Remedial Education is Worthy of More Attention– Agreed, But Now What?

August 4, 2009 | Blog

Over at the Chronicle of Higher Education, Mike Rose has a solid piece about the need to “re-mediate” college remediation. I love a professor willing to air his own laundry, in this case confessing to having been a remedial student once himself. And one of my favorite lines comes towards the end, where Rose places remedial education front and center as a key “second chance” function of our higher education system– and one deserving of more “intellectual resources.” Right on, good stuff.

But here’s the rub. Remedial education really does need more intellectual firepower aimed at it– so much so that it’s kind of startling. The truth is, one reason remedial education tends to come out in empirical analyses as accruing a “penalty” for those who engage it in is that we know far, far too little about how to do it well. How thick is the body of “what works” evidence on remediation? Woefully, woefully thin. What we know, best of all, is that it doesn’t. We also know we likely spend way too little on it (at least in the 2-year sector). I’ve seen one decent paper by Alicia Dowd that compares the costs of remedial education for decent outcomes to typical costs; she finds that effective remediation costs closer to what 4-years spend, and maybe $3000 per FTE more than what 2-years spend.

I’d love to see a plethora of studies over the coming years employing the kinds of mixed-methods research needed to establish causal impacts of good remedial models and account for those impacts. That’s why I was psyched to see the recent announcement that Gates/Hewlett/Carnegie just made $2.5 million in grants to identify in a rigorous way remedial practices that ought to be brought to scale. As Tony Bryk said in his press release, the R&D needs here are massive.

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