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Remediation and lack of rigor in high school costs students and the economy — Gov. Nixon signs legislation to address that problem in Missouri

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Only 15 percent of Missouri business owners believe that Missouri high schools are preparing students for the workplace, according to a Gallup survey commissioned by the Missouri Chamber of Commerce and Industry.  Missouri employers spend millions of dollars each year bringing new employees up to speed for the workplace.

An omnibus education bill signed into law today by Gov. Jay Nixon takes steps to change that statistic. Among many provisions is a Missouri Chamber-backed amendment that requires school districts to develop a system to identify and counsel students who are at risk of not being ready for college-level work or entry-level career positions. The bill, Senate Bill 638, is sponsored by Sen. Jeanie Riddle, a Republican from Fulton.  It was handled in the Missouri House by Rep. Kathy Swan, a Republican from Cape Girardeau.

“Remedial classes are a hidden cost of college for students and a drag on our economy and taxpayers, who are paying twice in too many cases to educate our students,” said Dan Mehan, Missouri Chamber president and CEO. “That’s why demanding more rigor in high school coursework makes good sense on so many different levels and why the business community has made addressing that problem a critical priority.”

Reducing the need for remediation is one of the workforce goals within the Missouri Chamber’s strategic plan, Missouri 2030.

It’s not just a Missouri problem.  A nationwide report released by the Education Post and Education Reform Now revealed that when high schools fall short in preparing students, it also cost students and parents.  According to the report, more than half a million college freshmen – approximately one in four students who enter college the fall after high school graduation – had to enroll in remedial coursework during their first year of college. That costs the students nearly $1.5 billion annually, including $380 million in loans for content and skills they should have learned in high school.  The $1.5 figure does not include the extra general taxpayer costs for postsecondary education subsidies.

“It is astounding that failing a quarter of our students has become acceptable in America,” Mehan said. “We will not stand by and accept that in Missouri.”

The cost of this failure is more than just remedial courses. Students that require remedial coursework in college have significantly higher odds of never completing their degree. Those who do graduate take almost a year longer than their peers to complete a bachelor’s degree, according to the report.

“It is not just a financial concern,” said Mehan.  “We are setting our students up to fail by ignoring this obvious problem in our education delivery system.”

The bill requires each school district in Missouri to develop a system by 2018 for identifying ninth-grade students who are at risk of not being ready for college-level work or for entry-level career positions. The bill gives students the opportunity to develop a personal plan of study with help from the school’s guidance counselors to help set goals to keep the students on track.

In addition to legislative action, the Missouri Chamber is working to address the growing problem of remediation through a program called Show-Me Scholars. The program is designed to encourage students to take more rigorous classwork in high school by bringing in business leaders as mentors.  Eighth-grade Students meet with business mentors when signing up for high-school classes. The business mentors continue to meet with students throughout high school to keep them on track. A joint effort of school districts, chambers of commerce and the business community, the Show-Me Scholars initiative is a proven way to show students the importance of challenging themselves for their future continued education and careers.

The underlying bill also addressed the need for increased civics education, another Missouri Chamber priority.  The law requires all high school students to pass a test similar to the United States Naturalization test that immigrants take.

For more information on education policy, contact Ryan Stauffer at rstauffer@mochamber.com, or by phone at 573.634.3511.

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