Community Columns

How do we ensure standards among community colleges?

As an employee of a grant-funded agency housed in a community college district, I am occasionally privy to conversations the public isn't.

The push over the last few years to increase the educational level of child development workers has highlighted an inconsistency in curricula among community colleges. What a student learns at Modesto Junior College may not be at all the same as what a student learns in a class by the same name in another community college.

There is a move to align the core lower-division curricula in child development at the community colleges, notably for students who will transfer to a California State University.

Faculty and various child development organizations, including my employer, want to develop core and curriculum standards. This alignment project has raised the issue of academic freedom. Does a move to standardize community college curricula in California intrude upon the ability of individual colleges to offer instruction that meets the needs and improves the success of their pool of students?

My answer is "No." If done properly, a balance can be found between the desire to set universal standards and the imperative for a college to remain responsive to the ever-changing needs of its student population and the field itself.

Methods used to teach students in Eureka may not work in Modesto, and the educational needs in Sacramento County may not match those in Kern County. Colleges must be able to tailor teaching methods to their students. At the same time, the community must be assured that all students in child development are being held to the same standards.

If there are no set standards, how can student performance be evaluated? If the curriculum for the Intro to Child Development course at Yuba College in Marysville is less rigorous than the same class at Southwestern College in Chula Vista, then is the student who earned an "A" at Yuba really a better student than the one who earned a "B" at Southwestern?

What happens if two students, one at Cuesta College in San Luis Obispo and one at Mission College in Santa Clara, both take a class called Education in Diverse Settings, but the course descriptions have little in common? Students who are unable to transfer units between colleges or are forced to repeat classes due to differing standards and requirements at individual colleges become discouraged and end their educational journey before they have achieved their goal.

Curricula standards and academic freedom are not mutually exclusive; you don't need to give up one to have the other.

Standards can improve a student's education, but so can allowing a teacher to teach within those standards in a way that best serves the students. This is truly the mark of a good teacher -- not to merely convey information but to create an experience in which the students willingly embrace the learning process. The task now becomes finding a way to strike the necessary balance, one that keeps the best of both while addressing the concerns of each side.

Moore is a longtime resident of Salida. E-mail her at columns@modbee.com.

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