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K. Lloyd Billingsley - Contributor
[Courtesty of Pacific Research Institute]

K. Lloyd Billingsley is Editorial Director for the Pacific Research Institute and has been widely published on topics including on popular culture, defense policy, education reform, and many other current policy issues. [go to Billingsley index]

More Evidence of California's Education Failure
Self esteem and social promotion bottleneck state colleges…
[K. Lloyd Billingsley] 2/13/04

The latest remediation figures bring more evidence that California's K-12 education system is failing and that current attempts to fix the problem are not working.

The 23-campus Cal State University system draws students from the top 33 percent of California's high-school graduates - the best and the brightest. But for years, according to one report, the students who require remedial work in math and English have outnumbered those who do not. Note that the subjects in question are not physics or science. English and math are basic subjects that top-drawer students should master, but they don't.

Nearly half of incoming students in the CSE system, 48 percent, need remedial courses in English. In fall of 2002 it was 49 percent.

At Cal State Sacramento 45 percent of freshmen need remedial math, a marked increase from last year's 41 percent. And 55 percent of incoming students need remedial work in English, the same percentage as last year. By any standard, these figures are not acceptable.

Allison G. Jones, CSU assistant vice chancellor for academic affairs, blames students who come from homes where English is not the primary language. But that is a very weak argument. Jones conceded to reporters that the sense was that CSU would "never get enough money from the state to deal with this." Officials, in turn, admitted that the millions spent preparing K-12 students have yielded disappointing results.

Once CSU students are enrolled in remedial courses, they usually reach proficiency in one year. Roughly 40 percent of them, in other words, lag a full year behind. Their K-12 education has not prepared them for college. Remember that this is the top one third of students. English and math proficiency among the other 66 percent of high-school seniors can hardly be stellar. The reasons for this failure have nothing to do with the language spoken in the home.

It was only in 1998 that Californians voted to abolish bilingual education, but the ill effects of that misguided practice may still affect many students. A deeper problem is social promotion. The current system advances students to the next grade regardless of whether or not they have grasped the material. The reasoning seems to be that holding them back would not make them feel good about themselves.

Self-esteem, as it happens, is linked to a student's effort and achievement. It cannot be simply given away by administrators or teachers, competent or otherwise, and any self-esteem from social promotion is strictly temporary. When the students hit college or the workplace, the game is up and the failure can no longer be concealed.

It is not the job of higher education to duplicate work that should have been done in high school, and it is not the job of taxpayers to subsidize it. The Cal State bosses want freshmen proficiency rates of 90 percent by 2007. The figure should be 100 percent, and there are ways to achieve it.

Legislators should ban social promotion, increase standards, boost teacher quality, and lengthen the school year. The high-school exit exam, recently cancelled, should also be restored, strengthened, and enforced. This will extend accountability to the students.

Meanwhile, the Cal State system and state Department of Education should reveal how many of the remedial students were recipients of Cal Grants.

copyright 2004 Pacific Research Institute




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