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Education Reporter

Remedial Education:
The High Costs of Bad Schools

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What happens when one in three of a state's public high school graduates lacks basic math and literacy skills? A study from the Alabama Policy Institute attempts to estimate the cost to the state. In the report, "The Cost of Remedial Education: How Much Alabama Pays When Students Fail to Learn Basic Skills," Dr. Christopher W. Hammons analyzes the financial impact that underachieving high school graduates have on both postsecondary education and industry.

Averaging five different strategies to calculate the cost, the study estimates the economic impact of unprepared students on the state of Alabama to be $541 million annually. The study considers the costs of remedial education in colleges, remedial training businesses provide for employees, technologies to compensate for lack of skills (such as touch screens with pictures of food items instead of words), losses of profit through lack of competent employees, and other factors. College professors gave anecdotal evidence to support the numbers. According to Troy State math professor Dr. Sergey Belyi, "about 50% of students entering college are not prepared for college level work." Other professors also indicated that among students who do not take remedial coursework, there are many who actually need remedial help.

Surveyed employers also gave dismal reports of their new employees' skills. A large financial company wrote, "It has become increasingly difficult to find candidates that meet our minimum standards. Most instructions, policies, etc. must be written at a middle school level." A temp agency commented, "You would think that a high school graduate would know how many inches are in a foot. Sadly, a large majority cannot answer this question correctly."

The situation is by no means unique to Alabama. For example, 44% of Alabama public school graduates who go straight to two-year community colleges take at least one remedial class; nationally, the average is 42%. "Alabama is not out of line with other states, but has the same problems that they do," Hammons concludes.

However, commentators do point to features of the Alabama system that may make the problem worse. In his commentary on the study, Dr. Matthew Ladner points out that Alabama is one of only four states that have implemented no parental choice reforms, such as charter schools, school vouchers, or education tax credits. (The other three are Kentucky, North Dakota and Montana.)

"Alabamians must either steel themselves for continued disappointment of the sort related in this study or else begin making fundamental changes to get improved educational value out of the taxpayer's investment in education," Ladner warns.

For copies of this study, call the Alabama Policy Institute at (205) 870-9900, or email info@alabamapolicy.org.

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