Last week, the New York Times published an editorial criticizing the nation’s public schools for the rate of remediation courses taken by college students. It relied on a report prepared by Education Reform Now, which is part of Democrats for Education Reform, the advocacy group created by hedge fund managers to push charters, high-stakes testing, and Common Core.



Aside from the partisan advocacy of the funders and sponsors, there are basic questions of fact and interpretation, i.e., spin.



I didn’t go into the underlying study, but others did.



Alan Singer posted a blistering critique and suggested that the editorial writer would not have gotten through middle school with such faulty logic and weak evidence. While the editorial promotes Common Core, it fails the most basic expectations for textual analysis.



He reviewed the numerous flaws in the report and concluded:



“I don’t know if the New York Times considered any of these issues before it endorsed the propaganda report by charter school and testing advocates promoting their political agenda. Apparently the Times editorial team has difficulty when it has to “[d]istinguish among fact, opinion, and reasoned judgment in a text, “ another area where they failed middle school Common Core. Instead of praising colleges for raising standards and providing support so students can reach these standards, the Times and the testing and charter school people take pot shots at public schools. ”



Russ Walsh wrote about what he called “the college remediation course hoax.”



Walsh explains why remedial courses ballooned and how the colleges responded inappropriately.



He writes:



“With the growing number of students attending college since the 1960s, colleges found that not all students had the skills in reading, writing and mathematics that professors were expecting when they entered the classroom. The colleges responded by creating non-college credit remedial courses that students were forced to take, almost always because of some score they received on a college “placement” test. And so a cottage industry of remedial, non-credit courses was created on campuses across the country, often taught by adjunct faculty of dubious qualifications and most often completely separated from the for-credit courses that other students were taking.



“The results were inevitable. Students began collecting huge tuition debt paying for courses for which they did not receive credit. Often these students had to take these remedial courses over and over again because they could not pass the exit exam, which was frequently another standardized test. The students never got the chance to feel like they were regular college students. Within a year or two these students, frustrated with their lack of progress, dropped out of school burdened with student loan debt and without a degree or good job prospects.



“Colleges, certainly the four-year colleges, I am addressing here, should not have and did not have to go the remedial course route. The schools could have and should have known that reading and writing courses that are removed from the context of a real course have very limited impact. (I will not address math remedial courses here because it is outside my expertise, but I believe the same principles would hold.) Rather than place students in courses designed for writing improvement or reading improvement, the colleges would have been much better off placing these students in the regular classroom and then providing them with the support they needed to succeed in these courses.”



Others have weighed in.



Jersey Jazzman reviewed the data and raised important questions. Why did the report use public schools as a punching bag (what % of the students in need of remediation attended private schools, religious schools, or charter schools)? How credible was it to claim that affluent students had higher rates of remediation at four-year colleges than economically disadvantaged students? Does that mean that the high schools attended by kids in poverty are better than those in posh suburbs? Jersey Jazzman questions the Times’ faith in the idea that high standards and hard tests are the key to college readiness. He threw down the gauntlet on Common Core, challenging anyone to produce evidence that adherence to Commin Core increases college readiness.



Audrey Hill challenged the study authors’ decisions about which families should be considered affluent, middle-class, and low-income. She compares their data with federal guidelines defining poverty and concludes–unlike the ERN study–that only 6 of 100  students receiving remediation come from middle-class or upper-income families.


It seems odd that sensible people have to argue that low-income students are less likely to get a good education than students from middle-class and upper-income communities. If that were true, as the ERN report and the New York Times believe, then upper-income students should be clamoring to get into the schools attended by low-income students. Are the wealthy kids on the losing side of the achievement gap? What a ludicrous claim.