The Problem With Horse Races

Glenda Morgan: How the extrapolation of a successful program at CUNY has been misunderstood

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The problem with horse races

I have always had a distaste for randomized controlled trials (RCTs) as experimental designs in the field of education. To borrow a metaphor from a dear friend, I often liken them to horse races. Initially, my aversion to horse races/RCTs stemmed from the immense challenge of replicating two identical situations except for the sole variable under examination. But it turns out in some of these trials/races you can’t even tell which horse won. Or if it was a horse at all.

There are two things that almost everyone in EdTech circles can agree on

  1. We need more evidence to drive adoption of tech or changes in higher ed practice that lead to improved student outcomes.

  2. Retention and time to degree are real “hair on fire” problems in higher ed.

What if we came across something that combined both of those phenomena: a research-based intervention that demonstrably moves the needle on retention and speed to graduation? Would we promote the heck out of it? Why yes, yes we would.

Corequisite remediation as a way to improve outcomes

This is what happened when researchers and administrators at the City University of New York (CUNY) devised a method to replace remedial math courses with an approach known as corequisite remediation. For some time, remedial courses have posed a challenge in higher education, particularly in community colleges and other institutions with open access policies. According to NCES data, among beginning students, 68% of students at community colleges and 40% at public 4-year institutions took at least one remedial course. Unfortunately, these remedial courses do not count towards their credit hours, resulting in a slowdown of their progress and contributing to a significant number of students abandoning their educational journey before completion.

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