National Developmental Math Summit!!

For the latest details on the 2016 Summit on Developmental Mathematics, see

Currently, the list of sessions is available on that page.  As soon as the schedule & program are finalized, I will post that information as well.


Saving Mathematics, Part IV: This is College, Right?

For whatever reason, we in the mathematics community have an obsession with high school … we define college mathematics by assigning a prerequisite that suggests a level above high school (often the prerequisite is intermediate algebra).  We also accept the notions about people not being good at mathematics, which results in the contradictory policy of allowing intermediate algebra to meet a degree requirement in college.  What’s up with THAT?  #remediation #FinAid

All of our institutions (with very few exceptions) must comply with financial aid laws and regulations.  Those regulations make a distinction between remediation at the high school level and remediation at the elementary level (K-8); courses at the elementary level (like arithmetic, pre-algebra) can not be used to determine eligibility for financial aid.  Courses at the high school level can be used for financial aid, though there is a limitation on the total remediation.  (see

The K-12 professional standards of the past 25 years (NCTM) and the Common Core provide a way to judge the level of our courses.  Most of our intermediate algebra courses map to 9th and 10th grades in those standards; even prior to that, intermediate algebra was considered 10th or 11th grade level.  Overall, 57% of our enrollments (community-college-type) is in pre-college mathematics … 32% of that enrollment is in remediation at the elementary level.  [CBMS 2010 data;]

My position is that these high numbers in remediation are the result of artificial parameters for ‘college level’ and our obsession with high school.  Many of us accept the position that the mathematics actually needed for college work (whether STEM-path or not) is not delivered by our basic-math > pre-algebra >beginning-algebra > intermediate-algebra filtering system.  Our curriculum in those courses is often inferior to what our K-12 colleagues are using.

  • Remediation does not mean high school mathematics

We need to throw out our traditional developmental courses (as well as most college-algebra-level courses).  Convenient copying of courses does not help students.

The question is:

  • What does a COLLEGE student need prior to a college math course?

The needs do vary somewhat depending on the particular college math course.  We need to show our integrity by offering courses designed to serve the purpose for which we use them:

  • Only require students to take courses with validity for the purpose!

This is not a quick process, but it is something we can do together … and even be inspired by.

In the meantime, let’s show our professionalism by doing the following:

  1. Always classify arithmetic and pre-algebra as “elementary level” remedial courses
  2. Always classify beginning algebra and intermediate algebra as “high school level” remedial courses, which have no role meeting a college degree requirement
  3. Identifying appropriate college-level math courses required for each degree

Complete College America says much that I disagree with; quite a bit of their communication is rhetoric to support pre-determined solutions.  However, one thing from CCA I really agree with:

College students come to campus for college, not more high school. Let’s honor their intentions — and refocus our own good intentions to build a new road to student success.

To get started on a path to replace the traditional developmental math courses, take a look at the New Life Project courses (Mathematical Literacy and Algebraic Literacy).  I hope that you will join me and hundreds of other professionals working to create better models to serve our students and communities.

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Saving Mathematics, Part III: It’s Not Just Intermediate Algebra

It’s true (in my view) that intermediate algebra must die; that was discussed in a recent post.  We need to look for other places for basic change in the mathematical curriculum.  #STEM_Path #Pre-calculus

In response to that post, a long-term critic of our work with some good ideas (Schremmer) made this statement in part of a comment:

In fact, intermediate Algebra cannot be killed, as long as Precalculus, the reincarnation of College Algebra, has not been killed too. And Precalculus is not going to die either as long as it has not been reunited with the Differential Calculus. And, in spite of the few millions it spent in the late 80s, even the NSF was not able to reconstruct the Calculus

There are certainly challenges to changing these courses on the STEM-path (articulation being the paramount issue).  However, we have done little to work on the known problems.  Whether you think we can create a more efficient curriculum of 5 courses as I do (1 reformed precalculus course, 2 reformed calculus courses, 1 reformed differential equation course, 1 reformed linear algebra course) … or 3 courses as some others do (3 courses encompassing all of those topics) … nothing excuses our continuing past practice in the year 2016 or beyond.

The stakes are high.  If we do not fix this problem, our client disciplines will teach all of the mathematics they really need (much of which is already happening) — and they will stop using our courses in their programs whenever they have the option.  Most of our enrollment are from programs in these client disciplines.

If we do not fix this problem, we continue a curriculum that hides the modern nature of our work from students; who do we expect to become tomorrow’s mathematicians?  Using cool software to teach awful mathematics is a terrible trick to play on students; I compare that to putting a GPS on a 1975 Pinto … it looks, in a very small part of reality,  like we have modernized but the body of the work is mostly useless material.

This is our greatest challenge.  Will our legacy be that we had an opportunity to modernize the curriculum but wasted it … or will people see that the profession can work together to achieve something great?

We must step up; we must respond to the challenge with hard work and collaboration.  The rewards are too great, the risks too great, for us to take the easy path of ‘change nothing’.

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Intermediate Algebra Must Die!!

“Intermediate Algebra Must Die!” … I said this at two recent meetings (first at a conference, then at my college).  The need for this demise is ‘over-determined’, to use a social science phrase:  several factors, each of which would be sufficient, are present to create a conclusion with multiple rationales from different perspectives.  #IntermediateAlgebra #AlgebraicLiteracy  #NewLifeProject

The first rationale for the necessary demise of Intermediate Algebra comes from data concerning preparation for ‘college math’ (most often college algebra or pre-calculus).  The CCRC and ACT both have discontinuity regression research showing that intermediate algebra does not prepare students.  [See the first part of my presentation on Algebraic Literacy at]  The most optimistic results show a 2% to 5% gain in pass rates after an intermediate algebra course compared to students with similar backgrounds; of the 4 data sets, 1 had this very small positive result … 2 have ‘null’ (no gain), and 1 has ‘negative’ (students do worse after intermediate algebra, compared to similar students who did not).

The second rationale for the necessary demise of Intermediate Algebra comes from the policies about degree requirements at our institutions.  At hundreds of institutions, students can meet a general education requirement for a degree by using the remedial math course called ‘Intermediate Algebra’.  This policy makes two horrible statements at once:  first, that we don’t think it is important for students to learn additional mathematics; second, that we don’t think students have sufficient abilities to learn additional mathematics.  We are not just accommodating negative perceptions about learning mathematics, we are reinforcing them.

The third rationale for the necessary demise of Intermediate Algebra comes from its origins:  Intermediate Algebra was copied from the high school curriculum during a period when procedure and repetition were emphasized (in reaction to the original ‘new math’) in a design based on low standards for teacher credentials (the thought was ‘make it teacher-proof’).  This origin of the course is clearly related to the data referenced above; however, this rationale is based on the contradictory nature of the course compared to any set of modern curricular standards (as in Common Core, or even the original NCTM standards).  Intermediate Algebra is a professional embarrassment.

The last rationale for the necessary demise of Intermediate Algebra comes from the politicization of developmental mathematics:  as long as we are teaching ‘high school courses’, policy makers are going to attack our curriculum in colleges.  These stakeholders do not see why they should pay a second time for the same treatment, and many do not see any appropriate benefit from the course.  This rationale, like the third, suggests that all traditional developmental mathematics be removed ASAP and replaced (to the extent needed) by modern courses designed for college use (such as the New Life Project courses, Mathematical Literacy and Algebraic Literacy).  A course being “pre-college” does not mean “high school”.

We need to ‘own our problem’; for too long, we have continued our weak copies of weak high school courses to stand in the way of actually preparing students.  We have taken the easy road, sometimes creating a significant revenue source for our colleges, when we should have focused on our students’ needs in college.  We have reinforced the “I can’t do math” belief, and sold our profession short.  We have placed our entire curriculum at risk by requiring many students to take high school courses in college.

Intermediate algebra must die!

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