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More than 25% of students at Minnesota’s colleges must take remedial classes

In high school, Latasha Gandy was an academic star. She had a GPA of 4.2 and graduated second in her class from St. Paul Public Schools’ now-defunct Arlington High School.

But when Gandy went to enroll in college, she got a rude surprise. She needed to retake classes she’d aced in high school. She needed a costly year and a half of English and more than a year of math — for no credit.

“I remember feeling when I made it there like, 'How can this happen?' ” says Gandy. “I had all these thoughts about did I belong here? And everything I was hearing from my community about black people didn’t go to college.”

Not only would Gandy have to pay for the remedial, or “developmental,” classes, she wouldn’t get any credit. So there’d be no chance she could graduate in four years — especially problematic since she has two daughters to support.

Gandy eventually made it through, earning an associate’s degree as a paralegal at Inver Hills Community College and a B.A. in legal studies at Metropolitan State University. But at tremendous expense.

By the time she was a senior in college Gandy had maxed out her student loans — a level of indebtedness that’s not supposed to be necessary at state schools.

Last week Gandy told her story at a hearing of the state House of Representatives K-12 Education Finance Committee. Now the Minnesota managing director for Students for Education Reform (SFER), she asked the lawmakers to address the problem.

An all-too-common story

Hers is not an unusual story. Indeed in some respects what’s most noteworthy about it is that Gandy persisted until she earned her degree.

A MinnPost analysis of state data [PDF] found that between 2006 and 2012, the most recent year for which figures are available, at least one in four Minnesota public-high-school graduates who went to Minnesota colleges/universities needed remedial classes there.


(These figures do not include students who took two or more years off before entering college and students who graduated from high schools serving fewer than 100 students. Students included in the report may have graduated after more than four years of high school. Also, because of student privacy regulations, there is no data for years in which fewer than 10 students required remedial classes.)

Remediation that took place at colleges outside Minnesota also is not included.)

Mean rate for high schools: 28 percent

Averaged over the seven years in question, the mean rate for high schools is 28 percent, according to data in the Minnesota Statewide Longitudinal Education Data System (SLEDS) report. In Minneapolis, the mean was 40 percent; in St. Paul it’s 37 percent. Black graduates are twice as likely to be placed in remediation as their white peers, the report says.

The outliers on it are not unexpected. Represented in dark blue on the far left of the graph, the schools with the lowest remediation rates were Edina, Sartell and Jefferson High, at 14 percent each. On the other extreme are a number of very high poverty schools and programs for students who haven’t succeeded in mainline high schools. The highest average remediation rate is 72 percent at St. Paul’s City Academy.

The map is a stark visual reminder that the issue of underpreparedness is not contained to the high-poverty, high-needs schools that are typically associated with headlines about learning gaps. In half of Minnesota high schools — many of them desirable programs — one-fourth to one-third of graduates needed remediation.

Add to this the fact that Minnesota is fifth in the nation in terms of student debt. Almost three-fourths of students here carry loans. The average indebtedness for students attending a public school is $31,000.

Nationwide, some 1.7 million students a year need remediation upon entering college at an estimated cost of $3 billion. More than half of students entering two-year colleges and nearly 20 percent of those entering four-year schools are placed in the classes.

'Bridge to Nowhere'

Worse, there’s data suggesting that far from positioning students to succeed, remedial classes function as what the nonprofit Complete College America calls a “Bridge to Nowhere.”

Nearly four in 10 students who take remedial courses at community colleges never finish the preparatory classes. And 30 percent of students who take them at any institution don’t go on to take entry-level, or “gateway,” classes within two years.

Nor does time seem to help. Given three years to finish community college, fewer than one in 10 remedial students graduate. A little more than a third finish a bachelor’s degree in six years.

Students profiled in a MinnPost story on a related issue last week illustrated the endless twists and complications that can make remediation the final straw. For some, remediation could mean an end to county benefits that allow them to support children of their own or throw their immigration status under the DREAM Act into doubt.

Completion rates and standards

The little discussed problem is where pressure resulting from two different sets of policy changes meet. With costs soaring, higher education is under pressure to increase college completion rates. The easiest way to do that is to raise the bar for admissions so that fewer students are enrolled for years on end.

At the same time, K-12 education is in the sometimes painful throes of embracing academic standards. The highest profile of these efforts is the Common Core State Standards, an effort to specify what students at different grade levels should know.

Like their counterparts elsewhere, traditionally high schools in Minnesota have graduated students who earned a particular number of credits. The value of the diplomas they earned, many felt, varied along with the rigor of their high school programming.

The same controversy was under discussion in a number of states, with many policymakers convinced that the answer were standards: guidelines for what knowledge students should be able to demonstrate at different grade levels.

In 1998, Minnesota enacted a first set of academic standards known as the Profiles of Learning. In addition to being assessed to see whether they knew the content of the standards, students would have to pass basic skills tests to graduate. (Plagued by problems, the exit exams were abolished two years ago by the Legislature.)

By law the standards are reviewed every four years. Several years ago Minnesota adopted math standards that are substantially equivalent to the Common Core State Standards, a joint effort by many states to create a uniform level of rigor.

Eliminating the gap between what a high school graduate has learned and what they should know to succeed in college is one of the main aims of Common Core. When Minnesota adopted the standards in English language arts two years ago, scores on state reading exams fell sharply.

In theory, going forward high schoolers who do well on tests that measure the new standards should ace the placement exam the Minnesota State Colleges and Universities System (MNSCU) uses to determine whether entering students need remedial coursework.

In the past, inconsistent adoption

It remains to be seen, however, how enthusiastically and evenly the standards will be adopted. For instance, concerned that high school students were not performing well, a year and a half ago the Winona Area Public Schools board commissioned a survey that found that most courses were “in progress.” That meant educators had not yet matched the curriculum they were teaching to the standards. Board members complained that in many cases the process was taking years.

At the same time, higher-ed policymakers need there to be room for all students to attempt college. Minnesota’s two-year institutions very deliberately enroll anyone with a diploma, regardless of how prepared they may be.

In addition to increasing high school rigor, one solution is to expose students to college-level coursework before they graduate. St. Paul’s Center for School Change has fresh research showing the value of this approach.

Another promising strategy is to do away with remedial courses and instead offer underprepared students “co-requisite” support — built-in tutoring, extra instruction — that will enable them to pass entry-level credit-bearing college classes.

Florida recently did away with remedial ed entirely. Programs in Maryland, Tennessee and Texas have had success with the co-requisite model, the one Gandy and her fellow student advocates want Minnesota lawmakers to consider.

The president of SFER’s University of Minnesota chapter, Ramon Page, also testified at the House hearing last week. “I joined SFER because I barely made it out of our current education system and have seen too many friends and family members fall through the cracks of the achievement gap,” he said.

photo of ramon page testifying
Courtesy of SFER
Ramon Page and Latasha Gandy testify at a House hearing.

Summer prep, then remedial classes

The summer after he graduated from St. Paul’s Humboldt Senior High School, Page spent six weeks attending a costly college-prep program. That allowed him to gain admission to Mankato State University, where he spent his first semester in remedial courses.

While two-thirds of Humboldt’s students graduate in four years — a rate that’s 20 percentage points higher than many schools with similar demographics — 46 percent need remedial coursework in college.

Page wanted the lawmakers to know how daunting bridging the gap between high school and college was.

“You see remediation, despite its intentions to prepare students for college, is built on a foundation of low expectations for students like myself in high school,” Page said. “Then students are forced to foot the bill, and we are standing up now and saying no. We can no longer suffer the consequences by the system's failure.”

Comments (36)

  1. Submitted by Paul Brandon on 01/26/2015 - 09:47 am.

    Further illustration

    that our public education ranks at the bottom internationally, while foreign students come here for higher education.

  2. Submitted by jody rooney on 01/26/2015 - 09:55 am.

    There is also an alternative explaination

    Perhaps MNSCU has stumbled on a great little money maker. It seems odd when the number one school based on test scores – Mahtomedi has 19% of their students in remedial classes. Seems like a correlation between test scores and remedial ed would be interesting and enlightening. This was an excellent article and I hope you follow up.

  3. Submitted by Dennis Tester on 01/26/2015 - 11:51 am.

    This isn’t new

    I graduated from a (now defunct) inner city high school in St. Paul almost 50 years ago. Even though I graduated in the top 10 of my class and received a full scholarship to the University of Minnesota where I was to be a pre-med student, it didn’t take me long to figure out I had been shortchanged.

    I remember sitting in my first class as a freshman, Algebra 1001. As the TA started to work a problem on the board he invited everyone to join in in calculating the answer. Everyone reached into their bag and pulled out a slide rule. Except me. After four years of high school math, including classes in algebra, trigonometry, and calculus, I was never taught how to use a slide rule. I managed to muddled through. In my chemistry class, it was assumed you would have certain remedial chemistry lab skills if you took chemistry in high school. Nope. Not me.

    Eventually, I said screw it and went off to fight the commies instead.

    Years later in the 1980s, I was on a committee to improve education for minority kids in St. Paul’s high schools. I told that anecdote as an example that we may have a problem in St. Paul of adequately preparing our kids for college. The rest of the committee members were incredulous and assured me that, now 20-some years later, such a problem no longer existed. I said, oh, that’s good because it was really bad before.

    • Submitted by jody rooney on 01/26/2015 - 04:32 pm.

      I was in school at about the same time

      My math classes had me coasting through logic, advanced algebra, statistics and calculus at the U as GPA raisers. It probably depends a bit on the school.

  4. Submitted by Dan Hintz on 01/26/2015 - 12:08 pm.

    Blame SFER

    If you are looking for someone to blame for kids not being ready for college, I’d start with right-wing-billionaire-funded groups like SFER who have forced schools to focus on preparing for high-stakes testing instead of actual teaching. Teach kids skills they need for college, and not just how to fill in ovals.

  5. Submitted by Lisa Gardner on 01/26/2015 - 12:44 pm.

    College loans

    I appreciate the deep data dive to examine that too many MN high school students are unprepared when they go off to post-secondary education. But the fact that Minnesota college students have high student loans is a result of the deep cuts the state has made over the years to the University and MNSCU systems over the past two decades. Thus, more students are taking on higher levels of debt to complete their education, whether or not they need remediation. If the state increased funding of higher education back to 1990’s or 1980’s levels, then at least college students wouldn’t have to shoulder so much of the financial burden alone. That is another change that the legislature can make.

  6. Submitted by Thomas Swift on 01/26/2015 - 01:34 pm.

    These problems long pre-date high stakes testing. The 25% remediation rate has been remarkably consistent as far back as 1997. Further, an objective observer would conclude the tests that are being given today are an accurate reflection of student academic achievement…maybe someone will start to pay them heed.

    • Submitted by Bill Gleason on 01/26/2015 - 05:49 pm.

      I am always amazed, Mr Swift,

      at how you state your opinions as facts …

      1. Please present evidence that “25% remediation has been remarkably consistent as far back as 1997.”

      2. “An objective observer would conclude that the tests that are being given today are an accurate reflection of student academic achievement.”

      So anyone who doesn’t agree with this statement is not objective? There are plenty of people who disagree with it and all ob them cannot be dismissed as “not objective.”

      We’ve recently discussed the Finnish system which is quite different in the testing area. It works.

      • Submitted by Lauren Hebert on 01/27/2015 - 08:12 am.

        I recall…

        As a CC/TC Instructor from 1994-2002 I recall remedial numbers in the 40-50% range and a MnScu system-wide average of 35% or so, so 25% may actually be an improvement. I would assume the need is higher at a CC/TC than either the State Colleges or the U.

        Now, Dr. Gleason… I can’t cite any sources because I am working, don’t know where the numbers are and don’t have the time needed for an online expedition. I hope you will find some patience for those of us who have to rely on recall 🙂 As an academic you have both the time and resources to look up the numbers and we rely on those who can to set us straight.

        As for the ‘objectivity” of the current testing regime and the Finnish approach, I am right with you. in my work, I run into an occasional Finn who is working in N. Minnesota and have been able to discuss how they do it. We would do well to study it!

        • Submitted by Bill Gleason on 01/27/2015 - 09:41 am.

          Thanks for your comments

          I was mainly concerned about whether Mr. Swift was making things up or whether he had some
          outside support for his opinions which he was stating as facts.

          So it isn’t that I couldn’t look these things up myself. I often do, and put links in my comments.

          I will take your anecdotal evidence as fact and am glad that you share my belief that
          we can learn something from the Finns in the educational field.

          My ability to set anyone straight is no different than the average bear as I am retired as
          of last April 1. However I am enjoying tutoring high school students and other

        • Submitted by Marisa Gustafson on 01/27/2015 - 09:56 am.

          The 28% figure is the mean for ALL colleges in MN


          The 28% figure is the mean for ALL colleges in MN (both 2 and 4 year, public and private). Including the private (and typically more selective schools) in this figure drops the remediation rate quite a bit. Plus there’s the added fact that a lot of private colleges don’t even have remedial courses.

          Unfortunately, your recollection of 40-50% for the public 2-year schools is still on the mark. The state reports that the rate of public HS grads who enroll in public 2-years in MN and need developmental courses was 49% in 2006, and 55% in 2011. Not good.

          It is a 35-40% remediation rate when you include both the 2-year and 4-year publics in MN. If you haven’t yet, take a look at the report, and read beyond the Exec. summary!

          Another interesting tidbit that many may not be aware of is the fact that some of the 4 year schools “farm out” their remedial needs to the 2-years. Not exactly sure which institution this counts against in terms of their remediation rate, but I imagine it works in the favor of the 4-year: I imagine the student would technically be enrolled in the 2-year school while taking those developmental courses.

  7. Submitted by Jim Angermeyr on 01/26/2015 - 02:23 pm.

    Identifying students who need remediation

    Several years back, I was part of a study the Normandale Community College and the University of Minnesota completed that looked at some of the issues surrounding post-secondary remediation. There are many complications that were not covered in this story, including: 1) the differential rates of remediation at different institutions. Far fewer at selective colleges and universities than at community colleges and other open admission schools. Not surprising. Also raises questions about the identification process and measures used to determine who needs remediation. Some institutions use student submitted scores from entrance exams such as ACT or SAT while others give their own measures. Depending on the cut scores used in these tests, you will get different “hit rates”. There actually was a pretty good correlation between high school course grades and remediation needs in our district, as well as a good correlation between state tests like MCA and the remediation exams. One big factor often overlooked is the time between the course taken at high school and the admission to college. Lots of math gets forgotten in a few years!

  8. Submitted by kevin terrell on 01/26/2015 - 03:18 pm.

    Great article

    What I would love to see is a follow up article after you talk to 20 or 30 kids who are now in remedial coursework. Did they always intend to go to college? When did they become aware they would need remedial work? Did they take the ACT, or did they wait to take the state’s Acccuplacer test? Did they take a test like the PSAT as juniors, which should have given them insight into academic weaknesses they might need to address before leaving high school? What are specific examples of remedial coursework they need vs. the grades they received in high school? Did they receive any guidance at school on any of this?

    The solutions to this problem will result from asking the right questions and finding the right solutions at the right place in the educational process. Instead, the “co-requisite” approach cited here of offering college tutors is an academic version of “inspecting in quality” – the clear harbinger of an out of control process with leadership that is unwilling and/or unable to address the real problem (the K-12 system). It’s the same as repainting a car after it comes off the production line: an expensive, manual way to produce lower quality. Key differences are that government 1) gets to play with other people’s money, and 2) probably won’t be put out of business by upstart Asians (not yet, anyway).

    We need leadership that recognizes what a very wise Ramon already knows about low expectations; leadership that is willing to not just tinker, but rather transform K-12 education. Instead, we have a governor who just wants to throw more of your money at a broken system.

    • Submitted by Logan Foreman on 01/27/2015 - 09:33 am.

      Sick of hearing right wing comments

      That Dayton is the problem for the K-12 system. Travel back in time and see what Pawlenty did to the education system in his miserable 8 years. Plus carefully read the comment below.

      • Submitted by Thomas Swift on 01/27/2015 - 10:54 am.

        The MCA (and predecessors) & grad rates for MN public schools has remained consistent since Arne Carlson’s time. Neither bales of cash or lean times has had any appreciable effect.

        It can be said also that since the system has started to founder, no Governor, Republican or Democrat, has taken it upon himself to make real change a priority; it’s all about the money. And unfortunately, the defenders of the status quo like it that way.

    • Submitted by Lauren Hebert on 01/27/2015 - 10:44 am.


      Is political reality. Simple as that. “Big Solutions” are rare and usually result from a genuine crisis. If you can imagine a situation where the political will to apply the ‘Big Solution” to education in Minnesota would exist any time soon, I’d like to hear it.

      I’d agree with you that the deep problem is an outmoded system.

      Our educational system evolved to serve an industrial/agrarian society. Many elements of it are outmoded, moribund, expensive, resistant to change and I question them all they time. You may be right that “throwing more money” at this system may not produce huge results, but I don’t think starving it will produce better.

      Until the opportunity/will/demand is there to apply the Big Solution and re-make the system from the bottom up, we are stuck with “tinkering” and the need to properly fund the wheezing old system.

      Who knows, perhaps the cumulative effect of “tinkering” will someday look like a Big Solution.

  9. Submitted by Dan Bosch on 01/26/2015 - 05:05 pm.

    Quick Question

    If students need this remedial work, then why were they accepted to the college when the school knew it was going to allow a sub-standard student to enroll? Are remedial/no credit classes a money maker as an earlier commenter pointed out?

    • Submitted by Sally Sorensen on 01/27/2015 - 09:10 am.

      Open admissions in community & technical colleges

      MNSCU community and technical colleges operate under an open admissions policy. From the website:

      . . . This means:

      You can enroll if you have a high school diploma or a GED. Even without those, you may be admitted if you demonstrate potential for success in college.
      You don’t have to take a standardized test to be admitted, and your high school grades and class rank are not considered.
      After you are admitted, you will take a placement test. That will tell you if you need to take remedial or developmental courses, which will not count toward a degree, before you can take college-level courses. Many students need just one developmental course, often in math or English. If you have taken a “college prep” curriculum in high school, you’re more likely to do well on the test.

      • Submitted by Dennis Tester on 01/27/2015 - 10:56 am.

        Placement test

        It seems to me that if a placement test is determining whether or not applicants need remedial instruction before they’re ready for college work, the people who wrote the placement test should get together with the K-12 people and compare notes.

        Maybe the h.s. graduation requirements and the remedial placement test are greatly out of sync and need to be better aligned so that the high schools have a better understanding of what MNSCU considers substandard performance. Nah, nevermind.

  10. Submitted by Ray Schoch on 01/26/2015 - 08:14 pm.

    My 2¢

    Student debt is a product of the cost of higher education and the state’s financial commitment to it. I’ve only been here a few years, but I know how to read, and what I’ve read shows a state government that has reduced its financial commitment to the U and to the MNSCU system by more than 50% since 1991. In the meantime, average tuition has more than doubled. Cut state aid by half, double the cost to the student, add inflation, and even for those of us who are mathematically-challenged, the result is a formula for skyrocketing student debt, and a very good and practical reason why many high school graduates decide to postpone college, or eliminate it from their plans altogether.

    Lisa Grant is, I think, right on target in her comment. This is a problem with a straightforward legislative fix – one that legislators have, in recent years, lacked the backbone to state plainly and put into place. The state has abdicated its obligation to fund higher education in “state” (as opposed to private and/or parochial colleges and universities) schools, and has shifted more and more of that burden to individual families and students. The state’s contribution to the MNSCU system has fallen by 48%-49% over the past decade, according to a reliable source. That abandonment of the state’s higher education system has required that students and/or their parents make up the difference. While it would be convenient – and not entirely off-base – to lay most of the blame for this at the feet of former Governor Pawlenty, when I look at articles about Minnesota education, it appears that all Mr. Pawlenty did, aside from robbing the public schools to pay other state debts in order to pretend that tax revenue wasn’t necessary (a classic case of “The Brownback Syndrome” at work), was accelerate the pace of a failure of state government that’s been decades in the making, and resolutely bipartisan. The DFL is as much to blame as the GOP, if for no other reason than it did not stridently, frequently and regularly point out this abandonment of young Minnesotans by their elders.

    As for remediation, while Mr. Swift and Mr. Tester will continue to beat the “schools are failing” dead horse of the right wing, the evidence suggests instead at least a couple of other possibilities: one is that standardized tests have significant failings in measuring college readiness; another is that, sometimes, the responsibility for remediation falls not upon the K-12 system from which an unprepared student graduated, or on inadequate or inattentive parenting. Sometimes, that responsibility falls, or at least SHOULD fall, on the shoulders of the student.

    I graduated 4th in my high school class, and cum laude from college. I taught history successfully in a public high school for 30 years. I’ve written for local, regional and national publications. That said, if my life depended upon my ability to do algebra, I’d have died decades ago. I knew when I graduated from high school that I didn’t understand “higher” mathematics. I can do arithmetic just fine – adding, subtracting, multiplication and division have never given me trouble. As soon as letters begin to replace numbers, mathematics becomes Sanskrit, for which I totally lack any documents that would enable me to translate it into something I might understand. When I began my freshman year in college, I even signed up – voluntarily – for a remedial math class. The first third of the semester was a review of arithmetic, and I did just fine. I aced every weekly quiz, and did well on the unit tests. The middle third of the semester was devoted to “simple” algebra. I still didn’t understand what was going on, and my quiz and test grades plummeted to the low “D” range. The final third of the semester was devoted to Algebra II and the very basics of trigonometry. I failed every quiz. I failed the unit tests – not by just a few points, but by wide margins. It made no sense at all to me. Somehow, through lucky guesses and a thorough knowledge of arithmetic, I managed a “C –” on the final exam, and a “C” for the course.

    I still don’t have a clue about “higher” mathematics. Mathematics is a language, but it’s a language I don’t speak, read or understand. I do understand that a batter tracking the flight of a pitched baseball, or a hunter tracking the flight of a duck he wants to shoot, is using calculus, but while I understand the overall concept, any sort of equation leaves me staring blankly at the paper, and it’s a phenomenon that hasn’t changed in more than 50 years.

    My point is that I needed remedial help myself when I went off to college, and in my case, even remedial help didn’t “cure” me. Fortunately, while I’ve always been interested in the broad ideas of science, it has never mattered to me that I couldn’t “do” chemistry or physics because I couldn’t do the math. Arithmetic, yes. Mathematics, no. I’ve never regarded it as a failure of my middle school or high school math teachers. I just don’t “get” math, or speak the mathematical language, and math tests remain the only academic exercises I’ve ever failed. As an elementary student, I wanted to follow in my Dad’s footsteps as an aeronautical engineer and pilot. I realized in 6th grade “pre-algebra” that math made no sense to me, and since I also knew that aeronautical engineers had to be mathematically-literate, I adjusted my occupational goals accordingly.

    Thirty years as both a teacher and an academic advisor to high school students taught me many things. Among them was the certainty that any adolescent would look for the easiest way to meet a challenge. If getting into college required harder classes, with tougher teachers, and their parents would make sure that was the case, fine. They’d do it that way because they had little choice. If they could get in while taking easier classes with less-demanding teachers, they would do that, instead. If their parents would let them. Attentive parents didn’t usually let Jane or Alfonse take the easy way out, but some parents were more attentive than others, and some were more trusting than others. If Alfonse said he was doing “great” in school, and was bringing home “As” to show off, not every parent asked whether the “A” demonstrated real knowledge of challenging material, or meant only that Alfonse was doing well in a course that didn’t really challenge him. Those parents would be just as surprised, and disappointed, as Alfonse might be when the rejection letter came from the college of his (or Jane’s) choice.

    Ramon Page is correct about the tyranny of low expectations, but not in the way many people would assume about that phrase. It’s important, I think, to ask whose expectations are being examined here? Perhaps it’s not the system that failed to prepare Ramon for college. Maybe it was Ramon himself.

    • Submitted by Rachel Kahler on 01/29/2015 - 03:58 pm.

      Ramon’s expectations

      It may be that Ramon had a hand in failing to prepare himself for college. However, it’s hard to set high expectations for yourself if you don’t have a marker to which you can compare. He probably did excel–but the failure to achieve more could very well have been due to the lack of achievement to be had. I know of a certain very smart girl that is a Junior in high school in another state. She’s been succeeding in high school with little difficulty. She’s up for a big reality check, though. She recently took the PSAT and got her scores back–they’re a bummer. I’ll be frank, she’s not going to be competitive for a lot of good schools, and probably will be hard pressed to get scholarships. It’s not that she’s not smart enough, but she didn’t realize that no one else around her was smart enough to challenge her. You don’t know what you don’t know. She’ll succeed, but it’s going to cost her a lot more than it should have because she had no idea that she needed to be challenged before now.

  11. Submitted by Joe Musich on 01/26/2015 - 10:15 pm.

    Should everyone ….

    be directed to a college large, small, private, public or otherwise ? It is an almost entirely a non hands on and in your head experience. Kinda like making ticky tacky. It is still the question of one mold fits all. We could get into the “fact” that college is the way out of inequality. But then we could counter with maybe pay equity between different kinds of work being an answer. Face it many jobs are overpaid but probably even more are way way underpaid. This entire discussion is larger then “remediation” In fact some of those getting remediation probably could be the remediators for many many others due to the methods we use to indescriminately value certain types of work. Who was the philospoher longshoreman ? Oh yea ! Eric Hoffer.

  12. Submitted by Ilya Gutman on 01/26/2015 - 11:49 pm.

    What to do

    Interesting article pointing out the details of what many people already know: High school graduates are not ready for college.

    So first – why? The answer is obvious: political correctness and lack of discipline. Teachers are afraid to tell kids that they are lazy and tell parents to pay more attention to their kids. They feel compelled to keep telling kids that they are all great and smart. And when race comes into this, it makes everything ten times worse…

    Of course, some “activists” make things only worse. College graduates earn more money – all kids shall go to college, no matter that they are not capable and may succeed in other ways. Graduation rates are too low – get rid of graduation tests so everyone can graduate even if they do not have a clue. And minority kids have more problems – get rid of teachers’ exams so more minority teachers can come to schools (who cares if they can’t teach) and blame everything on racism (racist teachers in Minnesota? – fantasy character).

    Second – what to do: Say it as it is. School is not for fun but for future success. Hard work is the only thing that pays. Parents are responsible for their kids up to and including losing welfare benefits if kids do not work hard. Graduation is only for those who are capable of passing a 9th grade level graduation test – others will have to stay for another year in alternative school (remedial classes shall be in school, not in college – it is much cheaper that way). Community college is a great alternative to a four year college but even no college is better than 6 years in college with no diploma and huge debt. Some kids are better than others and that is OK. And no one is entitled to anything.

    And of course, Mr. Hintz managed to find a right-wing conspiracy to blame for this problem…

    • Submitted by Dan Hintz on 01/27/2015 - 07:56 am.

      No conspiracy

      The funders of SFER and similar groups are a matter of public record. And contrary to the image presented by this article and the members interviewed, its not a grass roots organization – its a group funded by a small group of very wealthy people with an agenda to push high-stakes school testing and other corporate education “reform.”

  13. Submitted by Gwen Spurgat on 01/26/2015 - 11:52 pm.

    to be clear…

    Jody wrote, “It seems odd when the number one school based on test scores – Mahtomedi has 19% of their students in remedial classes.” Correct me if I’m wrong, but this article is about only students from Minnesota high schools who went to Minnesota STATE colleges and universities. So for all that are worrying that 25% of all of our students need remediation, that is not the case. Only those who went to Minnesota state colleges. To Jim’s point above, there are many students who go to Minnesota private colleges and others who go out of state, frequently more selective schools taking students who would not need remediation. (Mr. Palazzolo, would the percentage of Minnesota students this report represents be available?)

    I would also love an interactive map on the colleges, showing the differential rates of remediation at different institutions.

    And like Jim, I, too, would caution about the data ignoring the length of time between the class in high school and the test in college. If a 10th grader takes Algebra II, the chances of passing out of it 2-3 years later is slim. Speaking of Algebra II, has anyone considered that our high school math standards might be too high? Many fine professions do not need Algebra II to be perfectly successful in a great career. Journalists, Editors, Marketers, Advertisers, Historians; these are only a few of the many wonderful professions to hold people out of if they can’t quite get that math…

    • Submitted by Marisa Gustafson on 01/27/2015 - 10:14 am.

      The 28% figure is the mean for ALL colleges in MN


      No, the 28% figure is for public HS grads going to ALL colleges in MN (2 yr, 4 yr, public, private).

      See my comment above with the same subject title for more detailed figures pulled directly from the report.

  14. Submitted by jody rooney on 01/27/2015 - 10:56 am.

    The other part of the data that shows up on the chart

    to the right of the map indicates not only the percentage of students that historically have needed remedial work but also the percentage that graduate in 4 years. It would have been nice for that to be a discussion point and a table in the article.

    If for example 19% of the Mahtomedi graduates needed remedial work first in the glass more than half full scenario 81% didn’t . For those that did 97% still graduated in 4 years I am not sure I see the problem. In fact a quick click on several of the dots shows that many of the students graduated within the 4 year time frame.

    Your focus may be a bit broad for your conclusion. I would go back to your data and look at the % that graduate in 4 years compared to the national average and then look at remediation before drawing the conclusions that you have drawn. In fact looking at this data summary these students may have out performed the national average. Some of the fast fact is shown in the quote below.

    “Differences in 6-year graduation rates for first-time, full-time students who began seeking a bachelor’s degree in fall 2006 varied according to institutions’ level of selectivity. In particular, graduation rates were highest at postsecondary degree-granting institutions that were the most selective (i.e., had the lowest admissions acceptance rates), and graduation rates were lowest at institutions that were the least selective (i.e., had open admissions policies). For example, at 4-year institutions with open admissions policies, 33 percent of students completed a bachelor’s degree within 6 years. At 4-year institutions where the acceptance rate was less than 25 percent of applicants, the 6-year graduation rate was 86 percent.”

    In some ways the remediation wake up call may have been a good thing.

  15. Submitted by Bob Holland on 01/27/2015 - 02:46 pm.

    The Relationship between Highschool and College

    This article really does bring out some of the greatest issues facing the millenial generation today: highschool achievement, college debt, increasing demand for college education and graduation. That nearly 1 in 4 students would require remedial coursework is a testament to the fact that society is not interested in creating a culture where learning is valued. Compare, for example, Japan. In the Japanese model learning in primary and secondary school is considered ultracompetitive and a requirement to succeed in society.

    I also wanted to ask the authors to make one revision please: The name of the institution is the Minnesota State University, Mankato. The name change from the previous name, Mankato State University, was in 1999. It’s been 16 years now, I think we can start using the correct name for the largest institution in the MNSCU system.

  16. Submitted by Thomas Swift on 01/27/2015 - 05:44 pm.

    We did discuss Finland earlier, and we discovered why comparing it to the U.S. is an excersize in delusion. The fact that some cannot admit the blatantly obvious is one of the reasons we cannot make any positive progress in fixing our broken system.

  17. Submitted by Lauren Hebert on 01/28/2015 - 12:39 pm.

    Not having read…

    Your previous duscussion, I would be very curious to hear just why applying some of the methods used in Finland are an “excercize in delusion.

    • Submitted by Thomas Swift on 01/29/2015 - 07:07 am.

      Sure Lauren, we start by observing the fact that Finland is a country with an ethically and culturally homogenous population that numbers less than New York City. These folks are not pulling in 20 different directions, and school administrators do not have to tailor curriculum to suit hundreds of disparate special interests.

      I’m not saying Finland has no ideas we could use, everyone has something to offer; but the differences between America and Finland are simply too great to think their system could be replicated with any success here.

      • Submitted by Lauren Hebert on 01/30/2015 - 10:21 pm.

        It’s not obvious to me…

        Why cultural or ethnic homogeneity or lack thereof has anything to do with whether or not any methodology is effective. Nor does it seem valid to me to compare the US to Finland when, in reality, the US has 50 school systems. Minnesota compares well with Finland in size.

        Maybe you can expand on that a bit.

        • Submitted by Thomas Swift on 02/02/2015 - 10:42 am.

          Lauren,Finland spends a bit

          Finland spends a bit more than $7000 US dollars per pupil, per year ( ). MPS & SPPS spend more than twice that. So we’ve already exceeded the Finnish model in one, important respect. So let us examine the benefits homogeneity might have brought to them.

          Perhaps you haven’t noticed the tremendous effort and expense that is made in US public schools (Minnesota certainly among the top examples), to accommodate cultural and racial diversity. “Diversity” is “celebrated”, and built into the public school experience in all aspects. Most school districts have specialists to address the dozens of disparate identities that show up for class. You probably haven’t read about the lawsuits that have been laid due to a perceived lack of attention given to one group or another in one area or another. Curriculum is tailored to meet the expectations of immigrants and native born racial minorities, academic results be damned. Many administrators probably are not happy, but their hands are tied by the always ready army of lawyers waiting for them to slip up.

          And can you imagine the hue and cry that would ensue from the NEA if we tried to limit teaching to the top 10% of college grads, and require a graduate degree to boot?

          And let us not forget, that under-girding the Finn’s claim to fame are results of (gasp) a standardized test!

          Here is an interesting take:

          The only state where the Finnish society *might* have some commonality is North Dakota.

  18. Submitted by Rachel Kahler on 01/29/2015 - 01:26 pm.

    Not all of the high schools in MN are listed on the interactive chart. I’d love to see where the various publicly and privately funded schools that are not technically public high schools fall into the distribution.

    Also, it’s important to note that the percentages have changed over time for most schools. Most have stayed nearly the same or reduced. Few have increased. Why? Are the schools getting better in most cases? Or, are those who are least likely to succeed in college simply not attempting it? For those getting worse, is it because more kids are unprepared or because more are trying to go to college even though they’re not ready? Or are the more unprepared kids deciding not to leave the state? This data doesn’t come even close to showing how prepared ALL students are when they finish high school–just those that don’t leave the state. It stands to reason that those least prepared are also those most likely not to go to a distant college.

    I agree with at least one other person in this discussion that those kids that aren’t prepared for college probably shouldn’t attempt it till they’re ready. However, in this economy, the balance of power is tipped toward employers who demand a higher education for jobs that simply don’t need it, leaving those who are perfectly competent un- or underemployed, or at least relegated to jobs that are artificially configured to make sure that few or no benefits are provided (ensuring high turnover and low interest). The demand for a college degree, even without need of one, has been a driver of student debt. Added to the artificial bloating of the employment numbers with low paid, low benefit, low value, high turnover, poverty level and poverty extending jobs…. We survived the housing bubble (for the most part), but will we survive the education bubble?

  19. Submitted by Dan McGuire on 01/31/2015 - 02:35 am.

    What’s the point of this article

    The map seems to best correlate the need for remedial courses to poverty levels. If we as a state address our staggering housing gap, our staggering employment gap, our staggering access to health care gap, and the very gross economic gap, we might be able to change the colors of some of those dots.

  20. Submitted by Grace McGarvie on 02/01/2015 - 05:36 pm.


    When I took freshman English at St. Cloud State back in 1966, I was told that 25% of students failed that class and were then required to take remediation classes. I Aced the class and all subsequent classes at St. Cloud, Anoka Ramsey Community College, and the University of Minnesota, graduating with a 3.84. I had graduated from high school in rural Minnesota and I note that this school now has a 30% remediation rate. Maybe things have not changed????? Many high school students do not take high school work seriously, nor do they realize at their young age, how much of their future is going to be determined by their high school work.

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