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Featured Should Algebra Be Required At Community Colleges?

  1. Do nothing. There is no problem.

    25 vote(s)
    45.5%
  2. Change curriculum but still keep most of Algebra.

    17 vote(s)
    30.9%
  3. Change the curriculum and remove most of Algebra.

    1 vote(s)
    1.8%
  4. Remove all of Algebra and teach the basic necessities.

    1 vote(s)
    1.8%
  5. Other

    11 vote(s)
    20.0%
  1. Jul 29, 2017 #1
    http://physicstoday.scitation.org/do/10.1063/PT.6.3.20170728a/full/

    The chancellor of the California Community Colleges system believes that students who are not majoring in math or science should not have to take intermediate algebra to earn an associate degree. California has the largest community college system in the US, and what goes in California sometimes spreads across the country. What do you think? Is algebra necessary for students who don't plan to pursue a career in the sciences? -Physics Today

    As someone who tutors community college students frequently, this is something I don't really have a solid answer for. Most of the students who fail out of the school in my county is due to the math requirements, and severe lack of any foundation they received while they were in grade school. So from a pragmatic perspective, if you're not looking to major in fields related to science, I don't see much of a reason to force people down this tunnel of failure that weeds out more people from associates degree programs than introductory calculus does from engineering programs.

    I propose this, condensing the requirements down for general degrees to one general education style class that covers arithmetic for basic accounting, reading and following plots (not creating them), how those plots can be abused to manipulate statistics, and incorporate how to use all of this in a spreadsheet to manage finances. I honestly believe these are the core things we should be teaching everyone in math, and going beyond this should be an option, not a mandate.

    Most community college students I tutor are there because they had a pretty garbage life, and more often than not had a pretty garbage school district. Expecting a grown up to learn the math of grades 1-10 in a year and a half is something I have always believed to be ridiculous. It can be done, but more often than not it just doesn't happen. I believe for the community college program in this country to succeed in helping more students get out of poverty we at the very least need to rethink how we teach math. What I've outlined above is just an idea, I'd love to hear what you guys think, especially those of you who are involved with community colleges yourselves. I think even if you disagree with what I've written, most of you should at least agree that there's a problem.
     
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  3. Jul 29, 2017 #2

    scottdave

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    It has been so many years for me. I had Algebra, Geometry, Trig and Calculus in High School, and I started with Calculus in college. What are the key topics for today's College Algebra?
     
  4. Jul 29, 2017 #3

    Vanadium 50

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    First comment: what is the point of an AA degree? Does it indicate mastery of content, or is it merely a piece of paper. If the former, removing content devalues it. If the latter, we should remove even more content, so everyone can get one.

    Second comment: "We're never gonna use this!" is an argument more appropriate for a fourth grader than the Chancellor of the California Community Colleges system. It's also an argument that can be applied to many places in an AA/AS program.

    Third comment: if the problem they are trying to solve is that algebra is "a major barrier to students of color", isn't the solution to require it only for white students? And if you think my proposal is ridiculous and offensive, I'd ask you to reflect on why you think this is so, and how Mr. Oakley's proposal scores on the same scale.
     
    Last edited: Jul 30, 2017
  5. Jul 29, 2017 #4
    Not every one needs a college degree in life. Community colleges seek to fulfill two roles, I think: (1) to serve as feeders into four year programs elsewhere, and (2) to provide job skills beyond a high school degree level. There is a degree of conflict between these two goals. If the first goal is to be met, even for those who will eventually be liberal arts majors at a four year school, the community colleges must continue to teach College Algebra as College Algebra. But that is little more than what should have been learned in high school algebra. So if they are to require any mathematical growth for community college students, all should take College Algebra without dilution.
     
  6. Jul 29, 2017 #5
    CC's and VoTech's train people to make a living. Lots of people need that these days.
     
  7. Jul 29, 2017 #6
    That was my second point above, and I certainly agree. It just happens to be in conflict with the first point I raised.
     
  8. Jul 29, 2017 #7

    scottdave

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  9. Jul 29, 2017 #8
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    Can you tell me what value is added to someone who wants to be a physical therapist by being able to reduce a rational expression? An argument can easily be made that everyone uses math regularly, it's the level of which we require math to be mastered that's the issue. But how does being able to reduce a rational expression add to the value of such degrees where, guess what, nobody cares what you got in a math class unless you failed it.

    Edit: To summarize, why do we require such a high degree of mastery for math, and not say, Literature?
     
  10. Jul 29, 2017 #9
    This gets right to the heart of the question. The answer is because what mathematics teaches us about logical thinking. This is not to say that logic cannot be applied in literature, because it certainly can be done. But literature can also be studied on a non-logical basis, looking only at emotions and fuzzy thought. That last approach simply does not work for algebra.

    Unfortunately, algebra can also be "practiced" to a limited degree with very little thought. If a student simply learns "When you see this sort of problem, you execute these steps to solve it," that has little or no value. But if the student learns to think about what he is doing, why this leads to the solution, then we have the value of algebra for the non-technical student.
     
  11. Jul 29, 2017 #10

    symbolipoint

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    After just reading this part of the post, and no more yet, I have this opinion...
    Intermediate Algebra, as the minimum, should be required for any student wishing to earn an Associate Degree of , I would like to say, ANY major, from a community college. Although recheck should be done, my understanding is that at least "College Algebra" is required; and some major fields require either "Finite Math" or "Intro. Statistics", and of course anyone aiming in STEM for a degree from community college has other or additional Mathematics requirements (like Calculus 1, 2, or also 3; and some parts of linear algebra or differential equations). The STEM students need the additional mathematics skills and concepts for some of their relevant courses.
     
  12. Jul 29, 2017 #11

    symbolipoint

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    Keep the same standards for everyone, in order to support equality and justice. This includes the Mathematics requirements for the academic programs.

    The question of "when or how will we ever use this?" is a ...not sure how to say... a poor question, because the schools, the teachers/professors, even the students themselves, are not yet in a field after graduating, to know what they will need to use nor when nor where they will need to use it. Prepare for MORE, and then PICK WHAT YOU NEED LATER.
     
  13. Jul 29, 2017 #12

    symbolipoint

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    I know because I can feel it in my bones, that a good discussion should be possible, describing how dealing with Algebra, computer programming, can help a person to form an outline of a critique report about a piece of literature or a fictional film; and then let the person's own artistry guide him as he fill this outline.
     
  14. Jul 29, 2017 #13
    @ symbolipoint: I don't think anyone would argue that STEM students do not need Algebra. The primary question, as I see it, is whether other students need this as a degree requirement or not.

    A major premise of education down to the present time is that it should broaden the student, and enable them to think more logically than when they began their studies. All of mathematics may be viewed as nothing more than a formal system of logic, and the small part of that that comprises College Algebra has long been seen as a minimum for anyone holding even an Associate degree. The ability to think logically, to reason correctly, is important in every aspect of life, even for folks who never later solve a quadratic equation.
     
  15. Jul 29, 2017 #14

    symbolipoint

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    Dr. D,
    I understand what you mean. My opinion is, for non STEM students, just make Intermediate Algebra the requirement for A.A. degree from community college. People will still disagree and say that this "Intermediate" level algebra is still too tough and 'unnecessary'.
     
  16. Jul 29, 2017 #15

    Mark44

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    I'm reminded of my sister, who started her college studies after having kids. She succeeded in completing the program to get her RN (Registered Nurse) degree/certificate. Being a nurse is not quite the same as being a physical therapist, but there are similarities. One thing she had to learn was how to calculate the correct dosage of some drug based on patient's weight. Although she wasn't reducing a rational expression, she was solving a fairly simple equation involving fractional quantities. If she had not been exposed to algebra earlier in her program, she wouldn't have had a clue as to how to proceed.

    For a physical therapist, being mindful of the stresses and strains on joints such as knees and elbows has to do with leverage, and proportions. If you are seated and use your foot to lift a weight of 10 lb., would you as a physical therapist be able to calculate the force exerted on your knee in lifting this weigth?

    I can see that being able to simplify rational expressions might not be germane to some studies, but your example of a physical therapist doesn't seem to me to be one of those.
     
  17. Jul 29, 2017 #16

    Vanadium 50

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    About the same as it is for whatever they get from an extra class in Literature.

    Now you're starting to get to the heart of the matter. I looked at the AA/AS requirements and also the graduation requirements for California high schools. In English and Math they are the same: one course post-HS. So what's the problem? Probably that the high schools looked the other way when their students didn't really know Algebra I and graduated them anyway.
     
  18. Jul 29, 2017 #17

    symbolipoint

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    I really LIKE this posting quoted above and I wish I could put in two more LIKES. Naturally, this forum system does not allow it.
     
  19. Jul 29, 2017 #18
    Requirements for all degrees at community college usually boils down to one of three things:
    1. Pass intermediate algebra with a D or greater (The buildup to this can be upwards of 3 courses: Arithmetic, College Algebra, Intermediate Algerba)
    2. Pass a math class specific to your degree (a medical mathematics class for instance)
    3. If you test out of Intermediate algebra, and 2 does not apply, pass the next highest math course possible.

    And of course if you are majoring in STEM you'll take more as you say.

    The issue isn't so much that math, or even algebra, is required. It is the extent and magnitude to which we require mathematical rigor from students. Which I will address in the next quote.

    I truly appreciate your sentiment. And I would never suggest that NO mathematical background be present in a degree. I would even say that many aspects of algebra are essential to being an informed citizen-namely creating and interpreting plots.

    But let me raise an objection to your point here. I tutor nursing students on the regular at my old school, among others. Intermediate Algebra is a prerequisite to even being considered for the nursing program. And while they are a CC, their program is competitive due to it's low tuition. With that being said, our school has one of the highest failure rates on the state exams for the RN program and has a failure rate within the program that is quite high. This isn't unusual, but do you want to venture a guess as to why they fail?

    It's math. They are allowed one failure of the dosage and conversions exams (failure is <90%) and if they fail again, they are out. This, in itself, is not the issue. Nurses should be held to a higher standard. However, this is the number one reason people fail. Now, it's worth noting here that within the program there is math course dedicated to this subject. It is not something one learns in Intermediate Algebra. So why is it that such a large portion of students fail a math portion of a program when they had to do excellent in math to enter the program in the first place. I would argue that it is because Intermediate Algebra, except in the case of specific STEM programs, does not give the mathematical skills necessary to do math that a person may use in their field. Learning how to simplify a rational expression, find the sum of a geometric series, and memorizing the equation of an ellipse do not add any value to a degree or most peoples mathematical tool kits.

    Again, I am in no way suggesting math isn't useful. But I believe if we are to require math as a general education requirement in the same way as we do courses like literature, history and art, we should have the same approach to teaching both at the same level.

    Let me flesh something out to you and see if you agree with me:

    1. We should maintain algebra up to the level of college algebra (basic equations, plotting lines, factoring)
    2. Incorporate basic statistics into arithmetic and college algebra.
    3. Incorporate spreadsheet uses and basic programming as a mandatory gen ed.
    4. Reduce effective number of required math classes to 2 instead of 3 (Arithmetic and College Algebra)
    5. Encourage students to take math courses specific to their fields. (i.e. what our nursing program does) As opposed to just intermediate algebra.

    I believe this would be better suited to a person seeking a general education in mathematics. Would you do things differently? I'd genuinely like to hear yours and others' opinions.

    You highlight such an important point when thinking about this problem. Right now CC's are at an impasse. They pull funding from FAFSA's and state grants by the millions, yet most of the students who get those grants don't graduate or transfer to a good school because they can't pass mathematics. That is the struggle they face right now. This is, as you point out, largely due to an inefficient and obtuse secondary education system in this country. Students come out of low income schools and GED programs with almost no real preparation for mathematics due to negligence and mismanagement. Their only option for developing their careers are either retail, pursuing an education at CC, or going to trade school. In their current state, CC's are becoming a non-viable option for these students. And they are being left behind. So the question I and others have raised who are in these communities teaching these students is, what can we do better? Because what's going on right now isn't working. Both for the students, and on the business side of the school where grants may stop coming to schools who can't pass more of these students through algebra. I'd be curious to what you think a better solution is if any to this problem, and what you think of my ideas.
     
  20. Jul 29, 2017 #19

    symbolipoint

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    PhotonSSBM

    True point about some math skills instructed in Intermediate Algebra, but other math skills emphasized in the nursing programs after Intermed Algebra. I cannot remember any strong focus on unit-of-measure conversions when studied Intermediate Algebra, NOR in College Algebra. There was a bit of attention on it, but not much. Nursing students, if they have a separate mathematical component , might/or/do have some courses which instruct about many, many units and their conversion ratios. The same idea happens with Physics and Chemistry major fields.
     
  21. Jul 29, 2017 #20

    russ_watters

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    I'd say he should be fired immediately, but since it is California, I'll say give him a raise and more responsibility instead.
    In high school, I had math classes, science classes, English classes, social studies (history) classes, music classes, phys-ed classes, health classes, etc. Algebra was a relatively low-level class (I took my last algebra class as a sophomore). So what you are basically saying is that it is pretty easy to fake it in other classes where the scoring is more qualitative, but math is harder because there are clear-cut right and wrong answers....so we shouldn't force people to learn it.

    I agree with you, but I'd take it a step further: Why force them to learn anything? Why not just hand-out associates degrees to everyone who doesn't have one and is at risk of falling into poverty? Sound ridiculous? Why?
    I agree, but de-valuing the degree will only work if we don't tell anyone we're de-valuing the degree. So don't tell anyone, ok?!
    [/California]
     
    Last edited: Jul 29, 2017
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