When High Schools Fail, Colleges Take Up the Slack
An editorial in the Columbia Daily Tribune calls for higher standards in K-12 education:
UM President George Russell went around the state sending the most powerful message one can imagine for stimulating an increase in outcomes quality for high school graduates.
But even 10 years ago 26 percent of entering Missouri students needed special help on basic skills, and now the number is 36 percent. The largest increase is in remedial math. […]
One can imagine a sensible higher education admissions policy that simply would refuse to allow unqualified students to matriculate, but such a strict standard would offend too many parents who believe if their child graduates from high school he or she should be able to get into a public institution of higher education.
I agree that the remedial courses many kids have to take are a sign that K-12 schools could do better. But I don’t think changing college entrance standards alone will put pressure on the high schools. After all, why are the colleges teaching these subjects that should have been mastered earlier? Because the students, who are their consumers, want these courses. If the University of Missouri didn’t offer remedial courses, students could choose from many community colleges and trade schools around the state that teach high school math.
At the high school level, it’s a different story. There’s little competition between public schools (and general uproar when students attend a school outside of their assigned district). If high schools were allowed to compete the way colleges do now, we’d see remedial middle school courses in 9th grade and the problem would be solved much earlier.