A Shrewdness of Apes

An Okie teacher banished to the Midwest. "Education is not the filling a bucket but the lighting of a fire."-- William Butler Yeats

Saturday, October 22, 2005

Paying tuition for classes (and students) that don't count? It doesn't add up.

Got this article from Education news:
What's the price of leaving high school unprepared? Ask Chelsea Stephanoff, a Wayne State University student who is spending nearly $600 this semester for a class that won't count toward graduation.

Why? Her math skills were poor enough that even after four years of high school math, she was placed in a remedial class....

The problem is clear in the enrollment for remedial math at Wayne State, which has soared 85% in the last four years. There are 1,200 students in 12 sections of the class, a computer-based course.

"These students are coming in at the level of ninth-grade math," said Patty Bonesteel, developmental math coordinator at Wayne State. "Without a doubt, the idea of being bad at math is perfectly fine in our culture, and that's unfortunate."

You can blame the calculator culture all you want. I still can't believe it when kids in my APUSH class pull out their calculators to figure out grades when there are 20 questions (I do all my grades on a 100 point scale). I once stumped all my classes for two days when I asked them if they could write "one-half" mathematically more than two ways. (And there are more than two ways to do it: fraction, decimal, percentage, pie chart, and ratio come to mind. And do you want to make your students afraid? Expect them to do long division! Worse than assigning a research paper!) And I am so NOT a math scholar, and never took anything beyond algebra II, much to my shame now.

Four years of high school math, and the student still needs remediation. I bet I know why.

We recently raised our graduation requirements in both math and science (which was a good thing, because the state board just required our changes anyway). And some math teachers were vehemently against this.

Why? Not because the teachers are lazy. Because if you add more requirements, what may inevitably happen is that the courses get watered down, so that kids don't drop out because they can't earn the credit. So three years of math is now equivalent (math pun!) to what used to be one year of math.

Is this right? Absolutely not! Is this fear understandable? Yes, since we are accredited based, in part, on our graduation/dropout rate, which has also been an interesting topic of discussion lately, such as in Alabama and New York City, to name a few places.

Another problem is that we have people without mathematics majors or even math subject specializations teaching math-- heck, at my old middle school, I was only one of two secondary certified people when I left, and there are currently only 2 people certified in middle school social studies in the entire building. And I'm not trying to be mean to people who are elementary or middle school certified, but they are generalists, not specialists. This leads to a de-emphasis on content which is patently cheating our students. Add in (another math pun!) the fact that students are not held accountable when they do not learn material all the way up until the 9th grade, when social promotion ends, and you've got a nightmare on your hands. They don't have the background-- they don't know their multiplication tables, they don't know that an odd number plus an odd number always equals an even number-- and now it's four short years until they are supposed to be able to go out into the big bad world.

So even the kids who are not potential dropouts get shortchanged, because they sit in watered-down classes.

True story: I have a young relative, let's call him Rico, who enrolled at a community college and had to take remedial math classes which didn't count toward an associate's degree, just like the young lady mentioned in the story, but worse, because this was community college. Anyway, Rico couldn't even make the grade there, and got a D for a three credit remedial course. But the best part is, he tried to alter his grade card to a letter grade of B. This did not fool anybody for longer than 4 minutes, however, because Rico didn't change the point value earned, and I guess he thought that the rest of us wouldn't notice that 1 x 3 DOES NOT equal the points one should earn if one had gotten a B (9). Oh, the irony!

Unfortunately, if you've got standards, some people aren't going to meet them.


At 10/22/05, 3:06 PM, Blogger College S.O.S. said...

Ok, I have to admit.. I stopped reading when you said you stumped your class when asking them how to write one-half mathematically in more than two ways. I like what you're doing with this blog. Being an anonymous teacher and being able to tell it like it is. I created a blog similar to yours, but different in that I want to reach out to college students. Check it out http://collegesos.blogspot.com

At 10/26/05, 7:37 PM, Blogger mrsizer said...

Being "bad at math" is relative: I flunked out in differential equations.

But part of the reason we have to be good at math is that so many people are bad at it!

I just received a piece of election propaganda that had charts and numbers "explaining" why I should vote against increasing taxes. It was a mess.

There were (are?) two bar charts, side-by-side. One is captioned: State spending increase 136% from year X (don't recall) to 2004. The other is captioned: Taxes increase 7.7 times from year Y to 2004.

Different vertical scales. Different horizontal scales. Neither one per capita to take into account population growth. Neither one in constant dollars (or at least it didn't say). Percent change vs "times" change. You need a statistics major just to figure out if any of it means anything.

I threw it away.

There's no reason to need so much math skill in every day life. One needs to know the CONCEPTS so one can deal appropriately with that sort of garbage, but one doesn't need the skills to fix it.

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