Community College Students Face a Very Long Road to Graduation
October 3, 2014
In this New York Times article, Ginia Bellafante writes about the roadblock mathematics poses for students in community college. The piece focuses on LaGuardia Community College. LaGuardia’s president Gail Mellow is a Carnegie Board member. Carnegie’s math pathways are featured.
Bellafante writes: What makes algebra so hard for community college students? One factor is that many have been taught so poorly before they arrive. They have developed a debilitating reliance on calculators, Abderrazak I. Belkharraz, the chairman of the LaGuardia math department, told me, “for things as simple as what is the cosine of pi over two.” And the pedagogy tends to focus on computation rather than the underlying concepts, leaving the practice of math to seem far removed from the students’ experiences.
A few years ago, the Carnegie Foundation decided to tackle the algebra problem, believing that if developmental math were reconceived, the overall effect on graduation rates could be tremendous. The foundation devised two curriculums, one in quantitative reasoning and another that was more statistics-based; both were aimed at imparting the kind of mathematical knowledge more useful to students in their daily lives. “You want to be able to understand risk. If you smoke, what is the probability of getting cancer?” Dr. Mellow explained. “If you have unprotected sex, what are the chances of getting pregnant?” LaGuardia is one of more than 20 colleges around the country experimenting with these curriculums. Nationally, the program is in its third year and the results have been impressive, with students passing the classes at a much higher rate than students who took the standard, algebraically based remedial math courses.