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Let’s Get this Right from the Start

Let’s Get this Right from the Start

“A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.” -- Lao-tzu

“When you read, you begin with A-B-C, a very good place to start.” -- Fraulein Maria

“Now you’re cooking with grease!” -- my seventh-grade science teacher

When it comes to long journeys, musical numbers, and simple machine experiments, we can all probably come up with some good advice on where to begin. But successful implementation of education reform…well, that’s a different thing. MDC and Achieving the Dream developed the Right from the Start series of practitioner-focused, evidence-based briefs to highlight strategies that support the significant number of students who arrive on campus underprepared for credit-bearing coursework. Serving these students, who often undertake adult basic education and developmental education courses, is an important part of the community college dual mission of access and success.

The briefs examine several community college reform efforts within the Achieving the Dream network, including participants in the Development Education Initiative, using the “adoption and adaptation” framework developed by the Community College Research Center. This framework goes beyond the promise of “best practice” and presents institutional characteristics and activities that support successful implementation and long-lasting reform. From diagnosing the issue and selecting a reform that meets those particular needs to refining the method according to unique institutional characteristics, CCRC researchers offer a reflective approach to institutional change that has positive effects for students and the organization as a whole. A Right from the Start overview lays out the rationale for focusing on college-readiness reforms; it’s followed by three college-focused briefs:

Adopting and Adapting Compression Strategies

Zane State College and the Community College of Baltimore County pursued distinctive approaches to accelerating student progress that aligned with their institutional missions and student populations. At Zane, compression means shortening the overall duration of a course but maintaining the same number of instructional hours. The college pursued a holistic, student-centered approach to help students build academic, social, and cultural skills. At CCBC, the compression strategy pairs two courses with complementary content, which students take simultaneously—the landmark Accelerated Learning Program.

Adopting and Adapting Computer-Assisted Learning Strategies

El Paso Community College, Bunker Hill Community College, and Patrick Henry Community College incorporated technology into the curriculum to support student progress in mathematics. Each college took its own path: El Paso developed a self-accelerated emporium-style computer lab; Patrick Henry incorporated a state-mandated, fully-modularized, math curricula; and Bunker Hill’s contextualized redesign integrated tech-based skill building. 

Adopting and Adapting Contextualization Strategies

Tacoma Community College (TCC) and South Texas College (STC) each focused on contextualization as a cornerstone of reform. Building on lessons from Integrated Basic Education and Skills Training (IBEST) efforts on their campus, TCC drew on a culture of team teaching and radically different—for them—approach to professional development to reimagine the content and student-teacher relationship in developmental English. STC fostered cross-discipline faculty collaboration to contextualize developmental English courses with content and assignments based in popular undergraduate courses like history and psychology.

All three briefs point to what colleges can do to improve equitable outcomes for their students:

  • Understand the diversity of developmental education students. Colleges need to carefully consider the varied experience of underprepared students when assessing the support those students need to succeed. It may be necessary to have multiple strategies tailored to different student groups.
  • Emphasize teaching and learning. Focusing attention on teaching and learning is a critical thread in all of the successful developmental education reforms featured in this series. That means colleges address academic content and structures as well as non-academic topics, such as navigating college culture and student self-efficacy.
  • Build whole-college solutions. Lasting, scaled change is most likely when efforts engage a broad range of college practitioners in examining student outcomes, designing the change process, mastering the skills required to implement new approaches, and refining these efforts over time.

It is our hope that these briefs will spark new ideas for practitioners who are committed to helping their students succeed—right from the start.