A Better Plan for Remedial Math in College

     Students who graduate from high school but are not ready to do college-level work are required to take remedial courses.  These are courses (that students must pay for) that do not earn them college credit.  For mathematics, some students must take two or three remedial math courses before they can take their first credit-baring mathematics course.  (See Beyond the Rhetoricnews articleanother news article)  The idea is that these courses will help students to gain the mathematical knowledge that they need to be successful in the "real" college math courses.  The assumption is that these students would not be able to pass a credit-baring math class unless they first proved that they had these particular math skills.

     It makes sense; it sounds logical; it seems like a good plan.  But it hardly ever works. (See Bridge to Nowhere)  State Senator from Florida, Joe Negron has said “Remediation in Florida was not an entrance ramp to success, it was an exit ramp to failure.”  Students struggle in these courses and drop out of college.  Instead of helping students to be successful in college, the remedial math course system is lessening the likelihood that students will complete college.

     There has to be a better way to help students.  I work in a secondary school environment (middle and high schools).  When we have students coming into middle school who are below grade level in mathematics, we don't teach them elementary school math, we teach them middle school math and provide support along the way.  Similarly, when students enter high school with weak math skills, we don't reteach middle school math, we teach them high school math provide support along the way.  

     Why can't colleges do this?  Why can't colleges put students in college-level, credit-baring math classes, and provide help along the way for students who struggle.  Some colleges (and states) are looking into this idea.  (See articleCaliforniaFlorida)  

     High school mathematics teachers will tell you that they often have students in their high school math classes with weak skills, but these students usually pass the class.  They may not get "A's", but they will pass and earn the credit.  And we all know how they do it:

  • They study
  • They do their homework
  • They ask their teacher for help
  • They ask their parents, friends, relatives for help
  • They struggle to learn (or memorize) what they need to do well on tests
     Most of the people reading this blog have been in a high school or college class that they found difficult and most of us have found a way to pass; or to get a "C"; or to do whatever it was we were motivated to do to successfully finish that class.  Clearly there are going to be students who are completely unprepared for some classes and no amount of assistance will bring them to the point where they can pass.  But I would say that that is not the case with most students.

     We need a better plan.  Remedial math classes in college that don't remediate students is not the way to go.  There has to be a better way to help students to achieve their dreams and to graduate from college.

Popular posts from this blog

Why Is Teaching Mathematics So Different Than Teaching Other Subjects?

It's OK To Struggle When You're Learning Something New

When Students are Thinking, Students are Learning