We Can, We Should-It's Right, It's Our Job


A year ago at Spring Plenary Session in San Francisco, the body adopted two resolutions calling for an increase in the statewide minimum requirements in math and english required to receive an associate degree from any California Community College. With those actions, it became the responsibility of the President and Executive Committee to implement the official will of the body. For many resolutions, delegates don't examine what is required to implement them, and are satisfied when the results appear, a year or two later, recorded as completed in the senate status Report.

The Process

In the case of the graduation requirements, however, passing the resolutions was merely the starting point of a long, official process that involves explaining the Senate's academic reasons, allowing other interested constituencies to discuss the recommendation, and making a convincing political case for why the Senate's academic and professional advice should prevail. This process will ultimately result in a board of governor's action to change title 5. Here we share the public arguments that have been made both to outside groups and to those of our own faculty who remain unconvinced. They have been distilled from the four years of senate debate as well as the past year of presentations to groups such as the cIo/csso joint conference and the consultation council. They have also appeared briefly in newspaper articles in the sacramento bee (3/21/06) and community college Week (4/10/06).

First we have explained the senate's process. despite comments to the contrary by a local college president, it has been a long, slow, deliberate and thoughtful process -some would say "glacial"-in true higher education policy mode. Process is what the senate does best. It began in 2001 and included plenary session breakouts, two statewide, public hearings, a background paper, local senate debate and intense statewide debate at several plenary sessions. as is the nature of our process, new individuals joined the debate at every stage and were sometimes surprised that the material was new to them. the final adoption votes in spring 2005 were not unanimous but, nonetheless, were very clear expressions of the will of the body. as I commented to a ceo group, "you would be delighted with that degree of approval for a bond measure." such is the nature of contentious decisions in a democracy.

The Reasons

The quick "soundbite" conclusion that we share with most groups is that this is the right thing to do-right for our individual students and their families, right for the relationship of our system to the rest of public education in california and right for the california economy and its success in the ever-changing global economy. We make no claim that it will be easy, but rather that with the creative talents of our colleagues we can make it a success for all our students. Locally it's always possible to find a single faculty member or program with an opposing view.

And just as happens when you take a local senate academic and professional recommendation to your local Board of Trustees, individuals are free to testify in opposition.

But at the level of state educational policy this is clearly the correct vision of the future.

Two main sets of data and arguments lead independently to the senate recommendation. both reasons are important.

One set of reasons involves economic considerations at the personal, state, national and global levels. At the personal level economic studies show two scenarios:

The preferred choice should be obvious. You can debate the meaning of "college level" in various different studies, but the current minimum math and english skills required for california community college associate degrees are indisputably high school level.

On an increasingly global stage, leaders repeatedly talk about the need for improved math and English skills (and occasionally communication and science as well).

We've heard it from local employers including, especially, the economic and workforce development community, state superintendent of Public Instruction o'connell, Board of Governors chair Caplan, our brand new system strategic plan2 and its data, and even from President Bush in this year's state of the union address3. In large part this widespread concern is driven by global economic analyses that show high-skill jobs moving overseas to the large number of bachelor degree holders materializing in India and china. This could leave California with a surfeit of low-skill, low-wage jobs and the resulting decline of tax revenue and the state services that are so important to a vibrant democracy. This is not the future we want-for ourselves or our students. A recent european economic community survey of math preparation ranked the united states between Portugal and latvia4. Something is seriously wrong with this picture.

The second set of reasons involves our relationship with the other parts of public education in California-K-12, CSU and UC. In the past decade the California public has expressed considerable concern about both the standards and the achievement levels of the K-12 system. Extensive new framework documents were completed with the explicit intent of raising standards in math and English. The math framework states:

Students must complete at least two courses in mathematics in grades nine through twelve (one or a combination of these courses must meet or exceed the rigor of the content standards for algebra I)5.

The language arts framework states:

Strong emphasis on research-based discourse (writing and delivering research-based compositions and oral presentations and reading research discourse critically)6.

This means that the math and english skills laid out in the high school frameworks are the same level as the minimum currently required by our colleges for receipt of an associate degree-a degree that certifies that you have the general education skills achieved after completion of two years of higher education. that's a significant mismatch. In addition, the entry-level skills required for students to attend CSU include a math course two levels higher than our degree requirement as the standard for exemption from the csu entry-level mathematics test (elm). Notice that CSU's requirement is before the two years of higher education that we provide to our associate degree recipients.

The Proposal

The Senate's proposal addresses those two misalignments -job skills and general education relative to other systems-by raising the statewide minimum requirements for an associate degree. It leaves in place existing mechanisms for alternative courses and departments, a testing option and does not affect degree applicability. In addition it strongly recommends that local colleges create alternative courses and examine support services to maximize relevance and success for students. The Senate's proposal does not affect those students obtaining a certificate, or who complete transfer requirements. The fine print of the actual proposal has been available to you for some time both as the complete consultation digest and as a one page summary. I will not repeat these here but you can find them on the senate website at http://www.academicsenate.cc.ca.us/archives/mathenglish/mathenglishmain….

If you are a newcomer to this conversation, I encourage you to read them carefully. This is a case where the fine print is important. new material will be posted at this same website as it becomes available.

The Concerns

Some of the concerns voiced in audience questions seem to come from people who have not actually read the senate proposal. But the most common concerns come in two groups.

One group essentially says that the new requirement is not necessary for "something." some point to the traditional Intermediate algebra or freshman composition courses and say that they are not suitable for every student in every degree program. the senate absolutely agrees and makes it clear by resolutions and in the recommendation that a variety of appropriate alternative courses at the same level of rigor should be made available. Several colleges who have already increased their degree requirements locally have courses available in departments other than math and english (Title 5, Section 55805.5 (e) currently authorizes this).

Examples for math include computer mathematics, business mathematics and electronic mathematics. Examples for english include business communications, Introduction to business Writing, Writing for news media and Reporting & Writing.

At the senate's recent vocational leadership seminar in Palm springs a creative, enthusiastic group of faculty shared examples of why their vocational students would ultimately benefit from increased general education skill levels, and shared possible alternative courses and strategies.

Other opponents point to a specific vocational program that does not need mathematics or english in order to get a job. Here is where it is important to acknowledge that an essential component of awarding a college degree is an expectation about general education, not just job skills. It has been pointed out that associate degree holders receive higher salaries than certificate holders and therefore suggested that we don't want to discourage students from earning degrees. That much is true, but unless we are careful, this logic suggests that salary is the overriding priority. Then we might as well just award everybody a Ph.D. because the same data shows that Ph.D. holders receive even higher salaries.

The second group of concerns can be summarized as "students find this difficult-therefore we shouldn't make them do it." If we applied this concept to education as a whole, we wouldn't have any colleges or universities. Of course, students find much of education difficult-and our job as professionals is to help them succeed. A variant of this theme is to point out that students may require an additional semester to complete a new requirement -and therefore we can't do it.

The whole point of our open access institutions is to welcome students at any skill level-and then help them to achieve the levels appropriate for a certificate or degree.

If you simply say we have to give them a degree after two years, regardless of general education skill level, then you fall right into the "seat time / social promotion" behavior that has so destroyed the credibility of K-12. that would not serve our students well.

And the most emotional concern is the data that shows some subgroups of students have lower success rates in math and english. But the conclusion that therefore "those students don't need the math or english skills" is flat wrong. You could point to similar data for differential success rates in high school. But nobody would conclude that those students don't need high school. Our conclusion should be that the affected sub groups of students need math and english skills just as much, or more, than any other degree holders. and again, our job is to be creative and help our students to earn success. The differential success rates are indeed a problem-and one that we must address. But the solution is not differential skill levels.

You'll also occasionally hear the argument of "local control." This is misleading. The State has already established its expectation for a statewide minimum requirement. The Senate is recommending that the level of that existing statewide requirement be raised. so arguments for local control are simply opposition to raising the statewide minimum.

What Happens Next?

The simplest timeline is for other groups to complete their discussions this month and for the senate recommendation to return to consultation council on may 11. It was first shared with consultation council in January. Chancellor Drummond will then consider the advice of consultation council and make a recommendation to the Board of Governors. On a matter which is so clearly academic and professional we would expect the chancellor to take the senate proposal to the board for discussion and possible action. Title 5 changes such as this require two board readings which would mean, at the earliest, the July and September Board meetings.

Minimum implementation time after board approval is a thirty day waiting period, but some CIO leaders have suggested that a later effective date, such as for students entering in fall 2008 or fall 2009, would give colleges the time they need to create effective alternative courses and examine support structures. However, the CIO/CSSO conference recently passed a resolution that includes "whereas" clauses supportive of the senate's reasons for recommending a change, but a "resolved" clause calling for maintenance of the status quo. The complete resolution is available on their website at: http://www.ccccio.org/documents/resolutionremathandenglish_000.pdf. The senate believes that the board of governors should show clear leadership on this issue by passing the title 5 change recommended by the academic senate. This action will clearly tell the system and the California public that they support increased math and english skills for our degree recipients. They should then direct us to expend our considerable energies and expertise on the creation of courses and support mechanisms that help students to achieve those higher skills. The Legislature has just proposed an increased amount of "one-time" Proposition 98 funds for the next several years. A project to pilot and replicate measures to ensure student success with the new requirements would be an excellent use of such money. Perhaps it could be a joint proposal of the senate and the cIo board. In the meantime the senate will continue to share mechanisms from successful programs and colleges. Several 2006 Spring Session resolutions address this. Come to the breakout scheduled for Spring Plenary Session to share your ideas and your success stories and to find creative solutions to everybody's concerns.

And here's my personal plea to all of you-students, faculty, administrators and trustees.

Don't expend immense energy in arguing that our students don't need math and english skills to succeed as educated citizens in a vibrant california and a global economy.

Instead, please join me in loudly saying that this is the right future for our students, their families, their employers and our fine state.

Together we will achieve that future.

1 Congressman Gunderson presentation to FACCC conference, 2005. available at http://www.faccc.org/research/workshop/conf/2005/gundersonPresentation…)

2 system strategic Plan, 2006. available at http://www.cccco.edu/strat_plan/strat_plan.htm

3 state of union address, 2006. available at http://www.whitehouse.gov/stateoftheunion/2006/index.html

4 first Results from PIsa 2003, executive summary, p8. available at http://www.pisa.oecd.org/dataoecd/1/63/34002454.pdf

5 mathematics framework for california Public schools, 2006. available at http://www.cde.ca.gov/ci/ma/cf/documents/math-front-intro.pdf

6 Reading language arts framework for california Public schools, 1999. available at http://www.cde.ca.gov/re/pn/fd/documents/lang-arts.pdf