# Algebra or statistics?

Poorly prepared college students were more likely to pass college-level statistics than remedial algebra, in a controlled experiment at three New York City community colleges. Statistics is more useful to students in non-STEM majors, some believe.

1. Jim says:

Presumably the contents of the statistics course was crap.

• Florida resident says:

That would be my assumption as well.
I observe it at the level of Math Department of a big University,
judging by the level of corresponding Professor.

2. Joanne says:

Students took the regular intro to statistics course and a weekly two-hour workshop that reviewed what had been taught. The pass rate of 56% was significantly higher than the pass rate for similar students assigned to remedial algebra with a support workshop or to remedial algebra with no extra support.

Are introductory statistics courses worthless?

• Deirdre Mundy says:

If your statistics class doesn’t require any algebra or above then it’s probably just mean, median, mode, some probability, and some graphs. Third grade math.

So… “underprepared students do better in 3rd grade math than 8th grade math.”

Well, yeah.

• SC Math Teacher says:

It depends on a lot of things…here are two that spring to my mind:

1. Were the students required to actually learn the formulas for regression and the correlation coefficient and understand what they mean, or were end just taught how to enter the numbers on a TI-83 calculator and read the results?

2. Did the students know enough algebra to fully understand what a regression line is/what it represents? If not, then I wonder what they got from the course.

• Deriving the formula for fitting a straight line to a scatter of data points requires, not just algebra, but calculus.

Real math takes symbolic thinking.  I suspect that all the real rigor and insight has been taken out of the stats course, and it is more or less “how to use your wonderful graphic calculator”.

• Jim says:

Calculus can be used but it is not necessary. A purely algebraic treatment can be given. The nearest point is at the foot of the perpendicular.

Joanne asks,”Are introductory statistics courses worthless?”

I don’t know enough about “introductory statistics courses” across the country to judge, but the one I took was extremely valuable. It was a graduate course, taught in the math department of the university, and was for graduate students in non-STEM fields so presumably an “introductory” course (I took a number of “hard science” courses as an undergraduate but not any in mathematics or statistics per se).

I found the course quite challenging but worth the effort, as understanding a lot of the nuances and how to dissect research and statistical analyses in various contexts to be one of the most useful skills I obtained in formal schooling. I use those skills regularly to this day.

• Jim says:

Did the course you took require a basic knowledge of high school algebra?

Yes, of course. It was a graduate school course. I did well on the GRE math but did not take math courses in college, so some of that algebra was rusty which made the course challenging but not impossible. I don’t remember what prerequisites for enrolling in the course were.

• Jim says:

So a course of the type you took is not a replacement or alternative for a basic high school algebra course. A course on statistics can of course be extremely useful and valuable. But such a course will require basic ability in algebra as a pre-requisite.

4. Lee says:

I am currently teaching a general education statistics course after having been away from it for several semesters. The course has algebra as its prerequisite, and is intended for non-STEM students to fulfill their math requirement. (I teach at a community college.) It’s not as watered down as it could be, but neither this stats course nor the one intended for STEM students (which has a somewhat more theoretical approach than the gen ed class) is as theoretical or rigorous as the 300-level stats classes I had as an undergraduate. It seems like students in the gen ed stats are more likely to get hung up on the chapters on probability (all those tricky counting problems), discrete probability, and hypothesis testing. Students who start off the course with weak algebra skills either shape up real fast, or wash out after the first test. For those who tough it out but end up not making it, critical thinking skills tend to be their downfall – they simply can’t keep straight which formulas, concepts, etc apply to which situation, and they just grab some numbers and plug away, trying to come up with some kind of number. They also have a lot of trouble reading a basic (i.e., not intentionally “tricky” or poorly worded) story problem and picking out / identifying the pertinent info.

5. Bill says:

Stats can be a useful course, if taught properly, and basic stats is not much more than perhaps elementary school math, but if you’re doing variance, std. deviation, chi-square, and more advanced stuff, then you’ll need basic algebra under your belt.

More so, if you’re taking a upper division applied stats course in any college.

• Florida resident says:

I do not know about “upper division”,
but “long division” would definitely help.
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My deep respect of heroic work by Ms. Jacobs.