Illinois: Fix K-12 math to boost college grad rate

To raise the community college graduation rate, require more math in high school and redesign remedial math instruction in college, concludes an Illinois report.

Colleges must focus on productivity and affordability to keep open the path to the American Dream.

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  1. Barry Garelick says:

    The report recommends that the three year requirement for math in high school be increased to four years. It states that with three years, students have a one year vacation from math so that when they take the placement tests in college, they have become rusty. The report neglects to look at the issue of lower grade math; i.e., a shaky K-8 math education doesn’t prepare students for high school math. Rather than failing students in high school math, the non-honors courses are watered down and students are “passed through”. Interesting that this report comes from the State of Illinois. Chicago is home to Everyday Math, a math program developed in the early 90’s by a grant from the NSF to the U of Chicago. Everyday Math does not prepare students well for doing math, and there are equally bad middle school programs, such as Connected Math. An extra year of high school isn’t going to make up for poor foundational skills. If lower level math classes are improved, there wouldn’t be a need for the third recommendation the report makes: “community colleges should redesign remediation to embed skills development into credit-bearing courses.”

  2. They need to work backwards from the problem, not guess. Many community colleges use the Accuplacer Math test, high school math courses and grades, and discussion with a college representative to determine if one needs remediation. Your skills have to be really bad not to be able to take a non-remedial college algebra course. (Isn’t that an oxymoron?) I once taught a non-remedial college algebra (not algebra II) course. The material is very simple. So, after taking algebra as a 9th grader (for example), what are students supposed to take for math in the following three years? Is the goal to avoid college remediation or is it to prepare students for a college/career path they are interested in? Is the goal just to get more kids to obtain any old sort of college degree? Does that guarantee the American Dream, or does it offer a large possibility of student loans and no job? My niece and her boyfriend have college degrees (UCONN – film studies and Ithaca – philosophy), but they are now waiters. The college-for-all crowd needs to look at the consequenses of their encouragement.

    However, as Barry says, all of the needed math should be mastered by 8th or 9th grades. A high school could, however, offer additional math classes that prepare students for specific college and career paths. This would focus on paths that end up between Accuplacer and STEM careers. Avoiding remediation and getting any old sort of college degree is not a proper goal. High schools should be able to tell students exactly what level of math is required for almost any college degree, such as journalism. High schools should provide a base camp for college math, not struggle just to help students avoid remediation.

  3. The problem starts in kindergarten; kids are not mastering the fundamentals and far too many are almost hopelessly behind (certainly with regard to STEM careers) by the time they start MS. The usual curricula, like Everyday Math, are seriously flawed and too many ES teachers either don’t like math or don’t know it well enough to teach it well. Also, groupwork and discovery learning are ridiculous; young kids need explicit instruction and need to learn focus and persistence. The vast majority of kids should have mastered addition, subtraction, multiplication, division, fractions, decimals and percentages – WITHOUT ANY CALCULATOR USE – by the end of 8th grade (some sooner) and can then proceed to real algebra and geometry. Non-college-prep and non-technical types are often OK stopping there. Do the basics and do them well.

    • 8th grade?  That’s 5th-grade material at best, though I suppose today’s “progressive” curricula are devoted to being “inclusive” so that even the Down’s syndrome students can succeed.

      Long ago I did have the experience of taking a test which asked for the decimal representation of something in percent.  I was puzzled, because I expected the question to ask for the percent of something other than (the implied number) 1.  Anyone who got that question wrong was certainly not going to do well in math.

      • I agree that the material should be mastered earlier for any kid of average IQ, and much earlier for the upper end (which should be ready for algebra in 6th or 7th), but given the current situation, I’d be happy to start there.

  4. I agree with Momof4, and that students need a good working knowledge of the basics of math by the time they complete the 5th grade (which should cover addition, subtraction, multiplication, division, percentages, fractions, whole vs. decimal numbers, properties associated with the above concepts, and get rid of the use of calculators in elementary school).

    We didn’t have such things when I attended elementary school in the early 70’s, and didn’t actually use a calculator (scientific) until approximately 1979, prior to that, math was pencil and paper, endless drills, rote memorization of basic facts and functions, and making countless mistakes…

    If this worked for previous generations, it should still work now (assuming we get rid of all the math reformers in our school systems).


  5. MOMwithABrain says:

    I agree with 4 years of math in high school, however remedial math indicates a students did not get the BASICS in math education. That’s k-8, not high school.

    Repetition, drilling math facts, etc. has become a BAD word among progressive educators. That’s the problem

    While I agree that all students should receive 4 years of math in high school, without that foundation, you still ignore the root of the problem.

    Look at the math programs k-8 in the public schools. THey are lousy. No master of basic math facts. Is it any surprise they need remedial education in college?