The report offers insights on experiments at community colleges to implement new mathematics sequences prioritizing statistics and quantitative reasoning. The innovations are showing impressive early results, with students who attempt the new course sequences far more likely to pass required college-level math courses than students taking the traditional sequences, which emphasize algebra instruction.
That difference is important, because remedial math courses are one of the main reasons why a large proportion of community college students never earn a two- or four-year degree. Plus, given the increasing importance of statistical know-how in various fields and in daily life, the new sequences are also considered more relevant than the algebra-intensive approach for the 80 percent of community college students who are pursuing non-technical fields and not advancing to Calculus. (For more on the growth of statistics in undergraduate education, see my first report in the series.)
But these new approaches are controversial, because they defy traditional assumptions among mathematicians and some educators that a double dose of algebra training is essential preparation for college. As such, they are out of step with the curriculum that high schools are implementing in connection with the Common Core State Standards as well as the requirements of many four-year universities to which community college students seek to transfer.
This week’s report highlights the tensions and trade-offs in implementing these new sequences, with a focus on recent developments in California’s community colleges and universities.
I welcome your comments below and thoughts on the topic as I continue to write about the changing role of math as a gatekeeper in college.