About the Blog

I will post a new entry every few weeks. Some will be new writing and some will be past work that has relevance today. The writing will deal in some way with the themes that have been part of my teaching and writing life for decades:

•teaching and learning;
•educational opportunity;
•the importance of public education in a democracy;
•definitions of intelligence and the many manifestations of intelligence in school, work, and everyday life; and
•the creation of a robust and humane philosophy of education.

If I had to sum up the philosophical thread that runs through my work, it would be this: A deep belief in the ability of the common person, a commitment to educational, occupational, and cultural opportunity to develop that ability, and an affirmation of public institutions and the public sphere as vehicles for nurturing and expressing that ability.

My hope is that this blog will foster an online community that brings people together to continue the discussion.


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Friday, March 8, 2013

A Review of Basic Skills Education in Community Colleges: Inside and Outside of Classrooms, W. Norton Grubb with Robert Gabriner

I’ve known Norton Grubb for some time and have long admired his wide-ranging and keen intelligence on so many issues in American education: from vocationalism to finance to remedial education. He and I have been thinking about remedial education for decades and pretty much agree down the line – though, as he once pointed out to me, I tend to see things in more of a glass half-full kind of way. But this new book of his has that glass-half-full quality to it, for as critical as it is, it is also full of suggestions – for we are at a time when a lot of terrific people are doing innovative work in remedial education, and Grubb and his coauthor, Bob Gabriner, draw generously on it.

Basic Skills Education in Community Colleges is one of the rare studies of higher education that takes us inside the classroom, in this case, community college basic skills classrooms. (“The classroom is a complex place, with much more going on than the simple interaction of teacher and student—and even that interaction itself is far from simple.”) Grubb has written extensively on the community college, and Gabriner has a long career working in higher education. Together they provide in just over 200 pages a comprehensive overview of the problems with instruction in remedial writing, reading, English as a second language, and mathematics and a set of recommendations for improving remediation.

In the book, Grubb and Gabriner discuss the range of issues that land students in remedial classrooms (from poor previous education to erroneous placement testing) but explore as well the range of institutional problems that stand in the way of these students’ success: outdated instructional methods to ineffective use of resources. The book is rich in both policy analysis and snippets of interviews with students, faculty, and administrators. The reader gets a palpable sense of the complexity of what the authors call “the quandary of basic skills.”

But the book also offers a number of ways out of the quandary. Drawing on work that is currently being done in the community colleges across California (home to about one-tenth of all the community colleges in the United States), Grubb and Gabriner detail a wide range of innovations in curriculum and instruction, in assessment, in the use of student support services, and in budgeting. So Grubb and Gabriner’s book is not only a critique but is also a guide to improvement.

At its core, Basic Skills Education in Community Colleges a call to thoroughly reassess remediation in a way that will lead to more students receiving an education that befits a democratic society. The authors’ closing paragraph nicely sums up this vision:

In the end, the educational institutions we build as a nation reflect the priorities we have, particularly for publicly supported education. If we want schooling to serve simply as a filter, identifying the students whose prior preparation has been the strongest and whose family and community influences are the most consistent with academic success, then we can develop—indeed, we have developed—a system that acts as a series of gates or barriers to success for those who are least prepared. But if we want our institutions to be truly developmental at every stage and level, then we need a system that takes improvement in basic skills education as seriously as any other activity. Such a system would produce and support institutions worthy of being considered truly educational.

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