Saturday, April 13, 2013

Remedial, 2 steps down


One might thing administration would be happy enough re-defining remedial math into a "College Course" by calling it "College" Algebra.
One might think going one step down from that would sate administrative greed, but now, it can go even lower.


Me, addressing class: “Ok, so last class we learned about complementary angles, worked some problems with complementary angles, and I assigned homework problems on it. Any questions on the homework?”

Student: “Yeah, problem #1.”

Me, reading the problem: “Angles A and B are complementary...before going to the rest of the problem, what does complementary mean for angles?”

(I go to the whiteboard to write down the definition, and wait. Several moments of silence, then a student responds)

Student A: “They’re equal?”

(Three other students, echoing): “Equal?”  “Equal?”  “Equal?”

Me: “No. The mathematical word for ‘equal’ is ‘equal’. This is a different word, and it means something different. Take out your books, and look in the index or the section the homework is in, and find the definition of complementary.”

(I sit down and wait. Sixty seconds of page flipping passes, and a student responds)

Student B: “They’re the same?”

(Three other students, echoing): “Same?” “Same?” “Same?”


--I believe the most frightening thing about this incident is that nobody even laughed, no student in the course understood how this answer could not be right, or had the initiative/capability to look up a word in a book even when directed to do so.


College Preparatory Algebra I basically covers material from the 6th to most of the 9th grade. If that seems to overlap with College Preparatory Algebra II of the previous pose, that’s because it does; years of my explaining this to administration accomplished nothing, because the course as-is had a higher retention rate. Recent initiatives in higher education may make this course obsolete (but will come back again in a few years, as addressed later). The only thing missing from this course relative to the more advanced developmental course is a discussion of the quadratic formula.


Despite this being nearly the same course as College Preparatory Algebra II, the students that place into this course are clearly weaker than in the “advanced” remedial course—those placement tests are pretty good, all things considered. The students in this course, whether I pass or fail them, spend years on campus, going nowhere but deeper in debt. I did have one student, her grasp of English shaky at best (Spanish being her first language, and non-traditional as well), take this course, and she earned an A. I offered her the chance to just read the few pages that differentiates this course from College Preparatory Algebra II, and she did so, passing the final exam for the latter course without actually taking it, and moving directly to College Algebra (saving her four months of time), which she also passed in her first attempt.


For a small minority of students, these courses can be the start of a successful college career, but for the rest, being told to take one of these courses is a warning. Usually if a student comes to enroll, and needs a year of remedial courses before he can take what used to be a remedial course, maybe administration should ask  “Are you serious about learning?” rather than telling him “Check this box stating you’re looking for a degree, so you can start getting student loan money.” It’s a long hard road to higher learning from the 6th grade, and I just don’t see the economic sense in loaning everyone money to spend so much time learning material that is available for free in the public library, and that most people already had years of opportunity to learn in public school. While I don’t see the sense in it, administration sure does, for some reason. Oh yeah, the checks.
You think 6th grade would be the theoretical minimum to start studying higher education? Hah.

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