Sunday, February 24, 2013

Is it the job of technical schools, 2 years colleges and state schools to help students through math?

I recently read an article that says a post secondary degree is becoming the new HS diploma for getting a job (degree deflation).  So as good jobs disappear for people with only HS degrees, we see everyone talk about worker retraining -- get them back to school to get the skills for the jobs of today.  And I think that is great, and I agree.

But what responsibility does the technical school/college have to getting students through math.  We often talk about secondary schools providing opportunity, a student must choose to work and do well.  But with most remedial math students (and especially non-traditional students) it is not a choice, they have not done well with math at the HS level and instead of realizing that, our secondary institutions demand more math, faster, at a higher level of performance than HS.  Now I agree high schools must do better but I don't agree with institutions that decide to 'help' but really are entering for profit or pseudo-profit.

What I mean is once you tell prospective students that you can lead them to better training thus to better jobs you have a commitment to that student.  That student is paying for a service.  When you then place students into remedial math courses that as an institution you know only have a 40-50% pass rate you are doing a disservice.  Especially with non-traditional students.  Only in our secondary education system can you look at a 50% pass rate and blame the students.

I am not saying we teach less, but once you run into a wall a few times, shouldn't you look for a door?  Should we look at how we are teaching, how do we expect students who have never mastered numeracy to quickly do that in a few weeks, so we can do lines, expressions and quadratics?  I believe these are skills that a student should master but is the current system correctly doing that; with so many non-traditional students that have not used math skills for so long that they have lost them repeatedly taking remedial math I think the answer is no.  Yet tech schools and colleges advertise themselves as centers of opportunity, get your loan, come on in, we will help....   And sure they offer tutoring, but that is within the context of the existing secondary math curriculum, if you can't keep up, don't worry the institution will still cash your check.

Only in education could you get away with this, blaming the customers (actually failing customers who try).  They have their expectation completely set by their K-12 experience.  Except in HS they somehow got through.  I know many non traditional students studying tens of hours per week in their quest to become non-STEM people.  They face their math fears dead on, as the course sprints forward.  The courses demanding that the skill of distribution learned last week, be mastered to the point to use with equations this week and next week lines.

In 6-12 grade math those subjects and their expected mastery are spread out over years versus weeks.  Yet we teach math the same way at tech schools and colleges as was done in 6-12 grade where the remedial student failed to get mastery but now we expect different results.  Really?   I know a 12 year old more easily learns than a 42 year old (I am reminded about that every day my son and I try to remember a new skill).

Our society needs educated people to maintain our leadership in the world.  We need to be constantly educating our people.   But we need an educational system that works!  Only in education would we say we have a 50% failure rate and believe the answer is more of the same, more courses, more instructors, more repeating!  And when the non-traditional student fights through their 2 remedial courses and 1 course for credit math (usually thinking D for Degree), are they better math students?  Will they apply those skills in the world?  Or did they simply memorize enough to get through.....  What is the purpose?

While some students do just need remedial math as it sits (looks like about 50%).  The rest need something different.  The courses need to meet more, cover less material and push them to success.  I realize I am adding a course, hours and staff; it would take 3 remedial courses versus 2, because the same material must be learned.  Courses need to meet 6 hours per week versus 3 hours.  Less lecture, more guided learning, set lab hours with tutors at a 1 to 8 ratio, we must help students to understand the math.  It is a radical suggestion, but we have a horrific problem, 50% failure.

Yet tech schools and colleges expand, under the disguise of providing opportunity, encouraging students to come back and learn today's skills, they'll help....   Right now they just cash the check....