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Double Standard Reform

Double Standard Reform

Reports abound across the country of ex-welfare mothers who can’t make ends meet. Booted out of a system they depended on for so long, many lack the skills necessary to secure gainful employment despite taking training programs the federal government mandated nearly four years ago. That was back when reforming the system was all the buzz.
Many of the mothers now say that training only prepared them for jobs with meager salaries. Who gets hurt the most? Clearly, their kids do. Unfortunately, much of the buzz that created a national momentum to change anything has died down.
Reforming welfare reform is yesterday’s news.
Today, there’s buzz about reforming a different system — the educational system. Politicians say that taxpayers don’t want to shell out funds twice on disadvantaged students the same way they didn’t want to give a free ride to welfare mothers. They say students who didn’t accomplish what they should have during secondary school should not siphon off tax dollars to catch up at the college level.
But it’s not really about what taxpayers want. And it’s not about the money either.
If that were the case, we’d have all kinds of reform on all kinds of issues, such as campaign finance and defense spending. But initiatives on those issues can’t even make it out of a Congressional committee.
This is about power. Welfare recipients and disadvantaged students — two of the least powerful segments of the American population — just don’t stand a chance against political grand-standers at the federal, state and local level.
So now we have remedial education reform. And much like welfare reform, there stand to be a lot of people who will get booted out of the system, many of them Black and Latino. As if those student populations didn’t already face barriers to access and degree attainment.
In this edition of Black Issues, Senior Writer Ronald Roach takes a look at what higher education officials are doing to reform remedial education at California State University — the nation’s largest postsecondary system (See story, starting on pg. 16). Officials there say they have come up with a model for the rest of the country. Here at Black Issues, we say: Let’s take a closer look. We can’t afford to have students kicked out of the system and then left to fend for themselves like the welfare mothers who struggle today.
Cal State officials say their long-term goal is to reduce the percentage of students needing remediation to less than 10 percent over the next several years. From the looks of things so far, they are headed in that direction.
 But numbers can be misleading. With welfare reform, many politicians — some well-intentioned, others unconcerned — wanted simply to reduce the number of women on the public dole. They succeeded. The number of people receiving aid has fallen to a 30-year low. But that fact masks the very real economic problems that many working-poor families face every day.
So while people are still buzzing about remediation, it’s important to make sure that as we reduce the number of remedial students in higher education, we don’t simply give the boot to under-prepared students. That would be the easy way out.
We need to make sure that by the time remediation reform is yesterday’s news, the number of students needing remediation hasn’t reached an all-time low simply because those who needed to catch up have been kicked out the system.    

Jamilah Evelyn

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