sacrifice and exercise choice(after school tutoring to supplement CPS and other school, private schools like Salem)

    City colleges and community colleges in Chicago, Des Plaines, Skokie, River Grove, Palos Hills should be complementing options for students in Chicago- and they are.

    Other heroes are students who realize the opportunity they have and study at Lane Tech and other schools across Chicago. Other heroes are students who establish linkages between New Trier and South Side of Chicago.

    I don’t agree with Carol Moseley Braun in capping Charters. And I don’t agree with Rahm Emmanuel in going gung-ho for Charters. He lives in DC and his children attend private school. Look at DC- the mayor andschool exec lost their jobs to insure good education for students. Chicago can learn from what worked in DC and what works in Boston andNY. You don’t have to be world class by living in DC. You can really listen and talk with some one there.

    You can’t manage education or job or business facilitation, as mayor by calling everyone into your office. That is not sustainable. China President invites Walter Payton HS and invites those in. on same day, China President mentions strong Chicago brand companies like Motorola and on same day in Wall Street Journal, China is blocking Motorola from entering Chinese market in certain sectors and in competition with Motorola

    I also agree that Gery Chico agreed with Miguel Del valle about development courses and that community organizations can do a better job than city colleges in some aspects. New solutions- where CPS, trade programs,other schools(including home school co-ops), City Colleges, surronding community colleges, and key feeders of Bachelors degrees for transfering can be brought into mix. I think the debate was great last night, I think all 4 candidates have something to say. I think 3 really get the composition mix to sustain for jobs and business environment and dfamilies. And I think 1 is a Chicago original, who can model and implement for Chicago, who has experience with budgets and really listening.

  • Kesha

    Why is the finger is being pointed at Community Colleges and not at the high Schools that failed to educate these students. If the student didn’t pay attention in high schoold then they shouldn’t have passed. Why do they allowed students to move on when they can’t even write a complete sentence. It’s just wrong ! Before we start to judge the colleges failer to educate we must first look at what they are gving to starting with; students who should never have been allowed to graduate from high school.

  • cd

    The student’s first teacher(s) are the parent(s). Why is it the school system’s, (K-12 or College), fault when students do not achieve minimum standards. Are parents to blame also for not mandating students come to school and learn? We can point fingers at one another forever; this will not change the crisis we are now facing. Everyone needs to do their part to help solve this crisis, or it will not only continue, it will get worse.

  • Joe

    It’s just kind of sad that a news article on literacy is riddled with grammatical errors.

  • Gayle

    Seeing that I’ve been out of college for about seventeen years, I needed the remedial Intcomm100 course to help me reflect on what I’ve forgotten. With the many students who are years out of high school or returning to college to pursue a …different career, remedial courses are just the ticket to getting our feet wet prior to college-level courses. I am also one of the few mentally disabled students on our campus who might need remedial courses for similar reasons previously stated. The content found within Intcomm100 (remedial English) is very similar to the topics I’m learning now in my English 102 class–Chapter 1. Remedial courses also help prepare new High School graduates for getting acclimated to the college workload and lending them a refresher course in what they’ve learned and new information they may not have received or retained during their high school studies.

    There’s a big difference between a “community” college versus a “University.” Community colleges have traditionally offered remedial courses nationwide. Eliminating remedial courses would mean financial hardships for those who do not meet…… entrance standards for English or Math because such students would have to pay out of pocket to enroll in private courses. While this may be affordable to some, it may not to others–especially those who receive financial aid. Furthermore, it might discourage some students from attending City Colleges or college altogether. Some students might seek to pursue their education elsewhere while others might give up. It was hard for me to return to college, and I’ll venture to bet that it is also difficult for others–especially those who are single parents, disabled, veterans, displaced workers, etc. If I were to vote, I’d say keep the remedial courses in community colleges and keep the national tradition of having affordable community colleges available to serve their community by offering a chance to the underprivileged. “No child left behind”–Well, children grow up, and as adults, they need a second chance at not being left out or forgotten.

    Didn’t anyone hear President Obama’s “State of the Union” speech? Obama introduced a 55 year-old woman who was a factory worker and is now returning to college to pursue a career in Bio-tech (of some fashion). Now I’m sure that she might …have needed some remedial courses prior to attending her college-level courses based on the premise that she was previously a factory worker who might not have had a chance at higher education. President Obama stressed the importance of education and highlighted the community colleges as one avenue to meet such goals. Restricting or rescinding the remedial courses in community colleges would take away from the benefits of such students as the 55 year old woman stated above or me–the 36 year-old woman–who value the opportunity to attend college. I’m sure Obama’s speech will greatly influence others who have given up or think they’re too old to learn new tricks. Removing remedial courses would only lend to discourage and not promote higher education.

  • Bullfighter

    Parents and children do not appreciate the public education because it is FREE. Charge tuition and watch the difference in scores.

  • Mano

    College is for college students not elementary type. First don’t blame students, but the CPS system and Daley politics where non educators head education system.

  • J

    I teach this type of course at one of the City Colleges and I too am sometimes disappointed in the high school educations my students have received, but the beauty of the City Colleges is that we don’t turn anyone away. I’m not interested in who is to blame for their lack of development. I’m interested in helping them develop from this point forward. My philosophy is that everyone can learn and that everyone has something to contribute to the class.

    The article seems to hint that the CCC remedial courses set the bar too low. I don’t believe in making the final essay exams easier just to get higher “passing” statistics and I don’t believe that is happening at any CCC, but I feel I should explain that, yes, sometimes the in-class work uses lower-level texts. This is because we are teaching the thought processes and strategies that are at work during skillful reading. Teaching those reading strategies is much more effective when the reader isn’t struggling with every other word in the text. This is a commonly used “scaffold” to help students work their way up to dealing with more sophisticated texts (like the ones used in final essay exams), as well as integrating vocabulary and text structure lessons. It’s easy to misunderstand and say that this is “teaching to the lowest common denominator”, but it isn’t. On the contrary, it’s just plain smart teaching.

    The most difficult question I hear, and hear often, from students is “Why didn’t they just teach me that in high school?” I have no answer for them.

  • Ross

    Does anyone know how one can obtain a copy of this segment (video)?

  • Tom G, Chicago

    I agree with BullDog. Public education is often taken for granted. But, the quality of public education also affects education quality of private schools, charter schools, community organizations, and after school tutoring.

    In some schools, the principal and assistant principal are also instrumental. I remember some people were pleased with the job Paul Vallas did and others were not. There is always going to be some mix of tension among school leaders like at the Paul Vallas level, principals, assistant principals and teachers to better serve the parents and children.

    Some organizations/businesses emphasize the customer first, and others make the employees first(which serves the customers)- perhaps both are sustainable models to better improve education of K-12 Schools? This may lead to better opportunities for students choosing work, trade school, Bachelor’s degree(for example in Boston, NYC, Chicago, Evanston, or Champaign), or community college and city colleges after K-12.

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