It seems that the majority of colleges regularly accept students whom they subsequently assign to remedial English or math classes. What’s the problem with that?
For colleges, it means that precious resources have to go to bring students up to the level where they have a chance of succeeding in college, rather than in creating offerings for students who can already manage the work.
For taxpayers, it means that the tax money spent on high school education may not be the investment taxpayers think it is, and more money has to go to re-educate students once they get to state-supported public colleges.
But the biggest problem is for the students themselves. Students, nearly all of whom got passing grades (if not superior grades), grades good enough to get them into college, have been deluded into thinking they know more than they do and are smarter than they really are, and are more educated than they are. These students who enter college unprepared have to spend several semesters on remedial work before they can begin the classes they really went to college to attend. And even more disheartening, most of these remedial classes do not count toward required college credits. Sadly, many if not most of these overwhelmed, discouraged, and frustrated students who have to take remedial classes do not graduate from college at all, leaving school with loans or depleted savings but without a degree.
Surely, this phenomenon of unprepared students can’t apply to us in northern Westchester, can it? After all, most of our students come from middle-to-upper-middle class families, attend schools that have rich curricula that are well-supported by our communities, and are bound for selective or highly selective colleges.
I’ve been tutoring students for just about 30 years, college-bound high school students whose parents are at least affluent enough to pay me, a private tutor, for extra SAT and/or ACT prep and advice about and help with college applications. I can tell you with complete certainty that the majority of my students are not prepared for most college classes. Yes, I include students who take honors and AP classes in high school.
Over the years, I have been contacted by many, many students who have asked me for help with college freshman writing and social studies classes. Not only is it embarrassing to get poor grades on freshman classes, it’s extremely expensive to repeat a class — and many academic scholarships require that students maintain a certain grade point average to keep that scholarship. Parents gratefully hire me to work with their college students online with freshman assignments. Paying me is certainly less expensive than paying for the class all over again or replacing that scholarship, but I wish my help weren’t necessary.
Is there anything that parents and students can do to make sure their students are adequately prepared for college-level work? There is, but but it takes a concerted effort and the student has to want it.
Here’s my advice to students who want to ensure that they will be ready for college-level work:
Don’t be lazy about math. Each math concept builds on the knowledge before, so if you don’t understand what’s going on in math class, don’t shrug and hope the teacher changes topics soon. Even if you’re getting the homework right, if you don’t understand it, keep asking until you do. Ask your friends who seem to get it. If they DO understand it, ask them to explain it to you. If they don’t, the group of you needs to approach the teacher after school and let him know that several of you really haven’t mastered the concept. And take advantage of other resources: review the concept on Khan Academy or read about it in a Barron’s Regents review book.
Take time to read, even if it’s not assigned. If you went to the gym once a year, you’d find it difficult and even perhaps unpleasant. But if you went regularly, you’d find you can lift more weight more easily over time – and it might even become an activity you’d enjoy. The same is true with reading. If you only read occasionally (and only what’s assigned), you’ll find it arduous and tiresome. But if you read regularly (and books of your own choosing), you’ll find it increasingly easy and even pleasant. Read whether you like to or not. Read books that are a bit difficult. Read books outside your normal area of interest. If you expect to be able to read and understand college-level material on a subject you might not find interesting, you have to begin WAY before college and you have to keep it up.
Pay attention to your writing. Unfortunately, too many teachers only give writing assignments that students can complete in class. Imagine if you wanted to learn to hit a ball in baseball. If the coach gave you a bat, threw a ball at you, and when you missed said, “Come back next month and I’ll pitch another ball at you,” do you think you’d improve as a batter? Writing an essay and turning it in with no guidance about the student’s strengths and weaknesses as a writer, with no opportunity for revising, without prompt and thoughtful feedback is likewise not going to turn you into a good writer. Unfortunately, just like in baseball, few writers improve without a good coach. If your English teacher won’t give you detailed, specific, and meaningful feedback, you’ll have to find a writing teacher (or tutor!) who knows how to isolate all the skills that go into good writing and can explain them. Do you use the best verbs you can find? (Is/Am/Are = weak writing!) Do you use nouns instead of adjectives? Do you write the way you read rather than the way you speak? Have you organized your thoughts into a rough outline before you write even one line?
This essay has been unusually long because I feel unusually passionate about student achievement. Don’t presume that teachers will challenge you to hone your basic academic skills. Challenge yourself!
If you need more suggestions or a bit of help, please feel free to contact me!