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The next civil rights court battle for California higher education may be about algebra.

California State University is finalizing new system-wide math policies as part of an initiative to increase graduation rates and address equity gaps. But a recent move by CSU affecting students transferring from community colleges threatens to undermine community college efforts to do the same.

Christopher Edley, Jr.

Christopher Edley, Jr.

The culprit is Intermediate Algebra, a high-school level course of technical procedures that most college students will never use, either in college or in life. Many students pass a course on this content in high school (Algebra II), but when they arrive at a community college, more than 80 percent are required to take remedial courses repeating this material if they don’t score high enough on a standardized test. And the problem is, most community college students don’t take just one remedial course. To meet the Intermediate Algebra standard, they are often required to take two years of remedial courses that don’t count for transfer credit at CSU. By contrast, a CSU student who is required to take remedial math at CSU does not have to demonstrate intermediate algebra competency in order to take credit-bearing math courses.

As a result, every year, more than 170,000 California community college students are placed into remedial math based on how well they do on a standardized test in algebra. Over 110,000 of them never complete math requirements for getting an associate degree or for transferring to CSU or the University of California.

About 80 percent of African Americans required to take more than one remedial class in math do not complete their math requirements within six years, compared to 67 percent of Hispanics and 61 percent of whites, according to the community college system’s student success scorecard.  A recent estimate found that, among community college students, 50-60 percent of the racial disparity in degree completion is driven by decisions to place students in math remediation, according to an unpublished study by the RP Group.

Some CSU faculty and system leaders suggest that the system’s Intermediate Algebra remediation policies support equity. Because Intermediate Algebra is necessary for most STEM majors, they say, requiring it ensures that students of color are not “tracked” away from lucrative majors.

What these educators don’t appear to realize is that the same policies track many capable students – especially students of color attending community colleges – away from completing a college degree at all.

Why is this a civil rights legal problem for state higher education, rather than just a policy problem for social justice and prosperity? It is because, outside of specific majors such as engineering, intermediate algebra skills are not required for success in college. In fact, popular college math courses like Statistics do not require intermediate algebra. Studies show that the very same students, whose futures are threatened by algebra policies, can pass a rigorous college-level statistics course without knowing intermediate algebra. Statistics satisfies the math requirement for transfer from community colleges to CSU and UC, as well as for a baccalaureate degree.

In numerous programs around the country, students who are given the chance to enroll directly in college statistics, or take a remedial course on quantitative reasoning skills better aligned with statistics, are succeeding at far higher rates than those forced to take algebra courses. Under a pilot program authorized by CSU, some community colleges have implemented a sequence of courses known as “statistics pathways” in which the intermediate algebra requirement is waived. These pathways substantially increase completion of credit-bearing math courses, improve transfer rates, decrease time to degree, and substantially narrow equity gaps. Recent action by CSU to expect students in various majors that require Statistics to nevertheless demonstrate competency in Intermediate Algebra could thwart expansion of these successful pathways and put unnecessary barriers in students’ way.

Current waivers and pilot projects help far too few students. The inequity, and the legal problem, remain, grounded in a dirty secret about math requirements: the requirements are largely arbitrary. They often reflect tradition or a data-free faculty intuition about the academic grounding students need for college completion, career success and effective citizenship. Many times, the faculty judgment is based on faculty politics, with a fig leaf of analysis. This is the case with associate degrees designed for transfer students, which are based on agreements between community colleges and the CSU system, and intended to smooth pathways to the university for community college students. CSU has applied pressure to add Intermediate Algebra requirements to transfer degrees without evidence that such requirements are needed for success in those majors.

This kind of maneuvering shouldn’t be allowed to trump federal civil rights law or the Equal Protection Clause of California’s Constitution.

If CSU and other public schools continue the current exclusionary math practices, civil rights litigators representing affected students should sue as soon as possible for violations of the Equal Protection clause of the state constitution, and seek federal enforcement of regulations under Title VI of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965.  In fact, civil rights enforcers under Obama were looking into it after I filed a complaint in late 2015.

CSU policy needs to ensure that these pathways are available to all students who take statistics as part of their degree programs, and that intermediate algebra is required only when it is truly essential to students’ success in a given major. This should be true whether students start at a community college or at a CSU campus.

A college degree can break the cycle of poverty, giving graduates access to incomes that far surpass the earning potential of their peers without a college degree. CSU must take steps to ensure that math requirements do not pose arbitrary and discriminatory barriers to degree attainment.

By the way, please expand this polynomial, then solve for y:

equation

Can I assume, as CSU and many math professors do, that if you can’t do this, you don’t deserve a college degree and you are unfit for meaningful civic engagement?

•••

Christopher Edley, Jr., is President of the Opportunity Institute.  He is the William H. Orrick, Jr. Distinguished Professor and former dean at U.C. Berkeley School of Law, and was a math major in college.

EdSource welcomes commentaries representing diverse points of view. The opinions expressed in this commentary represent those of the author. If you would like to submit a commentary for EdSource Today, please contact us.

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  1. Quan 4 days ago4 days ago

    This is ridiculous. How can a college student earn a four year degree without being able to solve the equation at the bottom of the article the author put as an example? This level of math requirement is about basic training for a true college student. To achieve true equality, we need to work on helping lagging ones to meet up the standard but not to lower the standard to for them. By the … Read More

    This is ridiculous. How can a college student earn a four year degree without being able to solve the equation at the bottom of the article the author put as an example? This level of math requirement is about basic training for a true college student. To achieve true equality, we need to work on helping lagging ones to meet up the standard but not to lower the standard to for them. By the end of days, our students need to be capable of competing nationally and globally. Other countries are not reducing standards.

  2. Justin 2 weeks ago2 weeks ago

    Ahhh, the subtle racism of lowered expectations. I'm sorry but education is designed, or should be, to create the most prepared students possible. Universities should not be diploma factories or tools for social engineering. Identity politics should have no no bearing on these matters. The truth is, not everyone should get a degree and it's also not inherently true that degrees should be handed out equally among all groups in proportion to their population or … Read More

    Ahhh, the subtle racism of lowered expectations. I’m sorry but education is designed, or should be, to create the most prepared students possible. Universities should not be diploma factories or tools for social engineering. Identity politics should have no no bearing on these matters. The truth is, not everyone should get a degree and it’s also not inherently true that degrees should be handed out equally among all groups in proportion to their population or even enrollment. Sometimes it is best for the student to actually pursue other opportunities and not being able to pass Algebra 2 seems like a very good indication that this is the case and a relatively harmless way to weed out people who will likely fail before they go into too much debt. There is NO indication that these people who fail Algebra 2 would otherwise go on to graduate. Lowering standards so that everyone can pass is a good way to make diplomas even less valuable.

  3. Jack Good 2 weeks ago2 weeks ago

    The dumbing down of America continues. This is why the rest of the world is excelling and we are falling behind. Math is hard, it's supposed to be push-ups for the brain. There is a huge difference between people who understand math and those who don't . Why stop at math, let's ban foreign languages and reading and any other challenges free liberal arts degrees for everyone. Read some of the biographies of … Read More

    The dumbing down of America continues. This is why the rest of the world is excelling and we are falling behind. Math is hard, it’s supposed to be push-ups for the brain. There is a huge difference between people who understand math and those who don’t . Why stop at math, let’s ban foreign languages and reading and any other challenges free liberal arts degrees for everyone. Read some of the biographies of our founding fathers and memorable leaders sometime. Today’s average liberal arts college graduate couldn’t hold a candle to the scholars of times past.

  4. Ben 2 weeks ago2 weeks ago

    They couldn’t perform to standard and were placed in remedial classes. if they don’t want to go through that process, show up at college with some real skills instead of a worthless high school diploma that you received through social promotion,

  5. Tyrone Warner 2 weeks ago2 weeks ago

    If students can’t pass a high school level course, why are they in college?

  6. James Rusell 2 weeks ago2 weeks ago

    The picture at the top of the article is calculus……..

  7. LT 2 weeks ago2 weeks ago

    The same argument could be used for almost every college course. I have not been asked to write a thesis sentence since freshman English. I have not needed to know anything about world history, political science, geology, etc. Why not let everyone choose what they want to do for the rest of their life when they are 12 years old and then just teach them what they need for that profession? Because that is not … Read More

    The same argument could be used for almost every college course. I have not been asked to write a thesis sentence since freshman English. I have not needed to know anything about world history, political science, geology, etc. Why not let everyone choose what they want to do for the rest of their life when they are 12 years old and then just teach them what they need for that profession? Because that is not the purpose of an education and very few people stay in the same field for their entire life. An education, especially a college education, provides a basis for learning throughout your entire life. The problem that the author poses at the end of the article should be solvable by an 8th grader. Why would you not expect a college student to solve it?

    I would suggest that most degrees that don’t need an understanding of “intermediate algebra” aren’t worth the money required to obtain them. These students would be much better off becoming tradesmen (carpenters, plumbers, etc) although even they need to know basic mathematics. No wonder people expect to earn a living wage at a fast food restaurant. If they won’t put in the effort to do something that may be hard for them (algebra) why should anyone hire them for a meaningful job. I wouldn’t.

  8. Force Equality 2 weeks ago2 weeks ago

    I see: The way to bridge the equity gap in math skills is to tell CSU students there is no gap, and that they don’t need algebra in the real world, then push them headfirst into the gap. That will make things equal.

  9. Vern 2 weeks ago2 weeks ago

    Algebra is not intended to be used outside the classroom unless you are a STEM major. Algebra is intended to change the student’s thought process, in order to think in an abstract manner, which is antithetical to common sense.

  10. Doug 2 weeks ago2 weeks ago

    Algebra is the foundation of basically everything after arithmetic.

    Show me a statistics class that doesn’t contain any algebra and I’ll show you a statistics class that is nowhere near as “rigorous” as the author claims it to be.

  11. Don Davis 2 weeks ago2 weeks ago

    The article is correct in that the polynomial solving techniques from intermediate algebra have no association with statistics. But that does not mean that every student is prepared for a college level statistics course. At our college, we teach pre-statistics that includes topics such as number sense, writing intervals in various forms and set operations to properly prepare students. Equation solving is restricted to determining a cut-off scores. Having said that, students also need to … Read More

    The article is correct in that the polynomial solving techniques from intermediate algebra have no association with statistics. But that does not mean that every student is prepared for a college level statistics course. At our college, we teach pre-statistics that includes topics such as number sense, writing intervals in various forms and set operations to properly prepare students. Equation solving is restricted to determining a cut-off scores. Having said that, students also need to have a familiarity with function notation in order to give an expression such as P(-2 < z < 1.5) some meaning.

  12. Scott 2 weeks ago2 weeks ago

    The thesis for the argument put forth in this article is ludicrous. Because black kids do worse at mathematics than white kids or Hispanics, math must be necessarily biased against blacks. So let's lower the bar in regards to math standards so that we do not discriminate against blacks. Complete nonsense and defeatist. Kids who put in the time and study will pass mathematics. The kids who don't do the work do not pass. … Read More

    The thesis for the argument put forth in this article is ludicrous. Because black kids do worse at mathematics than white kids or Hispanics, math must be necessarily biased against blacks. So let’s lower the bar in regards to math standards so that we do not discriminate against blacks. Complete nonsense and defeatist.

    Kids who put in the time and study will pass mathematics. The kids who don’t do the work do not pass. It does not matter if they are white, yellow, purple, brown, or black. To target the actual discipline of study because fail rates are high is irrational. Using the logic of this author, we should just wipe out entire physics departments and curricula at universities since students fail physics courses at extremely high rates, regardless of race.

  13. Ackbar's Fishsticks 2 weeks ago2 weeks ago

    I think the guy's on to something here. I graduated with a degree in Electrical Engineering. To get it I was required to pass a course in Differential Equations. After 34 years, the last time I looked at a differential equation was on the final exam for that course. Also, in my senior year my degree plan gave me a choice between Introductory Statistics and Elementary Linear Algebra (which was neither elementary nor linear nor algebra). … Read More

    I think the guy’s on to something here.

    I graduated with a degree in Electrical Engineering. To get it I was required to pass a course in Differential Equations. After 34 years, the last time I looked at a differential equation was on the final exam for that course.

    Also, in my senior year my degree plan gave me a choice between Introductory Statistics and Elementary Linear Algebra (which was neither elementary nor linear nor algebra). Because I was interested in control theory, I took the linear algebra course. And I’ve always regretted my choice. Because since then, nobody has “once” tried to lie to me with an eigenvector.

  14. Eric Brussel 2 weeks ago2 weeks ago

    Algebra develops pure critical thinking, much more so than statistics, and the two are not interchangeable. You might as well substitute wood shop. College may be a job ticket, but it is also supposed to educate. In my opinion, intermediate algebra is passable by any committed and moderately intelligent student, and it should remain as a prerequisite. You should put your efforts into motivating students to do the hard work necessary to reach their chosen … Read More

    Algebra develops pure critical thinking, much more so than statistics, and the two are not interchangeable. You might as well substitute wood shop. College may be a job ticket, but it is also supposed to educate. In my opinion, intermediate algebra is passable by any committed and moderately intelligent student, and it should remain as a prerequisite. You should put your efforts into motivating students to do the hard work necessary to reach their chosen goals, rather than into watering down the college curriculum.

  15. Jim Wylder 2 weeks ago2 weeks ago

    Algebra II expands one’s ability to reason. Reasoning and critical thinking are so lacking in America today. Need help, get a tutor.

  16. Gretchen 3 weeks ago3 weeks ago

    This article is groundshaking.

  17. Catherine Boyd 3 weeks ago3 weeks ago

    I am having this same problem.

  18. Tess Neovius 3 weeks ago3 weeks ago

    Who wrote the math problem you presented? The question is to “Expand this polynomial…” and then presents an equation, not a polynomial.

    To solve the equation for y, take plus or minus the square root of the left side, no expansion necessary. Expansion of the left side uses FOIL, an Algebra I skill, but it plays no role in solving the equation.

  19. Danny Nguyen 3 weeks ago3 weeks ago

    I think it is a bit misleading to say that if a student is not able to do a specific type of algebra problem, then that student does not deserve a college degree. If a student is not able to pass the Algebra course, then it means the student is not able to do a lot of problems. We focus so much on pass/fail that it is easy to forget that the point of pursuing … Read More

    I think it is a bit misleading to say that if a student is not able to do a specific type of algebra problem, then that student does not deserve a college degree. If a student is not able to pass the Algebra course, then it means the student is not able to do a lot of problems.

    We focus so much on pass/fail that it is easy to forget that the point of pursuing an education is for the students to have an opportunity to develop skills that they don’t have. One of the most important skills that students will learn to develop in the Algebra course is to learn how to correct their own mistakes. It seems trivial for most of us but it’s not as natural as we may think. Wouldn’t it be better to push for more resources to go into helping these students pass the class instead of pushing to get rid of the class?

  20. Tony stonitsch 3 weeks ago3 weeks ago

    This is bunk.
    Dumbing down of a BS Degree especially a STEM program. What’s next? Calculus? Trig?
    The professor knows that the logic skills used in algebra are fundamental in developing evaluative skills in life. Intermediate algebra develops logic skills and constructs for any Bachelor of science degree.

    Replies

    • James R Palmer 3 weeks ago3 weeks ago

      Unless I misread, the author states that many majors do not require the skills of Algebra, that statistics can be completed successfully without it. Additionally, if it's just logic and decision making, there is argumentation, philosophy, and dozens of other general education courses that cover this. While I have solved for X many many times since college, I have never needed other Algebra skills, not for my MBA, nor as a data … Read More

      Unless I misread, the author states that many majors do not require the skills of Algebra, that statistics can be completed successfully without it. Additionally, if it’s just logic and decision making, there is argumentation, philosophy, and dozens of other general education courses that cover this. While I have solved for X many many times since college, I have never needed other Algebra skills, not for my MBA, nor as a data analyst.

      Consider that by placing this barrier on every student, we are forcing out 80-plus percent of college-bound students.

      • AF 3 weeks ago3 weeks ago

        Well, that's concerning. Didn't touch the CAPM in your MBA? That's algebra. Portfolio theory/optimization, equity and fixed income valuation all involve algebra and calculus. I work in corporate FP&A, and use it every day having to calculate inputs, create variables in workbooks, use systems of equations to balance things out over various places. Slope of line? Algebra. Order of operations, and inequalities? Algebra. Factoring, complex numbers, etc. I'd be scared to hell going into a … Read More

        Well, that’s concerning. Didn’t touch the CAPM in your MBA? That’s algebra. Portfolio theory/optimization, equity and fixed income valuation all involve algebra and calculus. I work in corporate FP&A, and use it every day having to calculate inputs, create variables in workbooks, use systems of equations to balance things out over various places. Slope of line? Algebra. Order of operations, and inequalities? Algebra. Factoring, complex numbers, etc. I’d be scared to hell going into a Microecon class, or Corporate Finance (even as an undergrad!) without crushing the underlying math portion. Aren’t college science courses either algebra or calculus based? Or has that been dumbed down too?

  21. Greg 3 weeks ago3 weeks ago

    If you want to fix things, then ensure every high school graduate has solid intermediate algebra skills. Why are we even teaching intermediate algebra in college? It's really a failure of our high schools. And really what's the point of high school if we just dumb down the requirements to where they only have to count with fingers. If anything absolutely NO college degree should be given to anyone that can't at least show proficiency … Read More

    If you want to fix things, then ensure every high school graduate has solid intermediate algebra skills. Why are we even teaching intermediate algebra in college? It’s really a failure of our high schools. And really what’s the point of high school if we just dumb down the requirements to where they only have to count with fingers. If anything absolutely NO college degree should be given to anyone that can’t at least show proficiency in intermediate algebra. You would be harming the people you are trying to help in the long run.

    Replies

    • Tony stonitsch 3 weeks ago3 weeks ago

      AGREE !!!!

    • James R Palmer 3 weeks ago3 weeks ago

      Passing Statistics to satisfy degree requirements for a Fine Arts major is hardly dumbing down. They are just saying that Algebra doesn’t need to be part of the math sequence for everyone – STEM, sure, Kinesiology, maybe not so much.

    • Diane Van Deusen 2 weeks ago2 weeks ago

      I completely agree. I feel the root of the problem is way before college. Why are students coming to community colleges and having to take pre-algebra, let alone beginning and/or intermediate algebra? Not only that, they can’t spell, punctuate, or write a meaningful summary which I require of my students in statistics.

    • Leah 2 weeks ago2 weeks ago

      I'm a high school math teacher. Please don't place the blame on us. I try incredibly hard to motivate my students to learn and become skilled at math. However, I regularly get students who can't add or subtract anything other than whole numbers. Social promotion and litigious parents are the reason these things are happening. A child can fail every single grade from 1st through 8th, and still get into high school. Social promotion must … Read More

      I’m a high school math teacher. Please don’t place the blame on us. I try incredibly hard to motivate my students to learn and become skilled at math. However, I regularly get students who can’t add or subtract anything other than whole numbers.

      Social promotion and litigious parents are the reason these things are happening. A child can fail every single grade from 1st through 8th, and still get into high school. Social promotion must end in California if we are to see gains in Math and English. Why should my 9th graders believe me that it’s important to learn Algebra if there’s never been a consequence for failing for eight years?

      And parents threaten to sue schools every single day. While some suits are justified, the majority aren’t. But those threats of lawsuits really affect administrative policy at schools. Unfortunately, usually a negative effect where requirements are dumbed down or flat-out ignored to avoid potential lawsuits.

      In the end, it comes down to the student. They need to work for a degree. It’s not a right to have one. When I struggled with a few concepts in my Calculus 2 class at community college, I went to the free tutors they provided. There is a lot of free and low-cost help out there. Students need to use it and push themselves.

      So many of my 9th graders want me to “give” them a good grade. I tell them they have to earn a grade, not be given one. Seems a lot more students need to learn that.

    • Reva Madison 2 weeks ago2 weeks ago

      Nonsense. As a math major, physics minor, I did use a bit of simple equation solving, but not much, after my stint in college. I spent a lifetime of telecommunications work. Once in a great while, I had to figure out how long to cut a line, to help hold up a vertical antenna tower. And, that was about it. I learned that, somewhere around the 8th grade. Had … Read More

      Nonsense. As a math major, physics minor, I did use a bit of simple equation solving, but not much, after my stint in college. I spent a lifetime of telecommunications work. Once in a great while, I had to figure out how long to cut a line, to help hold up a vertical antenna tower. And, that was about it. I learned that, somewhere around the 8th grade. Had I been into writing, such as writing training manuals, or poetry, I would have had no, repeat, no use at all for higher maths. It is good to have a decent background in English (reading and writing), government, geometry, and algebra, on a high school level – but having to take further maths and science classes, on into college, for people who will never need it? If they do not know what their long-term work plans are, they are just as likely to need something else.

      College, especially the first year or so, is where most students finally make those decisions, and then they need more hours in those subjects, than something that they will never touch again. I know, it’s hard to make decisions, as an 18-year-old, but eventually most of us do it, and get through it.

  22. Lawrence M 3 weeks ago3 weeks ago

    This article presents a view of this issue that is often overlooked - that the policies universities adopt relative to math requirements can be seen as civil rights issues. As a Latino college math professor who started his training at Cal State Northridge, this is an important issue for me. In fact, I spent three years as an employee of the Carnegie Foundation and worked on both Statway and Quantway in a variety of ways. … Read More

    This article presents a view of this issue that is often overlooked – that the policies universities adopt relative to math requirements can be seen as civil rights issues. As a Latino college math professor who started his training at Cal State Northridge, this is an important issue for me. In fact, I spent three years as an employee of the Carnegie Foundation and worked on both Statway and Quantway in a variety of ways. For the last four years, I’ve been back at work as a full time professor of math, and have been working hard with colleagues at my own college to totally re-invent our curriculum so that non-STEM students have quality, rigorous, and shortened pathways to complete their associate degrees.

    I’m not alone! All over the country, hundreds (probably thousands) of math faculty are working very hard on this challenging issue. A lot of the hard, time-consuming work on Statway and initiatives like it has been done by math professors who actually do believe our non-STEM majors are perfectly suited for “meaningful civic engagement” and absolutely deserve a college education and degree.

    This entire article frames the issue as one of policy at CSU. Then, only at the end, the author implies that “many” math professors are a big part of the problem. And that may be true to some degree – some math faculty hold on to beliefs that get in the way of clearing obstacles for students to complete their education, as do many other faculty, factors, and policies.

    But the article also states that across the country, students who are “given the chance to enroll directly in college statistics, or take a remedial course on quantitative reasoning skills better aligned with statistics” are “succeeding at far higher rates than those forced to take algebra courses.”

    Who do you think is giving them this chance? It doesn’t appear out of nowhere. Many administrators, curriculum writers, non-profits and, yes, math faculty, have done the hard work to make these options available to students. I think it’s important to keep in mind that “many” math professors are on the front lines of addressing this issue by working on and with initiatives like Statway, creating and testing new curriculum, learning new and more effective pedagogical practices, engaging with four-year institutions to ease transfer options, etc. Indeed, “many” are doing their part. Taking a snarky swipe at math educators at the end, without providing a balanced picture of their work to remedy this situation, doesn’t make much sense. Nor does it seem particularly productive.

  23. Scott Friedberg 3 weeks ago3 weeks ago

    I was at a restaurant some time ago. The waitress accidentally charged 10% tax on the bill instead of 8%. And she had lost the pre-tax cost of the dinner. No one knew how to figure out the correct amount for the bill. It was a question in basic algebra but no one knew how to come up with the correct amount for the bill. Finally it was brought … Read More

    I was at a restaurant some time ago. The waitress accidentally charged 10% tax on the bill instead of 8%. And she had lost the pre-tax cost of the dinner. No one knew how to figure out the correct amount for the bill. It was a question in basic algebra but no one knew how to come up with the correct amount for the bill. Finally it was brought to the attention of the restaurant manager and he figured it out. It is foolish to say that basic mathematical skills are not part of everyday life. Moreover, this article makes it sound like requiring knowledge of low-level high school mathematics is an indictment against people who are not mathematically savvy.

    There is a reason to know basic high school mathematics. The higher level courses like college algebra, calculus, statistics, freshman physics, freshman chemistry all rely on the basic mathematical skills from high school mathematics. If students wish greater insight into the world and the universe we live in, they will not achieve it without such basic mathematics. Such students can make it through these courses with a great deal of anxiety but they won’t have actually learned anything – they will not have any greater insight. These courses will be painful and will serve only as a right of passage – not as a path to any kind of insight or enlightenment.

    It is emotionally painful to see many students pay tens of thousands of dollars a year in tuition, not to actually learn anything. Education is not supposed to be a survival contest. It is to bring about a deeper understanding of oneself, the world and the universe we live in. Of course it is to learn necessary technical skills for one’s career. Education has to keep a balance between pragmatism and world view. It is wrong to think of education solely as a means to make money. Trade schools exist for that. They serve a purpose – as important as any. If the individual wants only that, then this option exists. But that is a distinct purpose and different from that of a college or university.

    Even the natural sciences – biology in particular – are becoming more mathematical, as the growing fields of biophysics, bio-mathematics and bio-statistics are making increasingly greater contributions to the field. The long unsolved protein folding problem is now understood having applied statistical mechanics to the entropy and free energy of the proteins. Mathematics continues to make important contributions to fields of study and to society in ways that were previously not envisioned.

    Carl Sagan pointed out that our economy is becoming completely dependent on technology but society is becoming more technologically ignorant. He argued that such a schism could ultimately be catastrophic.

    On top of this, many colleges have tutoring centers where the student can get one on one help. These centers can review the class notes with the student, can review homework with the student and most importantly provide a channel for communication and personal attention. Many centers provide feedback to the professors so that they are aware of the efforts of the students.

    As with everything in life, this is a question of responsibility and accountability. There is cause and effect. If a student neglects education from early on, there will be a deleterious outcome later.

    And regarding the concepts of responsibility and accountability, this article is blaming the “institution” and the “collection of math professors” for the indolence of the individual. There are two ways to make it at anything. One is to be blessed with natural talent, the other is through hard work. This article condones displacing responsibility for the individual and transforming into blame of the institution. And the reader will hopefully notice the hypocrisy in marginalizing an entire sect of society (the professor or the math professor). You cannot get justice nor an efficient system by continually displacing responsibility from one group while blaming another. This is a classic case of playing victim to avoid responsibility. Playing victim has nothing to do with justice. It is always about gaining power.

    To paint this topic with such broad strokes is a deception, a play at sophistry and manipulation.

  24. Norman Stahl 3 weeks ago3 weeks ago

    Let’s understand that advanced math has been used as a gatekeeper by numerous departments in the academy when each respective department/field should have field-oriented assessments that evaluate students’ abilities when enrolled in the major itself. It’s about understanding disciplinary literacy as tied to each field or subfield.
    The community colleges seem to get it. Perhaps one day the same will be true for those in the UC or CSU system.

  25. Brian cortez 3 weeks ago3 weeks ago

    Hasn't anyone taken the time to think that maybe it's just on the student? I'm currently a fourth year at UCSB and a transfer student, and I started off in trigonometry, and that was a tough class. But guess what: I worked harder than I thought I could and I passed. There are so many resources out there for students to succeed including detailed solutions for students to look at. To the author, I know … Read More

    Hasn’t anyone taken the time to think that maybe it’s just on the student? I’m currently a fourth year at UCSB and a transfer student, and I started off in trigonometry, and that was a tough class. But guess what: I worked harder than I thought I could and I passed. There are so many resources out there for students to succeed including detailed solutions for students to look at. To the author, I know your intentions are good but many students today are just lazy. A couple of kids I graduated high school with still haven’t passed this class, but it’s not because of their inability to comprehend the material; they’re lazy

  26. Paul Reeve 3 weeks ago3 weeks ago

    Perhaps the framework description has changed since I instructed Algebra I in middle school and the course of the same title in high school, but the product of the two binomials shown would have been addressed in both courses. However, the solution for y from the expanded polynomial in the example would not have in the middle school, but might have in the high school. I didn't bother solving this one for … Read More

    Perhaps the framework description has changed since I instructed Algebra I in middle school and the course of the same title in high school, but the product of the two binomials shown would have been addressed in both courses. However, the solution for y from the expanded polynomial in the example would not have in the middle school, but might have in the high school. I didn’t bother solving this one for my comment, but suspect that this roots would require completion of a square, which technique is also taught, at least in the high school first-year algebra. However, I suspect few students who had not taken the second year algebra would have been able to solve the sample problem, and if they were not aiming for a STEM career, then I don’t believe that they’d have any need to be able to solve the example problem.
    I do believe that this mismatch in requirements for entry into many programs is a reason that our college education system fails so many, and it is about time that the CSU administration learns this.

  27. MR ISAAC 3 weeks ago3 weeks ago

    I am sorry, professor, but the the ability to think algebraically is necessary, regardless of profession. Take art for example. A Basquait painting recently sold for $110 million 20 years after it sold for about $50,000 adjusted for inflation. Using the slope of that line, one can 'predict' what that painting will be worth 20 years from now, or, if the buyer overpaid or underpaid for that painting relative to other Basquaits, … Read More

    I am sorry, professor, but the the ability to think algebraically is necessary, regardless of profession. Take art for example. A Basquait painting recently sold for $110 million 20 years after it sold for about $50,000 adjusted for inflation. Using the slope of that line, one can ‘predict’ what that painting will be worth 20 years from now, or, if the buyer overpaid or underpaid for that painting relative to other Basquaits, or other artists. Nothing is worse than not understanding how people derive sales targets, inventory levels, or transportation times, all which involve algebra.
    BTW, I wouldn’t hire a kid who couldn’t FOIL the left side of the professor’s equation and then take the square root for ‘Y.’ I am not uncommon.

    Replies

    • James R Palmer 3 weeks ago3 weeks ago

      Slope of a line is a lower level of Algebra, and once you take statistics you find that a simple linear progression is rarely useful. Understanding what it means, and how to use modern software and tools to calculate it, is far more valuable than knowing rise over run. I'd hire a guy who knew Excel over FOIL anyday. Here's the learning outcomes for Intermediate Algebra; the student will be able to: Identify … Read More

      Slope of a line is a lower level of Algebra, and once you take statistics you find that a simple linear progression is rarely useful. Understanding what it means, and how to use modern software and tools to calculate it, is far more valuable than knowing rise over run. I’d hire a guy who knew Excel over FOIL anyday.

      Here’s the learning outcomes for Intermediate Algebra; the student will be able to:
      Identify and graph inequalities, absolute value, rational, radical, polynomial, exponential, and logarithmic functions
      Simplify rational, radical, polynomial, exponential, and logarithmic expressions
      Solve both analytically and graphically inequalities, absolute value, rational, radical, polynomial, exponential, and logarithmic equations
      Use technology such as graphing calculators and/or computer algebra system to assist in solving problems involving any of the topics in (A) through (C)
      Discuss mathematical problems and write solutions in accurate mathematical language and notation interpret mathematical solutions.

  28. Maryann Bingham 3 weeks ago3 weeks ago

    Wow. First of all, I received my high school diploma and BE in Mathematics in New York. When I moved to California to teach, it totally blew my mind that most college freshman were taking "College Algebra" as they entered university (Cal State, CU or private). Where I come from if you were going to college straight from high school, you started with Calculus. If not ready for that, you took remedial courses through … Read More

    Wow. First of all, I received my high school diploma and BE in Mathematics in New York. When I moved to California to teach, it totally blew my mind that most college freshman were taking “College Algebra” as they entered university (Cal State, CU or private). Where I come from if you were going to college straight from high school, you started with Calculus. If not ready for that, you took remedial courses through junior colleges. It was never expected that they would transfer as general education credit. Statistics could be used if you were not a math major but two semesters of math was required for a BA regardless of major. One had to be Calculus.
    It actually floors me as a secondary math teacher that students are graduating with no less than 2 years of Algebraic coursework only to repeat it. This from ALL races! It’s NOT A civil rights issue it’s a phobia that hopefully Common Core teaching strategies will help!! Algebraic thinking/problem solving is key to all critical thinking!

  29. Blanche M. L. 3 weeks ago3 weeks ago

    While learning statistics represents a less challenging experience, it should never replace mathematics, which is a valid discipline by itself. Intermediate algebra provides a set of skills that every college students should be able to cope with. The argument that such knowledge students "will never use, either in college or in life" is invalid. Numerous other components of education do not call for an immediate application but they are still inevitable components of a … Read More

    While learning statistics represents a less challenging experience, it should never replace mathematics, which is a valid discipline by itself. Intermediate algebra provides a set of skills that every college students should be able to cope with. The argument that such knowledge students “will never use, either in college or in life” is invalid. Numerous other components of education do not call for an immediate application but they are still inevitable components of a rounded educational curriculum. Learning mathematics constitutes a unique challenge, supports the growth of mind, and aids the development of logical and thinking skills. Factoring polynomials is not all that algebra is about and there are infinitely many applications that tie algebra to the real world. Statistics cannot replace algebra. Presenting more interesting and more application-oriented algebra courses is a better pathway, instead of trying to cancel algebra out of the curriculum.

    There is a growing number of college professors teaching statistics pathways who have just started realizing how much damage is done by omitting the mathematical part, for thousands of students are now graduating from colleges without knowing how to carry out simplest mathematical operations. For instance, a group of students in statistics pathways were asked to find a number which, when multiplied by itself, results in 16. Very few students could produce a correct answer. This incapability to solve a simple numerical problem indicates the extent of damage produced by this new fashion where little is required from students and even the most basic requirements are bypassed. Students who aim to earn a college degree ought to understand the basic principles of mathematics. Somehow I doubt that it is in the interest of the nation to bring forward generations that are unable to carry out simplest mathematical operations.

    Watering down college courses is not a solution. The less is requested, the lesser will be the quality of the overall educational outcome.

  30. el 3 weeks ago3 weeks ago

    There are some really valuable and thoughtful ideas in this essay, but it would have been far stronger and more powerful without the focus on math-phobic tropes. "The culprit is Intermediate Algebra, a high-school level course of technical procedures that most college students will never use, either in college or in life." I could say the same about Shakespeare, foreign language, frankly nearly every general ed course. Why should STEM majors have to analyze literature, after all? … Read More

    There are some really valuable and thoughtful ideas in this essay, but it would have been far stronger and more powerful without the focus on math-phobic tropes.

    “The culprit is Intermediate Algebra, a high-school level course of technical procedures that most college students will never use, either in college or in life.”

    I could say the same about Shakespeare, foreign language, frankly nearly every general ed course. Why should STEM majors have to analyze literature, after all? In my opinion, Algebra is as key to understanding life and culture as literature.

    (By the way, the math problem cited is ugly as pictured but the skills should be straightforward for anyone who has completed Algebra 1, which should be any current HS graduate. If you made it y^2 = (2x+3)(x+4) it would be much less intimidating than it is with all those decorative subscripts.)

    What I found persuasive wasn’t the bluster that math isn’t important, nor the legal threats, but the arguments that the students had already taken the material, and that they deserved credit if it needed to be retaken. I also was persuaded that their time is better spent, if they’ve completed Algebra 2, taking a statistics class, an area that is very valuable and important in nearly every field, and is undertaught. Statistics, IME, is taught after Algebra 2 mostly because it is more difficult rather than because one is required for the other.

    Reexamining our requirements based on how the world changes and how students are successful or not is important. Examining the predictive value of the standardized placement tests versus other measure is also worth doing. Making the case that this other path will work better is more powerful than “math is too hard.”

  31. Wayne Steffen 3 weeks ago3 weeks ago

    CSU requirements should be the same for transfers as for students who begin at CSUs. That would be more fair for all students. This sentence jumped out at me as crucial, yet nothing in this article explains why it is true: "About 80 percent of African Americans required to take more than one remedial class in math do not complete their math requirements within six years, compared to 67 percent of Hispanics and 61 percent of … Read More

    CSU requirements should be the same for transfers as for students who begin at CSUs. That would be more fair for all students.

    This sentence jumped out at me as crucial, yet nothing in this article explains why it is true: “About 80 percent of African Americans required to take more than one remedial class in math do not complete their math requirements within six years, compared to 67 percent of Hispanics and 61 percent of whites…” Is this also the case in other academic areas?

  32. Bob Capriles 3 weeks ago3 weeks ago

    We ran a pilot program in conjunction with a local community college using the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching's Statway curriculum at the high school where I teach this year to allow students to complete their collegiate statistics class while still in high school. Think of the course as an 'AP' class for students who have struggled with math. These students are now on the path to a college degree. … Read More

    We ran a pilot program in conjunction with a local community college using the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching’s Statway curriculum at the high school where I teach this year to allow students to complete their collegiate statistics class while still in high school. Think of the course as an ‘AP’ class for students who have struggled with math. These students are now on the path to a college degree. Statway built their confidence in their math abilities, opened the door to a college degree and did not close the door on a STEM career, if the student so chooses to study more math in the future.

    Replies

    • el 3 weeks ago3 weeks ago

      Rethinking where statistics goes in the order is definitely worthwhile, and it's such a different style of math that it is completely credible that kids who struggle with algebra may find that they can be successful with statistics. One thing that has changed significantly since I took it is that modern computer power makes what were once difficult and laborious and time-consuming problems in statistics much easier to solve. Statistics really needs large data sets … Read More

      Rethinking where statistics goes in the order is definitely worthwhile, and it’s such a different style of math that it is completely credible that kids who struggle with algebra may find that they can be successful with statistics. One thing that has changed significantly since I took it is that modern computer power makes what were once difficult and laborious and time-consuming problems in statistics much easier to solve. Statistics really needs large data sets to fully explore the meaning, and Back In My Day it was infeasible for a student to work with more than say a dozen data points and hand calculate results. If the student made even one simple arithmetic error over the set, the results back would be garbage. Today it is taught with Excel-like software that can automate summations over an arbitrary table of data, which makes the patterns much more evident and meaningful, and the busywork significantly less.

      Thanks for sharing the results of your pilot. Pearson’s online college statistics course exists and it would be terrific if it was a resource for more students. IME, high school students, even those used to success in math, will need significant in-person teacher/tutor support to get through it, but there’s no reason that can’t be available in a high school.

  33. Paul Muench 3 weeks ago3 weeks ago

    There was no algebra photo available? People are scared enough of mathematics there’s no need to scare them further by using calculus to illustrate an algebra article (tongue in cheek, kind of).

    Replies

    • Smita Patel 3 weeks ago3 weeks ago

      Sorry Paul! That’s my bad – all these years out of high school, I’m not so good at telling the difference anymore, which makes your point, I guess.