Articles N + 1, N+2, N+3

Posted on January 17, 2020


Reading on the bus: Multiplication is for white people because I left the article about Florida on my desk. Descriptions of middle and high school classrooms where students are coloring…. makes me want to GET OUT THERE and shake things. (THe “Crayola Curriculum…” I suppose word searches are a full step ahead of this in that it’s not totally humiliating to do something adults will do in public, but too often it’s counted as “exposing them to knowledge” when some of ’em are just matching letters and not even reading the words…) I deeply appreciate again that she counters the abysmal injustices with successful examples.

Staff meeting Wednesday we were shown an article about “successful” program in Florida . This author is good at the spin factor! The success? Increased *enrollment* in college level courses. The action taken – removing developmental education requirements for most students.

Steps were taken to identify students who’d need support and get it to them and those supports are described in the article, but … about the actual getting *through* college level courses?

““Overall pass rates in gateway courses are still very low,” he notes. “That is not a pleasant situation, but it’s not a surprise. That is a problem facing American community colleges overall.” So, shhhhhhhh….. The article concluded with the idea that funding to do it right would have been good, and having the folks actually doing the job figure out what to do makes more sense…

So! What’s the story behind the “press release” version?

The deeper article I had to access through my library: NIX, A. N. et al. Equality, Efficiency, and Developmental Education Reform: The Impact of SB 1720 on the Mission of the Florida College System. Community College Review[s. l.], v. 48, n. 1, p. 55–76, 2020. DOI 10.1177/0091552119876327.

It’s qualitative and says so, after the following paragraph about the “success” of the program:

To date, the documented impact of SB 1720 on student outcomes has been fairly positive. Although pass rates in individual gateway courses have decreased at FCS institutions, enrollment in those gateway courses has increased so much so that the total number of incoming students who pass gateway courses has increased ([25]). In addition, some quantitative data show that the bill has made strides toward greater democratic equality. Black students, in particular, have benefited from the ability to enroll directly in college-level courses, narrowing the Black–White achievement gap in college gateway courses ([25]; [38]). Data also indicate that the bill has improved social efficiency by saving students money ([18]; [36]). The [18] attributes these savings to a reduction in tuition and fees spent on DE course sequences and an increase in academic support services offered at little or no cost to students.

So, the pass rates are lower, but … the enrollment rate is higher and so the net number of students passing is higher. They don’t say what the rate is. The cited article “25” was Diving into the Deep End: How State College Administrators in Florida Describe the First Year of Develpmental Reform. It’s got *lots* of infographics about the patterns in education, structure, and support services. I didn’t find anything about …. wait for it… actual academic success. That was not one of the research questions guiding their analyses. From the executive summary: “

Despite challenges and tempered agreement that
implementing their institutional plan resulted in
positive outcomes, institutions reported many
positive changes occurring across their institutions.

“tempered agreement” is such a nice, diplomatic phrase.

Another article, , claims “early evidence” looks good and that

Compared with students in previous cohorts, a larger share of students in the FCS entering cohorts since fall 2014 have passed their gateway courses, indicating that there are now greater shares of students taking and passing gateway courses. Gains have mostly been larger for Black students (from 7 to 12 percent in math and 33 to 48 percent in English) and Hispanic students (from 14 to 21 percent in math and 46 to 57 percent in English) than for White students (from 16 to 21 percent in math and 50 to 56 percent in English)

So, this is “success”! 12% of students pass the gateway Math course! What about the 88% who failed? If there were an “aversive” teacher they could say that first day “look at the 3 people to your left; look at the 3 people to your right, and look at yourself. Odds are, *1* of you will pass this course. The rest will fail.”

… and of course, the more recent article — presumably with more data — says the rate fell. But that was also the stuff of press releases.

However, this article is about the qualitative side. Hey, did people at least feel good about things?

If I cut through the examples to the “discussion” at the end, there are some pointed conclusions: “We also found that campus personnel largely felt the passage of SB 1720, which prioritized social efficiency, made their pursuit of democratic equality more challenging.” … a diplomatic way of saying “we saved money at the expense of equity.” Hey, this is America in 2020.

They tried four ways of getting folks through and determined that “accelerated” developmental ed was best: “Acceleration, on the contrary, is widely regarded as a best practice in DE reform ([9]; [23]; [28]). Although this may be true, our participants identified certain groups of students who may not benefit from acceleration, including ELL, individuals with disabilities, student parents, and those who are working.”
Again, it was more efficient… for some students. Equity? Equity?


The quotes about how people felt at the start were pretty over the top negative. Typical: “We see students that come to us severely underprepared. So, to me, it [SB 1720] was like… completely under-cutting the mission of the community college…”

“I looked at it [SB 1720] from an economic perspective thinking, “Okay, here is how they are going to try to save money”… This was their magic pill to get everybody in and out in 2 years… And, I felt like they just disregarded what the student needed, and what the instructor was able to do. Maybe there was a small portion of me, as a Florida taxpayer, that thought, “Okay, good. This will save money in the long run.” But, the bigger part of me, the educator, said, “Oh, no. This is doomed to fail.”

Opinions improved over time, to a degree. To wit: “Even though teaching an intermediate Algebra is, at times, very challenging, dealing with those students who come in who don’t have… much mathematical skills to speak of, overall, we are getting students through and our success in our subsequent courses in college algebra has stayed steady.”

In general, attitudes were “okay, we have to work harder but it’s not as bad as we were afraid it might be.”

The other quotes followed along that line… this sort of sums it up:

  “We’ve had some really significant changes on a very small number of students, Hispanic males particularly, which has more than doubled their success rate.” 
Comparable gains were not mentioned by those at other institutions but may be present.
… As one administrator humorously noted, I felt like Chicken Little, “the sky is going to fall… ” and then it really didn’t… There were a lot of adjustments that had to be made, and I think our college reacted appropriately and well. … It hasn’t gotten worse, but I don’t see that it’s much better… As a state, have we saved a lot of money? … As a taxpayer, rather than an educator, I would say if it’s not gotten any worse and we save $5 million, then it worked.

So…. it didn’t make things better but it isn’t worse! if it saved a lot of money, hey, that’s good. (Also, we don’t know what success that rate was that “more than doubled.”) If we only think about money, it worked.

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