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About the Remediation Ruckus

September 3, 2014 7 comments

I am proud to work in public education. That means wherever I go, I am willing to teach or support the education of any child who shows up. Yes, we teach them all. The smart ones. The well-behaved ones. The talented ones. The adorable ones. The ones who struggle. The ones who test our patience. The ones who, bless their hearts, just try so hard. The ones who sometimes are hard to appreciate. We do it because they matter – all of them.

This separates us from our friends in private schools. I don’t doubt the hard work they do. Nor do I begrudge them the working conditions they’ve chosen. In many cases, they teach for lower salaries and have less job protection than public school teachers do. The trade-offs are more parental involvement and fewer requirements to acquire their teaching positions. In any case, they teach children who have chosen to be there, and whom the school has chosen to accept. At any point, the school, if certain conditions are not met, can send them back where they came from. Public schools can’t do that; as such, comparisons between the two are rarely meaningful.

That’s why I found the Oklahoman’s foray into the discussion over college remediation rates a bit disingenuous. You’re shocked, I’m sure. The graphic below shows how they compared public schools to private schools when it comes to college remediation rates.

But who doesn't love a stacked deck?

But who doesn’t love a stacked deck?

As you can imagine, the fact that the schools on the left are also high-poverty high schools never comes up either. Since I’m the kind of person who doesn’t like data out of context (which reminds me – A-F Report Cards are just around the corner!), I thought today was a good day to dust off the correlation machine (by which I mean Microsoft Excel) and explore the relationship between two sets of numbers. First, I would look at the high schools – all of them – and see what other statistics correlate to a school’s college remediation rate. In all, I ran 10 tests. Since there are 454 schools in the dataset, the results all maintain statistical significance.

Things Correlating to College Remediation Rate

Free/reduced lunch % 0.56 Moderate, positive
Household income -0.38 Moderate, negative
College-going rate -0.35 Moderate, negative
Parents with college degrees -0.33 Moderate, negative
Parents not completing high school 0.33 Moderate, positive
Student mobility 0.30 Weak, positive
Absentee rate 0.28 Weak, positive
Special education percentage 0.27 Weak, positive
Single-parent families 0.22 Weak, positive
Students completing college-bound courses 0.01 Non-existent

Here’s a reminder of what these numbers mean, for all of you who haven’t had a stats class in a while. All correlation values fall between zero and one (or zero and negative one). For positive relationships, the numbers go in the same direction. For example, as free/reduced lunch rates go up, so do college remediation rates. For negative relationships, the numbers go in opposite directions. For example, as household income goes up, remediation rates go down.

Based on accepted convention, none of the relationships would be described as strong. The top five variables would be described as moderate, with the two indicators of poverty ranking at the top. Interestingly, the schools with more students going to college seem to have fewer students needing remediation. I guess that indicates something about expectations. It should also come as no surprise that parental education is also a factor in college remediation rates. It would seem that first-generation college students who come from a background of poverty struggle at the beginning of college.

Just on the outside of moderate are the next four relationships. Although the strength is not as pronounced, the relationship is nonetheless there. Schools with a lot of mobility and a lot of special education students are more likely to have higher remediation rates than schools without those challenges. This makes sense, but it says a lot about the schools that these relationships are weak. Additionally, students who are frequently absent and those who come from single-parent families (two statistics that often correlate as well), tend to need remediation at higher rates too.

Surprisingly, the correlation between the percentage of students completing college-bound courses (students completing all the ACE required courses, as opposed to those whose parents opt them out of the ACE requirements) is non-existent. I’m struggling to explain this one. Maybe it means that we place too much value in taking choices away from kids. Maybe, if students had fewer required courses for graduation and more students could pursue their actual interests, we’d have more college-ready freshmen.

To make things interesting, I picked two schools from the Oklahoman’s graphic and plugged some numbers into a spreadsheet. From the 12 public schools represented on the above bar graphs, I selected two. See if you can figure out which is which from the data below:

Statistic School A School B
Free/reduced lunch % 18% 81%
Household income $98,568 $44,588
Parents with college degree 51% 18%
Parents not graduating HS 4% 16%
Absences per student 8.6 14.6
Mobility rate 5% 11%
Students in special education 11% 14%
CareerTech program participation 16% 68%
Oklahoma college-going rate 69% 41%
Out of state college going rate 10% 5%
Oklahoma college remediation rate 15% 55%

Obviously, School A serves an affluent population with parents whose own experiences lead to high academic expectations. School B has a lot of poverty and mobility. More students are steered towards the career part of College & Career Readiness. Overall, though, it appears more students at School B have some sort of a post-secondary plan.

I took the easy way out. I used the school in the middle of each side of the graphic. School A is Edmond North High School. School B is Muskogee High School. If you want, you can look up data for any school in the state. The more information you have, the more complete your picture is.

When any reasonable person knows the whole story, simple accountability measures, such as the A-F Report Cards, just don’t impress. Muskogee High School, for all the challenges faced by the students and teachers there, seems to have the vast majority of their students thinking about something after high school. And that is why we’re here.

Whether the State Regents decide to certify PASS as C&CR…whether the USDE gives us back our waiver at some point…whether Congress eventually rescinds No Child Left Behind (which is long overdue), we have high schools all over this state, serving all kinds of student populations, that are helping children prepare for life after the PK-12 world we occupy. Career Tech is part of that picture. So is college. And so are choices that can’t be captured statistically. That doesn’t make them less valid or meaningful.

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