Why Do So Many Students Require Remedial Education?

Some remedial education experts say social problems, beyond the reach of elementary and secondary schools, account for the widespread lack of basic skills. George Swan, Dean of Arts and Humanities at Wayne County Community College, says: "We cater to students who lack the skills to compete for a variety of reasons—age, money, lack of confidence. I can't blame it on the public school system."25 Julianne Sisung of Kellogg Community College attributes the extent of remedial education to the increasing diversity of the population that goes to college: "It's not the public school system's [fault] . . . . The Michigan public school system does a good job and prepares people well to compete at the college level. It's the diversity of students that has changed over the years. Students come from a variety of backgrounds and ages. Many of these students were not college bound before."26

Other experts place the blame squarely at the door of the public schools. They argue that basic reading, writing, and arithmetic skills are necessary for anyone who intends to function in society, not just those who are college bound. Janet Detloff, chair of the Math and Sciences Division at Wayne County Community College, is worth quoting at length:

The Detroit-area public schools are terrible. Most of the students who come to us not only lack math and English skills, but they lack basic academic skills. They have no idea what is expected of them at the college level. They don't know how to take notes. They don't read the assigned material. And many of them don't even come to class. How did they get through high school without these skills? Many of them were promoted for social reasons—they were getting too old; they had repeated the grade three times; they would otherwise fail-out. So they graduate without the skills they need to succeed, not only in academics, but in the workplace. Local employers often find the same problems with their employees that we are addressing here—truancy, lack of attention to detail, inability to complete tasks. I remember one student who called me complaining that she had received an 'F' in a course even though she had attended every day. She didn't understand that she actually had to master the basic course material. That was foreign to her.27

Steve Carlson, chair of the Science and Mathematics Division at Kellogg Community College, had a similar assessment: "Largely it's the public schools' [fault.] Ideally, developmental programs should not exist at the college level. Public schools should prepare people to compete at that level, but they do not."28

A number of remedial level educators identified specific failings of the public schools. Katie Smith, director of Transitional Studies at Lake Michigan College, blames high schools for failing to help students develop proper analytical skills:

For most students, writing consists not of research, but what I call 'I-search.' That is, most students are given writing exercises that ask them to tell how they feel about a particular issue. The exercise doesn't involve analysis or critical thinking, it just asks students to emote. This is a great hindrance to them in the end because they never develop any analytical skills or critical writing skills.29

Sidney Graham, chair of the Department of Mathematics at Central Michigan University, blames the public high schools for assigning "little homework."30 Mitzi Chaffer, also of Central Michigan University's mathematics faculty, points to "lax standards in most high schools."31 Steven Holder, chair of the English Department at Central Michigan, finds fault with grade inflation in public schools.32 Florence Harris, director of the Office of Supportive Services at Michigan State University, describes the futility of trying to identify who is responsible for the situation: "It's a blame game. The colleges blame the high schools. The high schools blame the middle schools. The middle schools blame the elementary schools. Where does it end?"33