Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Higher Level Math and College Completion

Lynn over at Kitchen Table Math II, came across a report from the US Dept. of Education and interprets it as saying that a student needs to take college level math in High School to have a better than average chance of completing collge.

I think what this report is saying, someone correct me if I've miss interpreted, is that unless you take "truly" college level math in high school, not pseudo, higher-order thinking skills with real world applications, your chances of getting ANY bachelor's degree is about 38%. Yikes!
Barry G thinks differently.

That's not how I read it. He's saying for the momentum to pay off, once the student is in college, that student should take a "post secondary" math class. I.e., calculus, linear algebra, etc.
I don't think its entirely that simple.

I think the level of math taken at any point (high school or math) is going to correlate with other factors i.e. self-dicipline and/or high intelligence.

It is obvious that the students who don't take higher math courses in High School and still manage to get to college are probably going to be less likely to complete college, but what about the students who do take at least Algebra II in High School.

Out of these students, a percentage of them are going to be struggling, and have just about topped out at their capabilities as far as math goes. These students are probably going to be the ones who are going to also struggle to complete college.

Even if we increased the participation in higher level mathematics in college, I think it could backfire on increasing college completion. Many of the students will be overwhelmed and not complete the class, and in the end be more likely to drop out.

Summary: Participation in higher level math courses is probably just an indicator/proxy for the underlying reason for college success i.e. high iq and/or self-dicipline.

Update: It occured to me that my post might indicated that I am only for the very brightest taking math courses. I suspect if K-8 education actually taught the basics better, a significantly larger percentage of college and HS kids could take more challenging math courses, and go on to complete college.

Unfortunately the lack of mastery of basic math skills becomes more and more significant as a student progress' in math. Each new class they take, they end up farther behind, until somewhere between algebra and calculus they just upright quit.

Unless colleges were truly prepared to make up for 12 years of inadequate teaching, then I still maintain that some kids are better off avoiding courses like difficult math courses, at least given todays educational system.

Disclaimer: I admit I might be wrong on this whole point, so convince me otherwise.