A few years ago, Sheila Ortega was scrubbing floors at a local grocery store, a high-school dropout with no clear path out of poverty. Today Ms. Ortega, 23, has four certificates in manufacturing skills and big plans for the future.
What turned her around, she says, was a program here at the Alamo Colleges that caught her up on fundamentals while she worked toward her credentials. It combines developmental, or remedial, education with job training and intensive advising, so that even the least prepared students can quickly get certified for jobs that employers are trying to fill.
Designed to solve two problems, the model was developed in Washington State as Integrated Basic Education and Skills Training, or I-BEST, and is now being adapted and tested at more than 150 community colleges nationwide. It challenges the traditional approach to developmental education, in which students must pass a series of courses in math, reading, and writing before moving on to credit-bearing work. The problem there, say educators who are pushing to streamline remediation, is that many students get discouraged and drop out before cracking their first college textbook.
I-BEST and its spinoffs let students jump right into job training by teaching academic skills, in practical terms, at the same time. For example, an aspiring pharmacy technician whose eyes glazed over in middle-school math might see the point when learning how to measure the correct dosage of an antibiotic for a 50-pound child. Same with the welding student calculating how many quarter-inch steel plates, at 10 pounds per square foot, he can safely load into a one-ton truck. <Read more.>