Working paper

Understanding the 'Crisis' in Basic Skills

Framing the Issues in Community Colleges
W. Norton Grubb
University of California, Berkeley


In the first of eleven PACE Working Papers, W. Norton Grubb et al, frame the issues surrounding basic skills instruction in California Community Colleges. While increases in remedial education (or basic skills instruction or developmental education) have taken place at several levels of the education and training system, there are reasons for thinking that the issue is particularly acute in community colleges. This introductory working paper divides the problem into two. The first is the high proportion — perhaps 60 percent for the country, and 80 percent in California — of students entering colleges who assess into developmental courses. This can be explained by the pattern of dynamic inequality in American education, where inequalities among students increase as they move through the system. The second problem arises from the evidence that students entering a remedial trajectory are unlikely to move into college-level work, so remediation has become a serious barrier to success for many students. Unfortunately, like other second-chance efforts, basic skills instructions often works under difficult conditions, and there are many hypotheses about why success rates in basic skill are not higher — most of which will be examined in this series of papers. Since developmental education is first and foremost an instructional issue, this series of papers rests on a conceptual foundation focusing on the triangle of instruction, considering the instructor, students, and content within a set of institutional influences. The underlying research for these papers involves classroom observation, and interviews with instructors and administrators, to understand both classroom settings and the institutional setting. This framing paper then introduces the subjects for remaining papers in the series.
Suggested citationNorton Grubb, W. (2011, June). Understanding the “crisis” in basic skills: Framing the issues in community colleges [Working paper]. Policy Analysis for California Education.