With a new school year underway and yet another election season upon us, let's remind ourselves how these two events are linked. Aside from the obvious issue of funding education, there are also regulations, mandates, and controls passed by our elected officials. Unfortunately, the report card continues to disappoint.
According to studies from the Pacific Research Institute, the National Center for Educational Statistics, California State University, and other educational agencies, 40% of US students must enroll in remedial classes to provide skills in reading, writing and math.
The numbers are worse for California. A CSU report showed that only 44% of incoming freshmen were sufficiently proficient in reading and math. In addition, even though 60% of incoming freshmen have earned a "B" or better grade average in a college preparatory curriculum, about 60% of college-bound students still require some form of remediation.
Why aren't we demanding an explanation, and eventual solution, for the discrepancy between K-12 and college requirements?
The time, expense, and emotional burden to students are significant. Remediation now costs well over $3,000 per student and generally does not count towards a degree. Consequently, graduation dates are delayed and expenses increase for students, the institutions, and taxpayers.
The impact to California and the US economy is enormous, though difficult to calculate. There are direct costs associated with remedial education (e.g., tuition, costs to businesses) and indirect costs (e.g., welfare, tax revenue, effects on the US Gross Domestic Product). Overall, it is estimated that in California alone the total costs average $5.2 billion annually.
The data regarding college graduate competencies are also discouraging. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, 59 percent of recent college graduates cannot read and understand short texts (e.g., labels) or perform other simple tasks that are, or at least used to be, expected of high school students (e.g., costs per ounce of food items).
Besides our remediation problem, California has the worst rates in the nation for adults with low levels of basic literacy skills (23%) and who speak English poorly or not at all (13.2% vs. 5.5% US average). Such skills are vital for employment and, consequently, a productive workforce and thriving economy.