NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Opinion: California Students Not Prepared

March 26, 1997

Many public school students are being graduated without the ability to read, write or calculate, say critics. Those who pass on to college must often take remedial courses to learn what their teachers in the lower schools never taught them.

  • In 1995, 78 percent of all higher-education institutions offered at least one course in remedial reading, writing or mathematics.
  • Some 29 percent of all freshmen take a remedial course when they enter college -- most often in mathematics.
  • Remedial classes are required of 41 percent of freshmen at community colleges, 26 percent at two-year private colleges, 22 percent at four-year public institutions and 13 percent at four-year private institutions.
  • Some 39 percent of institutions queried reported that there was an increasing need for remedial courses in the past five years.

In California about one-half of freshmen who enter the huge California State University system require remediation in either English or mathematics. Cal State is considered a second-tier school, say observers, less selective in admissions standards than the University of California. However,

  • Some 53 percent of incoming freshmen failed the Cal State math proficiency test -- up from 39 percent in 1992.
  • Nearly one-half, 43 percent, flunked the English exam -- about the same as in 1992.
  • Since Cal State selects its freshmen from the top third of California's high school seniors, this means that the state's high schools are not able to fully prepare even their top students for college.

California's community colleges now spend $300 million each year to provide remedial courses to 169,000 students. That represents 11 percent of their budgets and 13 percent of their enrollments.

Sources: Diane Ravitch (Manhattan Institute), "Do It Right the First Time," Forbes, February 10, 1997; Editorial, "A Costly 'Fix' for Failed Schools," Investor's Business Daily, March 26, 1997.


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