Kudos for community college; cues for K-12

Kevin Carey, of Education Sector, wrote a great article in the June 2007 edition of Washington Monthly called “America’s Best Community Colleges: Why They’re Better Than Some of the ‘Best’ Four-Year Universities.”

While Carey lists a number of factors that contribute to the success of these community colleges, particularly among student populations considered high-needs or at-risk in most places, he neglects to mention one key factor: Teachers.

Unlike faculty at most four year universities, most community college faculty are focused on teaching, not research or publishing in order to achieve tenure. Although I have nothing against either of those activities for teachers at all levels, it matters that teaching is a more openly valued activity at the community college level.

Like P-12 teachers, community college teachers are faced with growing numbers of students who need help with what are called “basic skills.” I use that phrase tentatively because, as my friend Rose Asera at Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching accurately explains: “…these so-called basic skills are not, in fact, so basic or simple.”

She also touches on the issue I addressed in my last post, that our methods of teaching those basic skills, especially in remedial settings, may be a bigger part of why so many students appear to be lagging so far behind.

Consider this: First we use instruments that are historically inaccurate in measuring the learning or potential of certain students to determine that those students are lacking in basic skills; then we label those students as needing remediation, which we too often provide using the least effective methods available; then we bemoan the students’ lack of progress?

Fortunately, that cycle is being broken in some places, as Carey and others are beginning to notice. Most promising of all, are the strong, natural connections between the work of community college and P-12 teachers. We have a great deal to share with and learn from each other.