Monday, April 6, 2009

Is the sky still falling? Mind the Gap

MAA FOCUS | February/March 2009 From the President

Mind the Gap By David M. Bressoud

In my article “Is the Sky Still Falling?” (2009) , I observed that four-year college mathematics enrollments at the level of calculus and above declined from 1985 to 1995 and have since recovered to slightly below the 1990 numbers. Two-year colleges saw calculus enrollments rise in the early ‘90s, then fall to well below the 1990 number, while the number of their students requiring remedial mathematics exactly doubled. In percentages, the picture is dismal. For four-year undergraduate programs, calculus and advanced mathematics enrollments dropped from 10.05% of all students in 1985 to 6.36% in 2005.

This happened while high school students were taking ever more mathematics at ever higher levels. In 1982, only 44.5% of high school graduates had completed mathematics at the level of Algebra II or higher. By 2004, this had risen to 76.7%. In 1982, 10.7% had completed precalculus. By 2004, it was 33.0%, over a million high school graduates arriving in college ready — at least in theory — to begin or continue the study of calculus. Yet over the years 1985–2005, Fall term enrollments in Calculus I dropped from 264,000 to 252,000.

Admittedly, many more students today arrive at college already having earned credit for Calculus I, but they have not produced larger enrollments for Calculus II. Over these same 20 years, Fall term enrollments in Calculus II dropped from 115,000 to 104,000. Across the board, students are arriving in college and failing to take what should be a next course in their mathematical progression.

Note. [Jerome Dancis: Calculus II is required for a college degree in engineering as well as for degree in physics and math.]

The MAA is the Mathematical Association of America, the professional association for college math instruction, of college and community college professors of mathematics. Focus is its newsletter.

Bressoud, D.M. 2009. Is the sky still falling? AMS Notices. 56: 20–25.
The above .pdf link is definitely worth a look.


Anonymous said...

You know this is incredibly funny reading, because the MAA are their own worst enemy. If the sky were falling, the MAA leadership ensured it would. Didactic calculas anybody? Lets make a documentary about sasquatches (MAA workshop). The Ann Arbor and Chicago ed departments deserves most of the credit for reform math's multi-pinnacles of slowly deteriorating successes.

Anonymous said...

You've heard of Global dimming? In the past 40 years, the amount of sunlight entering the earth's atmosphere has declined by 22%. Water evaporation has actually declined, yet the world continues getting warmer. There are actually two forces at work. In modeling this is something known as climate forcing. In less than a 100 years, the worst is yet to come.

Hanushak's models for education forecasting are similiar to global warming only they're wrong. Deming was a pragmatist and its interesting to contrast both of their work. Deming would never have arrived at Hanushak's conclusions because Deming would have questioned the data that was gathered. Hanushak's models depend on so-called 'silver linings' and I think we've seen now that nearly every district that adopted the reforms math programs before 2003reverted back to using a traditional program.

Hanushak's 'rulers for excellence' don't depend on baseline data, mostly because there is none. His results draw comparisons between pairs of demographically similiar schools. That's why his data depends on some schools achieving, while others don't.

His argument seems convincing 'improve teachers will raise student achievement'. But it is unsound and historically we know this. In addition, we can make comparisons as with TIMSS and PISA between other countries. His studies use the same technieques that were used with TIMSS (so you see not everything is fool-proof).

I'm at a school with an enrollment over twice as large as what the school was originally designed for. Students are literally wall-to-wall. It wouldn't hurt to build more schools and we need more teachers. If you improve the quality of teachers then they will expect a higher salary (we all know that teachers didn't get into education for the money) I'm watching a young teacher scrape by while she gets tenure for five years after her BA. She will have to return to school (100 mile commute) to get another degree in Italian, since they don't have a credential examination in that subject. This year she took 20 students to Italy for two weeks.

Give the teachers proper textbooks and student achievement will go up.

US classrooms have too many interruptions and distractions. I am preparing to go overseas where people appreciate getting an education, I can't stand teaching in the states anymore.

The students are not prepared for advanced classes. The expectations, like daily homework, are simply not there.
There should be a license to use cell phones, ipods, itouch, gameboys, etc (otherwise make them more expensive). That would increase student achievement a 100-fold.

We came to the wrong conclusions with TIMSS. We've known for a long time that college dorms were filled with exchange students taking science and mathematics.

Hanushak is massaging his data to fit his arguments. He is assuming wrong that some US schools got it right! It looks like the US will be spending a statistical eternity trying to get an algebra textbook right. Would somebody please turn on the lights so I can see the dartboard?