The high number of community college students forced into remedial classes upon arrival is a national problem and I was glad to see Linda Borg write about it in Sunday’s Providence Journal. Even Massachusetts, seen as the gold standard in education has more than 60 percent of its community college students placed in non credit bearing high school level (but expensive!) remedial classes. And Rhode Island is right there with them with a state average of 65 percent of Community College students requiring at least one remedial course. It is a staggering statistic.
But Borg doesn’t have her facts straight and her mistake hits close to home for me since she cites my town of Cumberland as having among the highest remediation rates in the state when, on the contrary, we are actually 10 points below the state average and have improved by 20 percentage points on this front since 2012.
Here’s the sentence in the Projo piece that is problematic:
CCRI is having a similar discussion with the superintendents of Providence, Cumberland and Central Falls, which have among the highest number of graduates needing remediation.
Here is what a CCRI official had to say about Cumberland’s remediation data:
Here is the 2015 data for Cumberland:
… in the fall of 2015, 1,813 students were identified and 65.6% were recommended a placement. This is the third consecutive year that the percentage has decreased (from a high of 75.5% in 2012). For Cumberland High School this fall, 71 students enrolled at CCRI directly out of high school. Forty-one or 57.7% of these students were recommended for one or more developmental/remedial courses. This percentage for Cumberland is below the state-wide average of 65.6% as stated in the first paragraph.
… In the fall of 2016, 1,717 students were identified state-wide and 65.6% (same as last fall) were recommended a placement. The three prior years, the percentage decreased each year from a high of 75.5% in fall 2012. CCRI enrolled 49 Cumberland High graduates (down from 71 the previous fall) directly out of high school in the fall 0f 2016. 55.1% of these students were recommended for one or more developmental/remedial courses. Clearly the percentage here is below the state-wide average of 65.6% as stated above.No matter how you slice it, these remediation rates are way too high both statewide and in Cumberland and something all of us should be invested in seeing improve. Conversations between K-12 leaders and college leaders are crucial as is a revamp of the way we do remediation in higher ed.
But as we in Cumberland enter what is already shaping up to be a brutal budget cycle, misinformation or #alternativefacts like what appeared in Sunday’s paper can be damaging to a district that has been on a trajectory of continuous improvement for more than five years despite being at the very bottom when it comes to funding. And as the lowest funded district in the state for decades, we can’t afford to have the naysayers using inaccurate remediation rates to claim that the school department isn’t deserving of the same investment in students that every other district in the state has made.
In fact, for Cumberland to even make its way to the average spending in Rhode Island, it would require an immediate infusion of $15 million. So yes, it’s that bad. And before everyone starts chirping about the fat cat teachers’ contract, let’s get one thing straight: the Cumberland teachers contract is as lean as they come.
Boston teachers have 20 sick days. When I taught in a Massachusetts district, I had 15. Lincoln teachers, just next door, have 16. Cumberland teachers get 8. They get half as many days as the teachers one zip code away.
And health insurance in retirement? Nope. They don’t get any. I’d venture to say that they are the only teachers in the state who do not get any health insurance coverage in retirement.
So while we face a gut wrenching $2 million in potential cuts from an already bare bones budget, we can’t have false narratives about our student outcomes floated by local journalists as if a correction in the online version will make everything better.
I asked Linda Borg to share with me the data she used to make her claim about Cumberland but she opted not to and instead thanked me over email and said she’d print a correction. Without any source, we don’t know where her information came from.
There is a lot of work to to be done to get our kids where they need and deserve to be but that is a reality facing every school district in Rhode Island and most school districts nationwide. After years of decline, Cumberland has emerged as a leader on a variety of fronts and has been recognized for its improvement as well as its strong (and award winning) school leaders. The high school profile continues to improve and access to AP courses is expanding. Lines of communication are far more open than they used to be and there is enthusiasm in our buildings despite crippling budget projections.
So rather than focus on a Providence Journal article that gets it wrong, we will focus on our achievements, be honest about where we need to improve, and celebrate that our remedial numbers are far better than they used to be and far better than Sunday’s paper would have people believe.
Update: Linda Borg did make a correction to the piece. She also responded to me on Twitter this way:
— Linda Borg (@lborgprojocom) April 8, 2017
This piece first ran here in The Valley Breeze in slightly different form.