Editorial: Comprehensive, early strategies must prepare high school students for college, careers

  • Students take an English remedial class at Elgin Community College in Elgin.

      Students take an English remedial class at Elgin Community College in Elgin. Brian Hill | Staff Photographer

 
The Daily Herald Editorial Board
Updated 3/7/2016 11:46 PM

At first blush, some of the statistics in Staff Writer Madhu Krishnamurthy's story on Sunday about remedial training at community colleges border on alarming. Almost half the students who enroll in community college require remediation in at least one subject, most often math.

In the suburbs, the numbers can be a little better -- often more in the range of 25 percent who need remediation -- but they occasionally are shockingly high -- as many as two-thirds at several schools.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

Community colleges have recognized this shortcoming for years and have developed strategies to address it. These range from dual-credit opportunities arranged with specific school districts, remedial classes for seniors in high school and even free summer remediation classes.

These and a host of counseling activities also under way at many schools are all good things, recognizing the key understanding that students need to be identifying their graduation goals and preparing appropriately.

But, as Krishnamurthy's reporting shows, the situation isn't as simple as it looks on its face. Some of our community colleges have higher standards for certain subjects than four-year colleges have. And high school counselors contend that "arbitrary" standards among various schools create something of a moving target for high school students. Such standards, they say, combined with what they see as an outmoded remediation model are actually pushing many minority and low-income students out of the system.

They have a point that needs to be explored. Lazaro Lopez, associate superintendent at Northwest Suburban High School District 214, seems partially correct when he observes that, "Ultimately, it really is about us redefining senior year of high school." But only partially.

Clearly, some of it also is about emphasizing to students long before their senior year the expectations that will greet them upon graduation. Regardless of the level, students have to arrive at college capable of keeping up with their fellow students. Addressing such problems can't merely involve lowering the qualifying standards.

But it's also clear that we can't allow arbitrary standards to deny access to opportunities for a broad portion of the student population. Colleges are wise to remember that, even as all stakeholders (colleges, teachers at all levels, parents and students themselves) refuse to relent on making sure students get themselves prepared when they should be -- during high school and frankly, even earlier.

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