Why We NEED Stand-Alone Remedial Courses

Extremes are seldom a good thing.  At one extreme, we had 4 or more developmental math courses at many institutions.  In the future, we may end up with zero dev math courses — as people drink the ‘co-requisite cool-aid’.  Moderation is usually a better thing than extremes. We need to consider the diverse reasons why remedial math courses make sense.

Let’s begin with a conjecture … that it is feasible to use co-requisite remediation for students beginning any college math course.  Each of the 3 major types of introductory math courses would have the needed remediation (pre-calculus, statistics, quantitative reasoning), with each of these remediation needs being different from the others.  In some implementations, the co-requisite remediation is built on the entire content of the old dev math course; however, students typically do not need to pass the remedial component — if the college course is passed, the remedial portion is either automatically passed or does not count.

This conjecture follows a common theme in the policy world — ‘stand-alone developmental courses are a barrier to student success’.  We have some evidence that the research data does not support this conclusion — the article recently cited here, written by Peter Bahr, as well as the CUNY “ASAP” program (I’ll post about that research in the near future).  The ‘data’ used for the stand-alone statement is demographic — students who place into a dev math course (especially multiple levels below college) are far less likely to complete a college math course.

Let’s pretend that the research in favor of dev math courses is mistaken, and that the true situation is better estimated by those attacking stand-alone courses.  What are the overall consequences of ‘no more dev math courses’?

In community college programs, students are faced with quantitative issues in a variety of courses outside of mathematics.  Here is a realistic scenario:

  • In a biology course, a student needs to understand exponential functions and perhaps basic ideas of logarithms.
  • In a nursing course, a student needs to apply dimensional analysis to convert units and determine dosage.
  • In an economics class, a student needs to really understand slopes and rate of change (at least in a linear way).
  • In a chemistry class, a student needs to apply equation concepts in new ways.

If we no longer have stand-alone developmental math courses, there are basic consequences:

  1. ALL courses in client disciplines will also need to do remediation (unless they require a college-level math course).
  2. Courses in client disciplines that do require a college math course will need to have that course listed as a prerequisite — even if the math needed is at the developmental level — OR such client discipline courses will also need to do remediation.
  3. Courses in client disciplines will always need to do remediation if they require a college math course that does not happen to include all of the background needed.

We might face similar consequences within mathematics, though those seem minor to me.  The consequences are trivial within STEM programs, but that is small consolation to the majority of our students (and colleagues).  The mis-match situation (#3) occurs with stand-alone courses, but will be more widespread without them.

Getting rid of stand-alone dev math courses is extremely short-sighted.  The premise is that all of a student’s needs in developmental mathematics relate to the college math course they will take.  If a student’s program is well served by statistics, does this  mean that all courses in the program are well served by a statistics course?

Even if co-requisite remediation produces sustainable high levels of success, the methodology fails to support our student needs — ‘solving’ one problem while creating several others.  Eliminating stand-alone developmental math courses is not a solution at all … eliminating stand-alone courses puts our students at risk AND harms our colleagues in partner disciplines.  I would also predict that co-requisite remediation will disproportionately ill-serve those who most need our help — students of color and students from lower “SES” (the low-power students).

The root-problem is not stand-alone courses — the root problem is that we have a too-long sequence of antiquated dev math courses.  We have a model for solving this problem in the New Life Project, with two modern courses: Mathematical Literacy, and Algebraic Literacy.  Both courses modernize the curriculum so that it serves mathematics as well as our client disciplines, with a structure that allows most students to have one (at most) pre-college course.

The co-requisite movement states that our responsibility ends with the college math course.  Our relationships with other disciplines is based on a larger responsibility; our work on student success factors within our courses is based on a larger responsibility.  Declaring that “the results are in” and “co-requisite remediation WORKS” … amounts to defining a problem out of existence while ignoring the problem itself.

Nobody needs co-requisite remediation; nobody needs 4 or 5 developmental math courses.  Our students need an efficient modern system for meeting their quantitative needs in college, regardless of their prior level of success.

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