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December 1, 2013
Vol. 71
No. 4

Double Take

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Research Alert

What Must They Master—Really?

A team of researchers from the National Center on Education and the Economy (NCEE) recently looked at the level of mathematics and English literacy that first-year students in U.S. community colleges need to succeed. Approximately 45 percent of all U.S. undergraduates attend these institutions with an eye for either training in a career or starting down the path toward a four-year college degree.
Here's what the researchers found. Many college programs demand little or no math. The mathematics students do need is mostly middle school math, an area that most incoming students are weak in. And many of the most popular community college programs leading to a career require math that high schools rarely teach, such as mathematical modeling. As for English language arts, the researchers found that students typically had poor reading and writing skills and weren't challenged in these areas to improve.
Here are some of the report's recommendations:
  • Have students spend more time on middle school mathematics rather than rushing toward Algebra I.
  • Make Algebra II a key course on just one of several mathematics paths to a high school diploma.
  • Offer more of the kinds of math that students need, such as mathematical modeling, statistics and probability, complex measure ment, schematics, and geometric visualization.
  • Have high school students read texts of greater complexity.
  • Increase writing assignments across all high school courses, especially assignments that require presenting a logical argument and evidence to support claims.
According to Marc Tucker, President of the NCEE, these suggestions don't involve lowering the bar. Instead, they show that schools need to "help their students reach for different kinds of targets and, at the same time, achieve at much higher levels than they do now" (p. ii).
Published by the National Center on Education and the Economy, the report, What Does It Really Mean to Be College and Work Ready: The English and Mathematics Required by First-Year Community College Students, is available at www.ncee.org/college-and-work-ready.

World Spin

Making Science Real

In Australia, the Scientists in Schools program is bringing scientists and mathematicians into classrooms to do hands-on activities and demonstrations. Students get to experience the excitement of these disciplines firsthand; they're also becoming more aware of careers in those fields. Teachers have become more confident about teaching science concepts. As for the volunteer scientists and mathematicians, in addition to honing their skills at communicating science concepts to nonscientists, they're re discovering their passion for their area of study as they share it with students.

Relevant Reads

Leaving to Learn: How Out-of-School Learning Increases Student Engagement and Reduces Dropout Rates by Elliot Washor and Charles Mojkowski (Heinemann, 2013)
Authors Washor and Mojkowski dispute the idea that a basic core of competencies—such as that proposed by the Common Core State Standards—is essential for every student. Instead, they advocate that schools should guide students to achieve mastery of content that has personal meaning to them—in part through out-of-school experiences like internships, travel, and community service. They question the rationale behind directing "extraordinary resources" to schools that are willing to increase the rigor and number of math and science courses required for graduation.
"Perhaps [the policymakers'] reasoning is that requiring all students to enter the STEM pipeline as early as middle school will increase the number of high school graduates who drip out the other end ready to work in these areas. It's like forcing every child to play on middle and high school basketball teams to increase the number of NBA stars. What, however, of the student who wishes to pursue a different career path, say in the arts, law, or social service?"

This article was published anonymously, or the author name was removed in the process of digital storage.

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