Thursday April 8, 2010 | Math Readiness & CMS Students

April 7, 2010 at 9:10 am | Posted in Coming Up | 17 Comments

A new study from Queens University of Charlotte shows that public high school graduates’ math readiness is declining across the state and in the Charlotte region. We’ll talk to the author of the study, school officials and a UNC Charlotte educator who interacts with new students to talk about why so many college freshmen are not only poorly prepared for the rigors of college calculus and higher math, but are testing into remedial math classes. We’ll discuss how the problem has gotten so bad, why it’s so important and what educators, in both the university setting and public school systems can do to better the situation.
Dr. Cindy Moss
– Director, Science, Technology, Engineering and Math Education, CMS
Cheryl Pulliam
– Researcher and Director of the Public Education Research Institute at Queens University of Charlotte
Dr. David Pugalee – Director of the Center for Math, Science and Technology Education at UNC Charlotte

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  1. Just wanted to mention that the Chemistry Department at UNC Charlotte has begun to address this problem of student unpreparedness, with a new Summer Intensive Chemistry Orientation (a.k.a. Chemistry Bootcamp). Incoming freshmen in the fall can come on campus a week early and Dr. Jordan Poler will get them off to a good start.

  2. Since the American method of teaching math obviously isn’t working too well in most public schools, it is clearly time to try different things. Methods of teaching math obviously need to be shaken up or even entirely overhauled. If something isn’t working, it is futile to keep doing the same things again and again and expect better results.

    Also, sometimes it is only one field of math that is holding students back. For instance, in high school I struggled mightily through Algebra 1, but breezed right through Geometry (which is the next level above Algebra 1). I know of others who had this same experience too: they had problems with Algebra 1, but actually did a lot better in Geometry and Algebra 2. So if a student isn’t doing well in Algebra, let them try another similar level of math so they can at least move forward in the math teaching sequence.

  3. Also, I should add to that with the rise of very advanced calculators and computers which can do very complicated math problems, a whole lot of students don’t see the need to learn these problems when the calculator and/or computer will do nearly all of the work for us as long as we input the equation(s) correctly.

    It’s not like we are still using slide rules…yet in many American public schools the math teaching methods still seem to be stuck back in the slide rule era.

    Finally, students who do not plan to go in to math-intensive fields like science, chemistry, medicine, etc ought not have to take all of these advanced math courses. If people do not plan on entering a career field which often uses higher level math, why should they have to waste years of their education taking advanced math courses?

    • The technology angle is misleading: computers essentially force us to learn more advanced math. Since they handle all the tedium of number crunching (which created jobs for armies of people back in the days), we need people who actually understand what to put into the computer and what comes out.

      As soon as something becomes easy, we just move the bar higher. It’s unavoidable, so long as math continues to be relevant in real life (i.e. forever).

  4. Remedial math courses at the university level are a significant drain financially. Not only does the university need to staff those courses as the expense of the college level math courses, the student must pay tuition for remedial math. However, no college credit is given for those remedial courses, slowing the student’s progress to graduation.

  5. When are parents to be held accountable for their children’s failure? If a parent offers no support at home, how can we expect a teacher to prepare them for college? I think that, because of the politically correct nature of our country, no one wants to point the finger at parents. Instead, we will dump more money into the system and fire teachers.

  6. I was educated in a CMS high school. I have one child who has graduated and another in the 11th grade. Any student who desires it can get a “world class” math education in this school system right now!!

    Go North Meck!

  7. It is awful that students are slotted into lower level expectations early; it is terrible that they arrive in 9th grade unprepared for Algebra, Geometry, and Algebra II. It is worse that a large part of the problem is that kids say very early, “I am not a math person”, and parents accept that without comment. Teachers even accept that without comment… Math and the ability to use it means the ability to be a useful addition to the workforce; it means the ability to analyze data to make decisions. If we don’t “turn on” the students to the joys of finding “tricks” in data, to the fun of solving a seemingly impossible problem, to the ways you should use math to make your life better everyday, we have already lost them before high school begins. What is more fun to a kid than a computer? We must find ways to bring them to the desks of the schools – not just in the library for research. The NCPTA has taken an advocacy position for National Standards which would help. Innovative teachers who make math interesting and use new approaches in the classroom will make a comparable difference; it must be a cultural change – of we will end up watching the world from the sidelines.

  8. Mike, the grativas of your guests notwithstanding, considerable light could be shed on this subject by the inclusion of well grounded high school teachers who have a foundation in reality that those in the ivory tower of the university seem to lack. May I suggest Kay McSpadden, Polly Adkins and Dr. Cynthia P. Smith. (I am the husband of the latter. Addtionally, it might be of interest to you to know that York High School now has a program that espouses that every student is a college bound student.
    – Durham Smith

    • “York High School now has a program that espouses that every student is a college bound student.”

      That is overly idealistic to the point of ridiculousness. Not every student is or should be college-bound. In fact, the majority of students would be better off if they were taught a practical hands-on trade or skill starting in the 10th or 11th grade which would secure them a decent living. Perhaps a couple years of local community college would be good extra training, but not a 4 year university.

      The USA needs an apprenticeship system like they have in Germany and other nations.

  9. Just wanted to reiterate the bigger picture. While the topic may be local and state math and science skills unpreparedness, this is relevant to our society. Our society dictates, fosters, encourages “have” and “have nots”. The “haves” who are fortunate enough to attend private and ivy league schools tend to do quite well in these academic areas. The problem really stems around the less fortunate members of society and their inherent upbringing. In essence, the schools are only a cog in the machine, to some extent on reporting mechanism, the problem is much larger than just “university setting and public school systems”.

  10. Dear NPR,
    I am a highschool student, who is actually working on my Pre-Cal homework as we speak when I heard what you were talking about on the radio. I really sometimes question, the value for lessons such as “summing Infinite Geometric Series” in my day to day life. I want to become a broadcasting editor, and can see how this could possibly help me with my career goals or in my day to day life.

    • Couldn’t Agree more!

    • I completely agree! I think we should focus on our strengths

    • Man I am in the same situation!

  11. Amen! I have wondered this often

  12. I can see the value of Trig, and any math class preceding that but at the age of 50, I still haven’t used Calc, or pre-Calc

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