Quality Teaching a ‘Crucial Lever’ in California’s Dev Ed Reform

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In California, the work to systematically overhaul remedial education is well underway. A new chapter began in 2017 with legislation and an executive order that compelled community colleges and many of the state’s public four-year institutions to end remedial education.

Implementation of the policy-enabled changes is still early and far from complete. But the positive impact was immediately apparent after the first year. Community college completion rates increased significantly across student demographic segments. Across the California State University (CSU), nearly 7,800 more students completed college-level math courses—compared to 950 students the previous year.

Spotlight on the California State University

Increasingly, faculty development is seen as a priority for sustaining strategies that increase student retention, completion and graduation. “The efforts are being led by faculty, because they are the ones who best understand that [remediation] is not good for students,” said Alison Wrynn the system’s associate vice chancellor for academic programs, innovations and faculty development.

Under Wrynn and Director Emily Magruder, The CSU Institute for Teaching and Learning (ITL) has seen its mission and scale expand dramatically in recent years. As part of the CSU’s Graduation 2025 Initiative, the CSU Institute played a central role in helping campuses redesign entry-level mathematics and writing courses to eliminate pre-requisite remediation.

The ITL worked closely with the CSU Faculty Development Council, as well as cross-campus teams, to link reform of remedial education to systemwide efforts to increase student success with equitable and engaged teaching and learning. Campus teams consisted of institutional researchers, directors of academic support centers, advisors, chairs of departments offering the courses, and directors of faculty development or teaching and learning centers. These teams supported faculty by organizing in-person summits, producing a webcast series, and cultivating digitally-supported professional learning communities.

Center for Effective Teaching and Learning A “Crucial Lever”

On one CSU campus, Cal State LA, much of that work is centered in Cal State LA’s Center for Effective Teaching and Learning (CETL), recognized as a “crucial lever” in the university’s plan to achieve its ambitious student success goals set through the Graduation Initiative 2025.

To support implementation in response to CSU Executive Order 1110, Catherine Haras, executive director of the CETL, with the support of Michelle Hawley, Cal State LA’s associate vice president and dean of undergraduate studies, designed a hybrid professional development program that forced faculty to “blow up all of their assumptions” about their courses, from structure and materials.

Building to Scale

Hawley and Haras also needed a scalable mechanism to support and train nearly 60 math faculty in their program. “With ACUE, we were able to run programs systematically for these larger multi-section courses and involve faculty in redesigning a common course at the same time,” said Hawley. “That’s when we began to see impact to scale.”

Cal State LA is evaluating the impact of its faculty development work in several ways:

  • Through mid-course surveys, students note that their professors are providing regular feedback, assigning more meaningful work, and keeping class well organized and well paced, among other evidence-based teaching practices.
  • An analysis of course completion data found that the percentage of first-year students who completed their math requirement increased by 25% every year between 2016 and 2018.
  • As a measure of economic equity, Cal State LA found that the overall achievement gap between Pell-eligible and non-Pell-eligible students was eliminated from a high of 6%.

Spotlight on California Community Colleges

As the largest system of higher education in the nation, the California Community Colleges is at the center of the state’s reform of developmental education. These colleges are launching pads, helping nearly 80,000 students annually transfer into the state’s public four-year institutions. Serving 2.1 million students across 116 colleges, they also annually produce hundreds of thousands of highly-trained graduates who enter the workforce as nurses, technicians, chefs, counselors, engineers, machinists, and many more.

Strong Workforce and Faculty Development

In 2017, Grant Goold, a full-time faculty member at American River College was tapped by the California Community Colleges Chancellor’s Office to help the system implement the Strong Workforce Program—a new annual recurring investment of $200 million to spur career education in California’s community colleges. The program is charged with creating one million more middle-skilled workers in California.

Goold saw high-quality professional development for the system’s Career and Technical   Education (CTE) faculty as a crucial piece of the implementation. “Once I started to really look at the quality of instruction, I found that many of our faculty were not exposed to professional-level, high quality development in pedagogy,” said Goold.

After two years, nearly 500 faculty across 28 community colleges became ACUE-credentialed in Effective College Instruction. At one campus, the College of the Desert, newly hired faculty are required to earn the credential as part of their first-year onboarding programs. A regional consortia in northern California, made up of rural community colleges, are combining their resources to design cohorts across multiple institutions.

“The proof is in the pudding.”

From the start, Goold was determined to evaluate the ACUE program’s impact, in part because he knew that expansion was dependent on hard data that showed demonstrable impact. For example, at City College of San Francisco, there was a significant increase in the rate of students receiving As and a significant decrease in the rate of students receiving Fs in sections taught by ACUE-credentialed faculty, relative to comparison data. “The proof is in the pudding,” Goold said. “We had incredible outcomes. We had a shift in mindset for many of our faculty.”

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