Sunday, August 06, 2017

Another Well-Intentioned Step On The Road To Hell

I don't think too many people genuinely honestly truly want to destroy higher education.  There are plenty who are clueless, who don't think through the ramifications of their proposals, who naively or stupidly think they're genuinely helping people.  In other words, I'm inclined to think the best of people even when the idiocy of their ideas should be a trumpet call to battle.

But that positive view of people's motivations can be stretched to the limit sometimes, and I'm nearing that point with university math.  Recently the chancellor of California's community college system recommended eliminating the algebra requirement for college because too many minority students can't/don't pass it (link).  I'll take him at his word that he truly wants to help people earn an associate's degree; he and I would no doubt disagree on whether or not his proposal devalues the degree and hence the reason for earning it.

That proposal was bad enough.  That was a stick of dynamite.  Let's jack that up to bunker-busting-bomb level:
Cal State plans to drop placement exams in math and English as well as the noncredit remedial courses that more than 25,000 freshmen have been required to take each fall — a radical move away from the way public universities traditionally support students who come to college less prepared than their peers.

In an executive order issued late Wednesday, Chancellor Timothy P. White directed the nation’s largest public university system to revamp its approach to remedial education and assess new freshmen for college readiness and course placement by using high school grades, ACT and SAT scores, previous classroom performance and other measures that administrators say provide a more accurate and comprehensive understanding of students’ knowledge.

Cal State will no longer make those students who may need extra help take the standardized entry-level mathematics (ELM) exam and the English placement test (EPT).

The new protocol, which will go into effect in fall 2018, “facilitates equitable opportunity for first-year students to succeed through existing and redesigned education models,” White wrote in a memorandum to the system’s 23 campus presidents, who will be responsible for working with faculty to implement the changes. The hope is that these efforts will also help students obtain their degrees sooner — one of the public university system's priorities. Cal State has committed to doubling its four-year graduation rate, from 19% to 40%, by 2025.
When you see the words "equitable" or "equity" in an education context, run for the hills.  Those words don't mean what they mean in ordinary English; allow me to translate:

"Too many minority students have been placed in remedial classes, and that's not 'fair'.  To solve this problem we're going to get rid of the remedial classes."

Sure, they're spinning this as a wonderful positive:
Under the new system, all Cal State students will be allowed to take courses that count toward their degrees beginning on Day 1. Students who need additional support in math or English, for example, could be placed in “stretch” courses that simultaneously provide remedial help and allow them to complete the general math and English credits required for graduation.

Faculty are also being encouraged to explore other innovative ways to embed additional academic support in college-level courses. A few other states have experimented with these approaches, and the results so far are encouraging, administrators said.
This is a "social justice" action given the lightest veneer of academic respectability.  I'm not buying it. I want to see evidence of improved math ability

There is good commentary of the community college chancellor's idea in the comments on my three posts at Joanne Jacob's blog:
Here We Go Again With Algebra
Getting Rid of Algebra, Part 2
Getting Rid of Algebra, Part 3--The Empire Strikes Back
Such comments are even more applicable in the university setting.


Helen said...

No wonder China is on its way to overtaking us. As long as we have a diverse group of students, who cares if they actually learn anything? I especially worry about what's going to happen to the quality of education for students who actually are prepared for college.

Are you going to post about the current Google situation? I'd be interested to hear your thoughts.

Pseudotsuga said...

"Students who need additional support in math or English, for example, could be placed in “stretch” courses that simultaneously provide remedial help and allow them to complete the general math and English credits required for graduation."
Ah, so in other words, pre-college English will count as College English! This creates a class made up of of people who need remedial help in grammar, spelling, punctuation, essay structure, and so on, who are going to magically write on a college level at the end of class! Their English credit is going to be accepted at any other school, because now they is writing good sentence!
I just bet they're going to get adjuncts to do this, since most of the "real" professors can't be bothered to teach remedial stuff.
As a college English instructor myself, I already experience this in Freshman Composition: there are certain things that one must have mastered before going on. And these highly credentialed cretins think it can all be done in one class, because racism or something?

Ellen K said...

You'll probably appreciate this story:

Ellen K said...

BTW, our district under new edicts from the state, now no longer requires senior level English. So forget all those carefully crafted admissions essays-it's all done under the guidance of counselors and parents and anonymous coaches.

Darren said...

If that Georgia story is true, that professor is Cuckoo for Cocoa Puffs and students who truly want to get an education should stay as far away from his class as possible--unless they're taking the course as an anthropology lab.

Anonymous said...

You haven't heard the latest? Math is racist! SJWs are calling for numeric equity to put an end to algebraic inequality and quantitative discrimination!
Seriously speaking... this Algebra requirement is what one would typically take at age 14, 15. But, I guess the ever so tolerant left thinks that lowering the bar in the name of social justice is the best way to educate minority? How this is not harmful to students is beyond me.

Anonymous said...

@Ellen K - fortunately, it was dropped: