Time to Remediate the Need for Remediation in Mass State Schools

Time to remediate the need for remediation in Mass state colleges, universities 

By Henry M. Thomas III, CEO, Urban League of Springfield

After the euphoria surrounding High School graduation, many parents see their students off to college. Students of color make up 40 percent of the student body population of Massachusetts colleges and universities. While 80 percent of White students go to selective schools, 80 percent of Black and Latino students go to non-selective schools -- where SAT scores are not required. Alarmingly, 64 percent of Black and Latino students are required to take remedial classes. A recently released report by Massachusetts Education Equity Partnership (MEEP), “Number 1 for Some”, documented that less than one third of Massachusetts Black and Latino students who took the SAT scored at the college-ready level in reading and math.

Too many students are graduating from our high schools not ready for college, jobs, or life. Non-credit bearing remedial classes cost money. Eighty percent of Black and Latino students qualify for PELL Grants to pay for their education. Unfortunately, a large percentage of students deplete all their PELL funding taking remedial courses.

In November, the Urban League held a Massachusetts Education Equity and Excellence Summit. The League invited several content experts who shared information about the status of public education across Massachusetts and beyond. It was a potpourri of contemporaneous data which highlighted the causes and effects of the academic under-performing among a high percentage of Black, Latino and low-income students. Massachusetts is ranked number one in the country with regard to K-12 academic performance, however “the level of education that Black and Latino students receive in Massachusetts is more similar to the average student in the lowest performing states than to that of their more privileged peers in Massachusetts,” according to MEEP. 

The TNTP research group presented their findings from their research report “Opportunity Myth”. The report examines the quality of students’ academic experiences in school -- and its effect on their long-term success. The report found underperforming students are receiving a “heavy diet of below grade level work. Students may perform with below grade level work, but they are always going to be behind if they don’t receive at least 25 percent or more of grade level work. Students of color or from low income families are 25 percent least likely to receive grade level work. If they receive at least 25 percent of their instructions with grade appropriate material it would have enormous impact. They can catch up to State standards in 5 years”. 

Learning Heroes research group found, after surveying Black and Latino parent mindsets that 88 percent of K-8 Massachusetts parents reported their children were at or above grade level in reading and math. “In reality, other data suggest the actual percentage of Massachusetts children in these grades who perform at or above grade level is closer to 50 
percent”. Further, less than one third of Massachusetts’ Black and Latino students who took the SAT scored at the college-ready level in reading and math. 70 percent of Latino and 75 percent of African American community college students in Massachusetts must take at least one remedial class.

According to an HCM Strategists report “Promise to Practice”, states have significant discretion over how to design and implement their school improvement initiatives-via the Every Student Succeeds Act. Notwithstanding, a challenge still exists in that equity issues are not prioritized in half the states, and many states are not taking their oversight role seriously. We believe Massachusetts is taking its oversight role seriously, but equity warriors in the community, such as the Urban League, must encourage transparency and sustainability with respect to the state plan. 

The community must be mindful of the fact that if we continue to graduate students -- in large numbers -- who don’t have academic readiness levels to gain access to higher education or specialize training, they will not be prepared to achieve an economic self-sufficient life. Communities need healthy and well developed individuals that are capable of making meaningful contributions to the cities in which they live. In the alternative, the fallout is that we will copiously increase the school to prison pipeline; increase public safety concerns, and maintain an insufficient pool of educated people available for the workforce. Essentially, the equity, resource, and excellence gaps that exist in communities are a manifestation of the same gaps found in under-performing schools.

When families make decisions as to where they want to live, they characteristically look at three quality of life elements: quality of the school system; quality of public safety and property tax rates. I have consistently maintained that the quality of life in any community is directly tied to, and dependent on the quality of its education systems. Therefore, we have to place a high premium on educational equity and excellence so that academic performance and preparation gaps can be closed. 

There must be a stronger commitment to remediate the need for remediation when high school graduates enter college, skilled training programs, or job opportunities. We are all stakeholders in this needed transformation. The entire community’s quality of life will continue to be impacted if we don’t make an impactful change.

(Originally published on www.MassLive.com)

Henry M. Thomas III is president, CEO of the Urban League of Springfield