Taxpayers dole out millions for extra classes
The Washington area's premier school systems are churning out thousands of high school graduates who lack the basic skills needed to succeed at community college.
And the cost to taxpayers for providing courses that get students up to speed -- but don't count toward their degrees -- runs hundreds of millions of dollars.
Montgomery and Fairfax counties are nationally acclaimed school systems that boast "Teen Jeopardy" champions and send scores of graduates to Ivy League schools. But they're also handing diplomas to kids who can't hit the ground running in community college.
|Not making the grade|
|Northern Virginia Community College: Fall 2008*|
|Public school district||% of grads enrolled at NOVA||% enrolled in one or more developmental course||% enrolled in developmental English||% enrolled in developmental math||% enrolled in ESL|
|*Most recent data made available|
About 19 percent of Fairfax County Public Schools graduates attended Northern Virginia Community College in 2008, the most recent data made available. Of those 2,224 students, 55 percent enrolled in development courses in English, math, English as a Second Language or a combination.
At Montgomery College, 75 percent of students are graduates of Montgomery County Public Schools. The nationally acclaimed school system sent one-fourth of its 2010 spring graduates to Montgomery College, where 60 percent of students require remedial courses. Students fresh out of high school come in at closer to 70 percent, spokesman Marcus Rosano said.
Students who do not demonstrate a grasp of basic college skills on placement exams are enrolled in remedial courses, which generally do not count toward their degrees. They can read and do fractions, but can't analyze literature or apply their skills to advanced math.
"Based on the press that comes out of [Montgomery schools headquarters], you'd think everyone is leaving MCPS with a pocketful of AP courses that they've mastered," said Joseph Hawkins, a remedial instructor with Prince George's Community College and Howard University before spending 19 years in MCPS's data office.
|Staying on Rockville Pike|
|Montgomery College: Fall 2010|
|Ten Montgomery County public high schools sent 30-40 percent of their graduates to Montgomery College.|
|John F. Kennedy||30%|
|Col. Zadok Magruder||29.7%|
|At the other end of the spectrum, four schools sent less than 15 percent of their graduates to Montgomery College.|
|Thomas S. Wootton||14.1%|
"That might be true, but I'm not sure some of those kids ever focused truly on what it meant to be prepared for college," said Hawkins, who now works for a private research firm.
In 2008, 44 percent of students in 2008 at public two-year colleges and 27 percent at public four-year colleges enrolled in remedial courses, according to a National Center for Education Statistics report on students under the age of 25.
Maryland, Virginia and D.C. taxpayers pay $153.5 million to cover the cost of these courses at public colleges every year, according to the Alliance for Excellent Education, a D.C. nonprofit focusing on high school graduation.
"There is a gap in what students need to know and be able to do to complete high school compared to what will be expected of them once they start college," said Tara Tucci, a research and policy associate. "For example, a student can enter college with basic literacy skills, but is unable to apply his or her knowledge to read and comprehend the more complex literature typically studied in college courses."
One in five graduates in Northern Virginia -- about 22,500 students -- enrolled in Northern Virginia Community College in 2008. More than half of new students from Alexandria, Arlington, Falls Church, Loudoun and Prince William public school districts couldn't cut it without the extra courses.
At Prince George's Community College, where 59 percent of county public school students enroll, 75 percent of last fall's new students have taken at least one remedial class.
About 80 percent of new students at the Community College of the District of Columbia require courses in the fundamentals. Laurence Covington said students in his remedial English course can read -- "for the most part."
"Sometimes you have to refresh their memories on parts of speech -- what does a preposition do, what does an adverb do," Covington said. "They're able to write, but when I'm questioning them, 'What purpose does this word serve in a sentence?' They sometimes have difficulties."