Each year, according to a recent New York Times story, about a third of incoming California State University students enroll in remedial English and math classes. They are mostly graduates from the 1.4 million K-12 students that the California Department of Education classifies as English learners.
Once, the inability to speak English with at least some degree of fluency would automatically disqualify a prospective college student. But that was before the largely immigration-fueled high school student population grew to today’s overwhelming 6.3 million enrollees, many of whom enter college.
The remedial courses, which will end in the 2018 fall semester, have failed the students and the taxpayers. Former CSU instructors who commented on the story said that their classes inevitably had a handful of students that couldn’t speak English at even a rudimentary level.
Throughout the 23-campus Cal State system only 20 percent of students graduate within four years. Chancellor Timothy White promised to double the graduation rate to 40 percent by 2025, still embarrassingly low, and not a guarantee that the students, despite having a diploma, will be employment-ready.
Students unprepared to do university caliber work should not be admitted. Community colleges can offer the necessary remedial instruction. But the more lasting solution is to reduce the pressure on educational institutions by slowing population growth.
In the 1950s, California’s public education system was ranked the nation’s best. In steady decline ever since, today it’s the ninth worst, largely because of its pupils’ poor English and math abilities. A major contributor to waning achievement: during the last 50 years, Congress has passed the 1965 Immigration and Nationality Act, the 1986 Immigration Reform and Control Act, and the 1990 Immigration Act.
Moreover, thousands of refugees have settled in California and waves of Central American minors have entered. The combined result of these actions has been to burden school districts with more non-English speakers than they can successfully instruct. But Plyer v. Doe requires that all children regardless of their immigration status are legally entitled to public education. As a result, California’s public educational institutions struggle unsuccessfully to keep up with the demands made on them.
Sustainable immigration levels would reduce the pressures on public schools, and lessen the need for remedial classes.