Saturday, March 31, 2012

Should Colleges Teach Remedial Math?

JT is upset.

The state of Kansas has passed a bill in its House to cut funding for universities to have remedial courses in public universities. Apparently, my alma matter, KU, helps 900 students each year retake basic math courses that are prerequisites for the entry level university courses. Between grad students and undergrad, KU has just under 30,000 students so 900 translates to about 3% of the student body that would be prevented from being able to qualify for the first class in their math section if this passes.

I'm very torn on how I feel about this. My first reaction is that these aren't college classes. They're high school classes. And only barely. Basic Algabra is taught to many students in junior high. So my main feeling is that if people can't hack this, then they don't belong in college. Period.

What baffles me even more is that such things (JT's post in particular) single Math out as if it's some special subject where being years behind is somehow acceptable, that it's "ok" to be mathematically illiterate.

JT places the blame squarely on the shoulders of our educational system which has some serious problems. But having taught high school, the biggest problem I see isn't the system, it's the attitudes of the students that exemplify what I've stated above. It doesn't matter how good your educational system is when the students have such attitudes. And it only compounds the problems when schools reinforce this by removing all the standards, and universities allow people that barely meet an entry high school ability, to go on.

The counter JT offers is that there are exceptional cases who truly do have the drive and ability to do well, such as non-traditional students whose skills have deteriorated over time through no fault of their own and as such, they cannot be held entirely responsible. But the answer shouldn't be that it's the responsibility of the public to pay for them to relearn such things. We've already paid for it. It was called high school. Forcing the public to pick up the tab twice is double jeopardy and it's ridiculous.

If students like JT's brother can't "jump into collegiate algebra", then by all means, he should take courses to get himself ready. But it shouldn't be done at the public's expense and universities shouldn't be covering junior high material. The onus should be where it belongs: On the individual student, to fully prepare themselves for the program to which they apply.

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