LearningWorks Report Advances Instructional Redesign for Remedial Education

Oakland, California (EastBayDaily) — LearningWorks has released a new monograph outlining a set of core principles and practices for redesigning remediation in English and Math in community colleges. Addressing an important gap in the dialogue about college completion, the report, Toward a Vision of Accelerated Curriculum and Pedagogy, goes beyond discussions of curricular structure to focus on how faculty can support students with widely varying backgrounds and skill levels to be successful in an accelerated environment.

Authored by community college teachers Katie Hern and Myra Snell, the report advocates a significant break from traditional models of remediation, where students often work on decontextualized sub-skills, such as completing grammar exercises or reviewing a long list of arithmetic and algebra procedures from their prior schooling. “We don’t believe that the basics should be separated out and front-loaded before students can tackle more challenging – and frankly, more interesting – tasks,” writes Hern. “Instead, we believe under-prepared students need practice with college-level skills, content, and ways of thinking. They need to reason their way through open-ended questions on topics that matter. They need to think. And if, along the way, we see that they are weak in some of the basics, we need to build in targeted support.”

The instructional principles come from Hern and Snell’s work with 42 community colleges who have participated in the California Acceleration Project (CAP), a state-funded initiative of the California Community Colleges’ Success Network (3CSN). CAP’s free year-long professional development program, requires colleges to reduce students’ time in remediation by one or more semesters. Early results suggest the approach is working. Of 12 colleges offering accelerated courses, completion of college-level courses was 1.5x higher among accelerated English students and 3.3X higher among accelerated math students than in the traditional curriculum, according to preliminary results from a study by the Research and Planning Group.

Nationwide, community colleges are losing more than 90% of the students who begin in remedial courses three or more levels below college math, and these students are disproportionately under-represented students of color. Our current approach to remedial education is, according to Uri Treisman, professor of math and of public affairs at the University of Texas at Austin, “Old Testament bad, rivers of blood bad.” In conjunction with initiatives like Complete College America and the Gates-funded Completion by Design, states across the country are implementing significant changes to meet President Obama’s goals for increasing college completion rates. “There has been a lot of emphasis on how the structure of remediation needs to change to improve student completion. The evidence is clear that requiring students to complete multiple semesters of remedial courses is just not working,” says Linda Collins, Executive Director of LearningWorks. “But if community colleges are going to redesign this system, they need to think about not only curricular structure, but about how faculty are teaching.”

“Teaching accelerated courses has changed my outlook on student capacity,” says Caroline Minkowski, an English Instructor at City College of San Francisco who participated in CAP in 2012-13. “I learned to trust in students’ ability to handle challenges and tackle meaningful academic work. With support and scaffolding, students who place three levels below transfer are able to read college-level, full-length texts; write source-based, argumentative synthesis essays; and develop informed perspectives on complex issues.”

About LearningWorks LearningWorks is a non-profit organization based in Oakland, California that facilitates, disseminates and funds practitioner-informed recommendations for changes at the community college system and classroom levels, infusing these strategies with statewide and national insights. LearningWorks strives to strengthen community college achievement in California, and thereby throughout the nation.

Katie Hern and Myra Snell are Co-Founders of the California Acceleration Project (CAP). In partnership with the California Community College’s 3CSN, and the Walter S. Johnson Foundation, they support community college faculty across California to teach redesigned accelerated courses in English and math. Hern, an English Instructor at Chabot College, has conducted extensive research into her department’s longstanding accelerated course. Snell, Professor of Mathematics at Los Medanos College, developed Path2Stats, one of the first programs in the country to offer students an accelerated alternative to the 3-4 semester remedial algebra sequence. Hern and Snell speak nationally on the subject of accelerated remediation, and their work has been featured in Inside Higher Education, Diverse Issues in Higher Education, Change, and the New York Times.


Linda Collins