I had a new experience at Johns Hopkins University yesterday. I had a young woman in my office explaining why she had dropped my elementary Calculus I course.
She found that she was completely unprepared for college level mathematics. She had been made completely calculator dependent. She said that at the beginning of the course she was shocked to see that certain things could be done without a calculator (sorry no details).
Furthermore, she is in contact with her classmates around the country and they are all having the same experience. I encouraged her to organized them to give what I will politely call "feedback" to her high school and her community.
We are, of course, seeing just the tip of the iceberg. Few students have hit college who have gone through reform math all the way K-12. The real crisis for students is still in the future.
We have, in general, been protected at JHU from unprepared students but obviously there is something wrong here too. For one thing, I discovered yesterday that our placement test was voluntary! Duh.
I worry that the College Board and its tests may well be headed in a direction that will hurt colleges. They have recently written math standards that are, well, not so good. They are trying to fix that up but you get comments like"we are getting conflicting advice". Of course they are. When they asked one of the authors of Core-Plus and a mathematician, they are bound to get conflicting advice. They want to reconcile that advice. That very desire is problematic.
He followed that email up with another:
Today I have something else to add. Had lunch with my usual Wednesday crowd and I was told by a physicist that he ran into a student in his physics class who couldn't divide .3 by .5 because they didn't have their calculator.
I do believe this kind of thing is new to JHU and to hear two cases in two
days suggests we need to do something about it here.
W. Stephen Wilson
Professor of Mathematics
Department of Mathematics
Johns Hopkins University
And people wonder why I don't focus on calculator use in my math classes!
Dr. Wilson gave permission to use his name/title to add whatever gravitas would be lacking from an anonymous complaint.