Dev Math: Where Dreams go to Thrive

In response to data showing the exponential attrition of long sequences of developmental mathematics courses, some people are using the quote “developmental mathematics is where dreams go to die”.  This phrase has been one of the most influential statements in our field over the past 5 years — not because it is true but because people (especially policy makers) believe that it is true.

This is a normal political strategy: frame an argument in a way that there is only one answer (the one that ‘you’ want).  I’ve seen leaders at my own college use this method, often successfully. … and I imagine that you’ve encountered it as well.  As teachers at heart, this style of communication is not natural for us; we respond by reasoned arguments and academic research with a goal of getting everybody to understand the problem.

The difficulty is that leaders who use the “where dreams go to die” phrase have little interest in understanding the problem.  Their goal is to remove developmental mathematics as a barrier to student success.  The next phrase after “where dreams go to die” is often “co-requisite remediation”, with claims that this solution is a proven success because of all of the data.  Of course, our view of this data is a bit more restrained than the leaders and policy makers; this is not a problem for them, as they have the answer in mind — all we have to do is agree with it.

We must do two basic things so that we can really help our students succeed:

  1. Shorten and modernize our mathematics curriculum, both developmental and college level.
  2. Consistently use our narrative:  “Developmental mathematics is where dreams go to thrive!”

Much of the material on this blog, as well as the wiki ( meant to help faculty with the first goal.  The new courses, Mathematical Literacy and Algebraic Literacy, allow us to provide great preparation for college level courses within an efficient structure which minimizes exponential attrition.

“Developmental mathematics is where dreams go to thrive”:  We need to articulate this accurate view of our work, which is valid even within the old-fashioned traditional curriculum with too many courses.  I’ve posted about some of the research with a ‘thrive’ conclusion:

Also, a great project at CUNY called “ASAP” gets a glowing external evaluation:  The ASAP model is currently being validated at other institutions.  Please let me know of other research showing that dreams thrive in developmental mathematics.

We should add our own ‘thrive’ stories and data.  For example, at my institution, we had 6 students start in pre-algebra and the proceed up to Calculus I in a four year period … 5 of them passed Calculus I on their first attempt.  If we believe the ‘die’ narrative, you would expect zero or 1 of these to exist; I am sure that most institutions have similar results to mine where the data shows more of a ‘thrive’ result.

Our traditional courses must go; we must do the exciting work of renewing the curriculum based on modern thinking about mathematics combined with more sophisticated approaches to instruction and learning.

However, that work will generally be wasted unless we establish a ‘thrive’ attitude.    The two conditions existing together create a new system that serves students well.  Developmental mathematics is where all dreams go to thrive.


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