We are now in the 21st Century. Several decades ago, academia, government and business started talking about the 21st Century. What would be needed in the workforce? What would education look like? What would students look like? Now it’s 2017. 17 years into the 21st Century, I’m not sure that we’ve made real significant changes to the education system. I have changed what I do in the classroom, but the course outlines that are supposed to lay out what I teach haven’t changed much. So I find myself changing my pedagogy and my thinking, but working with the same curriculum. Year after year, success data shows us that the traditional pathway of Beginning Algebra –> Intermediate Algebra –> Transfer Level Math is ineffective. Only a small percentage of students navigate this pathway successfully. And it is widely thought nationwide that this developmental math curriculum is a major roadblock to degree achievement. That’s why the mathematical community has been working for many years on developing alternative pathways. Several are being implemented nationwide. And California is in the process of clearing the road for these new curriculums. But what do we teachers do in the meantime? What do we do with an outdated Course Outline of Record? How do we function in a system that is slow to respond to the changing world and the changing student body? How can we truly serve our students under these constraints? I think a lot now about how I can interpret a Course Outline. I ran an experiment last year wherein to better serve students, I used the alternative curriculum called Quantway, developed through the Carnegie Foundation. To remain true to the Course Outline, I supplemented these materials with traditional curriculum. That work led me to believe that I would have served them even better had I foregone the supplementation with traditional curriculum. This belief is reinforced by the following quote coming out of the Dana Center at the University of Texas, Austin:
“After the New Mathways Project was implemented in Texas, 23 percent of students enrolled successfully completed a college-credit-bearing math course within one year, compared with the statewide average of 8 percent. Campuses that implemented the program with the highest fidelity to recommendations had 43 percent of students earn college credit in one year.”
So then, to what extent can I change the Intermediate Algebra Course Outline and still call it Intermediate Algebra? And to what extent can I use my professional understanding of where we are and what serves my students to interpret the Course Outline in a way that might be seen as unconventional but support me to better serve student? As I ponder these questions, I think about what happened in Texas in the above quote. 8% to 23% represents an almost 200% increase in the proportion of students who completed a college-credit-bearing class within 1 year; and 8% to 43% represents over a 400% increase. I think that’s pretty compelling.