Algebra scares many community college students, writes Sophie Quinton in National Journal. Two-thirds place into remedial math. Fewer than one in four who start below the college level earn a certificate or degree in eight years.
Arica Hawley used to dread math class. She would look at problems and not even know where to begin. When Hawley, 37, went back to Tacoma (Wash.) Community College last fall to finish her associate’s degree, she placed into a pre-algebra course—eighth-grade-level material.
Students who test two or three levels below Algebra II, which is considered college math, have to pass several remedial courses before they can start earning college credit. ”It eats up time and financial aid, especially when we have students who have to retake those courses three, four, and five times,” says John Kellermeier, a TCC math instructor.
Instead of remedial math, Hawley took Statway, a college-level statistics course for students who haven’t mastered high school math. She earned a college math credit.
The Carnegie Foundation developed two one-year courses — Statway and a quantitative-reasoning course called Quantway — to get students out of the remedial rut. Statway includes high school algebra and college-level statistics. Quantway starts with developmental math, but moves to college-level quantitative reasoning in the second semester.
Both courses allow faculty to teach algebra relevant to the college-level material, and to public debates and questions students will face in the workforce. In Statway, students learn to read graphs, determine probability, and detect bias in data. They brainstorm ways to prove or disprove theories, like the assertion by astrologers that birth dates determine personality traits.
Students are grouped into threes or fours and may stay in those groups throughout the course. The groups work through the material together every day, and are responsible for keeping each other up to speed.
. . . The courses also include exercises that address math anxiety. Many students believe they’re just not ‘math people.’ “If we don’t change how they see themselves, they’re going to realize a self-fulfilling prophecy,” says Bernadine Chuck Fong, the director of Carnegie’s developmental math initiative.
Statway was launched in the fall of 2011 at 19 community colleges and two state universities. Fifty-one percent of students earned a college credit within a year, compared to 5.9 percent of community college students who start in remedial math.
Thirty campuses in 11 states now are implementing Statway and 22 are using Quantway.
Students do better when they believe they can succeed, feel that they belong in the classroom, and feel connected to their peers and teacher, says Fong.
Carnegie’s new approach to remedial math is going online. NovoEd and the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching will offer a free online short course called Numbers for Life. It includes four lessons from Carnegie’s Quantway®.
These lessons will develop your understanding of common numbers often found in the news, on advertisements, and online. You will see how numbers play important roles in arguments you hear about daily like issues such as gun control, smoking, pollution, and heart attacks. And by the end of this course, you’ll be able to use numbers to communicate your ideas.
. . . The goal of the Quantway® is to help you learn things that you can actually use in life–not so you can memorize it for a test and then forget it. In fact, by the end of this course, you’ll be able to create a final project that uses numbers to prove a point to anyone who sees it.
Seventy percent of students placed in a traditional remedial math course never complete the course. Community college students taking Quantway® tripled the success rate in half the time, according to Carnegie.
Pell Grants should go only to college-ready students, proposes Mike Petrilli of the Fordham Foundation on Bloomberg View.
“A huge proportion” of the $40 billion annual federal investment in college aid is going to unprepared students, he asserts.
About two-thirds of low-income community-college students — and one-third of poor students at four-year colleges — need remedial (aka “developmental”) education, according to Complete College America, a nonprofit group. But it’s not working: Less than 10 percent of students who start in remedial education graduate from community college within three years, and just 35 percent of remedial students earn a four-year degree within six years.
Currently, Pell recipients in a “program of study” — they say they’re seeking a credential — can take remedial courses for one year before losing benefits. Petrilli suggests cutting off Pell aid for remedial students.
Ambitious, low-income high-school students would know that if they want to attend college at public expense (probably their only option), they would first need to become “college-ready.” This would provide a clear sign and incentives for them to work hard, take college-prep classes and raise their reading and math skills to the appropriate level.
Many low-income students wouldn’t go to college without Pell support for remedial courses, Petrilli concedes. That “cuts against the American tradition of open access, as well as second and third chances.”
But it’s not clear unprepared students benefit by enrolling in college remedial courses, he writes. Most drop out long before they complete a degree or certificate. (Most drop out before they take a single college-level class.) “Many would be more successful in job-training programs that don’t require college-level work (or would be better off simply gaining skills on the job).”
Eliminating remedial Pell would free up money to boost the maximum grant for needy, college-ready students.
Colleges could respond by giving credit for courses that used to be considered “remedial,” Petrilli writes.
Indeed they could. Placing poorly prepared students in credit-bearing courses, with extra help to learn basic skills, already is a trend due to the high failure rates in traditional remedial ed.
Remedial education costs millions of dollars a year with very poor results, said Stan Jones of Complete College America at the Education Writers Association conference last week at Stanford. “We pride ourselves on access, but access to what? Most never access a true college course.”
Of half a million new community college students in remedial education every year, “maybe 20 percent” will move on to college-level courses, said Carnegie’s Alicia Grunow. “We’re killing the aspirations of hundreds of thousands of students every year.”
Andrea Levy, Statway instructor at Seattle Central Community College, talks about how she gives developmental math students the intellectual and emotional support they need to persist and succeed. The Carnegie Foundation’s alternative math pathways stress “productive persistence,” a mix of effective learning strategies and the tenacity to keep working when the going gets tough.
After three weeks in Carnegie’s math pathways, students showed greater enthusiasm for math, less anxiety and more confidence they could improve with hard work, reports the Pathways Blog. Carnegie believes these indicators “powerfully predict whether students persist in the course and whether they obtain higher grades.”
Community colleges in Texas will adopt a radical redesign of developmental math, reports Inside Higher Ed. The Carnegie Foundation and the Dana Center at the University of Texas have developed Mathways, a new approach to helping community college students get up to speed in the math skills they’ll need to complete a credential.
. . . remedial students who intend on majoring in a science- or math-based field will still take a traditional, algebra-based developmental course. But other students might take classes in statistics or quantitative reasoning, subsets of math that could prove more relevant to their careers and present less of a barrier to emerging from remedial education. Students who are undecided on a major are likely to be steered toward statistics, with “bridge courses” available later on if they select a science or math major.
“Not having algebra doesn’t mean you haven’t had rigorous preparation,” said Rey Garcia, president and CEO of the Texas Association of Community Colleges. “What’s the point of taking a course that isn’t going to be useful to you in your work life? As long as we maintain high standards for rigor, that pathway is as meaningful as an algebra-based pathway.”
Two Texas community colleges in El Paso and Houston have piloted Carnegie’s Statways. This fall, six or seven colleges will offer the statistics program and it’s expected to be at all 50 of the state’s community colleges by fall 2013.
The quantitative reasoning program and a reimagined algebra-based remediation will be rolled out in subsequent years, first in small batches and then statewide.
Here’s a Dana Center webinar on Mathways:
Community colleges must redesign remedial math education, write Anthony Bryk, president of the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching, and Thomas Toch, who directs the foundation’s Washington office, in an Inside Higher Ed commentary. Carnegie is working with 27 community colleges to teach statistics and quantitative reasoning to students who’ve done poorly in math in their K-12 years.
There are units on “Seven Billion and Counting,” “The Credit Crunch” and “Has the Minimum Wage Kept Up?” Students learn math through themes such as citizenship and personal finance. It’s rigorous stuff, but relevant and engaging, requiring students to use the tools of algebra, statistics, data visualizations and analysis to solve meaningful, real-world problems as a way of thinking mathematically.
Instructors in the network have replaced traditional homework with “problem- and scenario-based exercises,” Bryk and Toch write.
Faculty collaborate across different campuses to “build common instructional systems and improve the program.”
Students earn college credit for completing the new “pathways,” speeding their way to a certificate or degree.
So far, students who complete the new courses test nearly as well as students who complete college-level statistics, Bryk and Toch write. Compared to colleges’ typical remedial students, pathway students earning C’s or better in the first semester are much more likely to move on to the second semester. In surveys, they express less math anxiety and are more confidence in their ability to learn math, if they work at it.
Faced with huge remedial math enrollments — and low success rates — some community colleges are reducing math requirements for non-STEM majors to avoid “overmathing.” Others are trying Carnegie’s alternative pathways, which focus on statistics and quantitative reasoning rather than the traditional algebra-to-calculus track.
Here’s how to avoid remedial math.
Wetzel was honored by the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching and the Council for the Advancement and Support of Education (CASE).
Wetzel, who also chairs AC’s math, sciences and engineering department, established an award-winning math outreach center that provides more than 22,000 free, hour-long tutoring sessions each year.
. . . Along with courses ranging from developmental math to calculus, and engineering statics and dynamics, Wetzel teaches her students how to study, work with others and ace a job interview. She believes such “soft skills” are as important as academic and technical skills.
Eduardo J. Padrón, president of Miami Dade College is a co-winner of the Carnegie Corporation‘s $500,000 academic leadership award. Padrón was selected for creating a culture of success that has improved student access, retention and graduation rates for predominantly low-income and minority students at his community college.
Padrón believes that increasing the number of low-income students who enter and complete college is one of the most important—and proven—approaches to reducing poverty and increasing economic mobility. To help students complete school, MDC has teamed with Single Stop USA, an anti-poverty initiative, to establish offices on its campuses staffed with coordinators who work directly with students to identify benefits and services that can help them stay in school, whether it’s help buying groceries and paying rent, filing their taxes, or coaching them on how to manage debt.
Freeman A. Hrabowski III, president of the University of Maryland, Baltimore County (UMBC) is the other co-winner.
Today’s higher education leaders — the ones willing to butcher sacred cows — typically come from non-elite institutions, writes Anya Kamenetz in the Washington Post, citing Gail Mellow at LaGuardia Community College and Padrón. ”Whether public or private, these lesser-known institutions all serve needier students and remain closer to their demands. They are also working with far fewer resources than the selective privates or flagship state universities, which I’m sure makes for less complacency.”
Most remedial math students never move on to college-level classes and a certificate or degree. A Carnegie Foundation webinar discussed redesigning developmental math programs at community colleges. Carnegie is working with 27 community colleges on Statway, which takes remedial math students through transferable college statistics in one year, and Quantway, an accelerated quantitative literacy pathway that stress using “mathematics and numerical reasoning to make sense of the world.” Go here for the webinar recording.
Developmental mathematics has become a “burial ground for the aspirations” of many community college students, said Uri Treisman, director of the Charles A. Dana Center at the University of Texas. Only 6 to 8 percent of students who start in algebra make it to credit-bearing courses, he said, in part because they’re often taking classes that have no bearing on their goals.