Sciencewomen

i-f875c0b07d9b3cb6229668554781b35a-alice.jpgMy university has reported that we have just increased our math requirements for admissions into the university. I guess that Purdue’s requirements had been to require students have taken 3 years of math to be admitted, and now it will be 4 years starting in Fall 2011. The argument is that “[t]he vast majority – 95.1 percent – of Indiana students attending Purdue already takes four years of college preparatory math, such as algebra, trigonometry, precalculus and calculus” (no word on out-of-state students) and that there is research that suggests requiring students to have taken 4 years of math preparation before college will help them succeed better in college (I have not seen such research).

My concern is one of accessibility: if calculus programs are programs that richer schools seem more pre-disposed to be able to offer, then it is kids at underresourced schools who will now be excluded from the prospect of a college degree from Purdue. If we’re making things harder for kids from underresourced schools to be admitted to college, then isn’t it rather hypocritical to then say how much we intend to value diversity?

I feel Purdue needs to show us the data that this change is about “success” rather than “selectivity.” If 95% of the students the university already admits aren’t affected by this change, then let’s look that the last 5%. Are they overwhelmingly student of color? Are they overwhelmingly first-generation college students, or students from poor high schools? Show me these data before trying to convince me this is about success and not just about institutional discrimination against kids who live in poor neighborhoods.

Comments

  1. #1 Andre3
    June 8, 2009

    I can’t believe 95% of students are taking (and presumably passing) calculus before going to Purdue. Calculus is something that not every student will be able to handle in college – let alone high school.

    In Virginia, four years of math in high school is typically Algebra, Geometry, Algebra II, and Trigonometry. Even some students heading to college have trouble with this path and cannot pass trig or stuggle mightily with algebra II. Calculus is reserved only for those who show promise in the earlier math courses.

    I think another large question that should be asked is Should a student looking to pursue an education in the humanities at Purdue need four years of math before entering college? What about those in the arts or in certain areas of education?

  2. #2 D. C. Sessions
    June 8, 2009

    If I might suggest: the question should at least be about competencies rather than time served. A mathematics placement exam (e.g. the one used by New Mexico Tech) would accomplish the same objectives, and better. Further, a competency-based requirement would at least allow motivated students from schools which don’t offer extensive maths to meet the requirement on their own.

    Finally, a remedial maths program could be offered in the summer.

    Not a comprehensive program, but then I’m an incrementalist.

  3. #3 H.M.
    June 8, 2009

    I would also question the connection between Purdue’s new admission requirements and the graduation requirements of Indiana’s high schools, particularly at the underresourced schools that you mention. In an era of accountability measured by state-wide testing, the focus often becomes basic comprehension rather than college preparation. How big is the gap between what students are required to know and/or take in order to graduate from high school and what they have to know/take for college entry?

  4. #4 KarinNH
    June 8, 2009

    According to a report from the Center for Study of Mathematics Curriculum, 11 states already require 4 years of math for students to simply graduate from high school, while 24 require 3 years. Only 7 states require 2 years; the others either make decisions at a local level or have varying requirements for different programs.

    In NH, many students headed for college take a total of 5 years of high school math, either starting algebra in 8th grade and continuing up through calculus or squeezing in an extra year in high school. But even if a student doesn’t take calculus, they can fill the requirement of 4 years of math. (Our state university already requires 4 years of math for admission.)

    Recent studies, done at earlier levels of schooling, are showing that math instruction has an enormous impact on a student’s ability to succeed academically. Math skills at the first grade level are reported to be a better indicator of long-term academic success than reading skills.

    In some ways, this seems like a which-comes-first dilemma. If colleges don’t require it, will high schools deliver? So, perhaps the argument starts earlier: is the K-12 curriculum underserving students?

    I think all students need a better math education. And I teach English at a small liberal arts college!

  5. #5 D. C. Sessions
    June 8, 2009

    I think another large question that should be asked is Should a student looking to pursue an education in the humanities at Purdue need four years of math before entering college? What about those in the arts or in certain areas of education?

    I confess to bias, but IMHO it’s silly to wear the mantle of the Enlightenment unless your “University education” contains enough of the breadth of human learning to at understand cultural references to art, literature, and the sciences. So much total bullshit these days depends on abysmal ignorance of basic mathematics that you can’t properly call yourself “educated” if you don’t understand it. (Any more than you can call yourself “educated” if you don’t understand the basics of psychology.)

    And, yes, that may well mean an extension of the undergraduate program. I’m heartbroken. I’d cheerfully agree to an intensive two-year general studies program as a prerequisite to a three-year concentrated program in a specific major. As an employer, I’d be very interested in that two-year ticket (distinct from an AA) as a sign that someone had gone for postsecondary breadth of learning.

  6. #6 Allison
    June 8, 2009

    Good point – someone has to stand up for the underrepresented. When I was in undergrad, my department was trying to rework its curriculum to be more advanced. A friend and I would go to the feedback sessions and insist that you can’t just ignore the people who didn’t have calculus in high school. Some of the profs tried to ignore us, but when two women in your department with 15% women are saying “Don’t do stuff to further cut us out!” it’s best to listen.

    Of course, KarinNH has a good point about how to get high schools to catch up with colleges. State universities need to do a better job cooperating and talking with K-12 standards to get everyone on the same page. (I realize that’s much easier said than done).

  7. #7 Alex
    June 8, 2009

    I don’t know all of the programs at Purdue, but on the outside your reputation is best in science and engineering. You need to be pretty sure that anybody you admit can succeed in freshman calculus classes.

    I’m at a large, cheap, non-elite state school. If we admit a student who simply cannot succeed in calculus, well, the student will probably drop out, but at least he/she didn’t lose a lot of money in the process. If you admit a student who simply cannot do freshman calculus, that student is out a large chunk of change.

  8. #8 dr. lisa
    June 8, 2009

    A few decades ago, as I was preparing to get into a UC school (went to UCLA), we were told that four years of high school math would help us get in, although just three years were required. My high school only had up through trig, and due to gang problems, we were a closed campus, so I couldn’t go to the community college to take pre-calculus. Therefore, I took algebra TWICE – once in junior high, once in high school – to meet the four-year preference. Pathetic, eh?

    Just an anecdote to demonstrate how some poor schools and students could be affected by this policy.

  9. #9 Hope
    June 8, 2009

    Alice, where does it say that the student’s 4 yrs have to include calculus?

    I graduated from a large public school (= under-resourced?) in Florida – one semester of calculus was offered. I took another semester at a uni near my house before going off to college.

    I’ve done a lot of teaching and tutoring at the middle and high school levels. Based on what I’ve seen, encouraging students to continue with math up through senior year is a good idea – even for the prospective English majors.

  10. #10 Christina Pikas
    June 8, 2009

    I was at a small rural school – in a state that has some of the best schools in the country. I ran out of math classes to take (algebra in 8th grade, geometry, algebra II, half a year of trig, half a year of analytical geometry (sounds funny – conic sections and stuff, maybe different name?)) then I had to drive to another school, 20 minutes away, to take both calc and an AP course – 1 AP course is all I could take – they were all offered at the same time of day. It was very hard to get into college because I was “slacking off” compared to the rich suburban school students who were ready for calc 3 or diff eq when they got to college. There has to be some way for kids to catch up when they get there – even if they are admitted provisionally or something.

  11. #11 Lab Lemming
    June 9, 2009

    Alice, before asserting institutional discrimination, you should check to see if the students with &lt 4 years have less math due to lack of opportunity, or because they elect to learn something else.

    Obviously, for students from schools like that described by Dr. Lisa should have a maximum math waiver, but I’d be surprised if less than half the affected students were from affluent technophobic backgrounds.

  12. #12 Tinkering Theorist
    June 9, 2009

    I also went to a high school where 4 years of math included 2 of algebra and didn’t mean you had calculus. To take calculus, you had to get into a special program in seventh grade and bus over to the high school at the end of every day in eigth grade. I was able to get into a free program at a university to take my 4th year of math (precalculus) in the summer ahead of my senior year so that I could take another science class senior year. I guess I could’ve taken calculus at that point, but I didn’t really follow the right order for the high school classes and I really wanted the AP science credit (which we didn’t have for calculus). I felt behind for not having calculus, but there was nothing easy I could do to take it, so I taught myself over the next summer. Then when I took it in undergrad I was really bored!
    I like the idea of pushing schools to get 4 years of math everywhere, but there should be lots of exceptions for the individual students who aren’t really in control of their school’s offerings and haven’t learned to really fend for themselves yet (I don’t image a lot of first generation college students were encouraged to start planning thier math sequence in seventh grade, or have the ability to not work in the summer and instead pay to take extra classes).

  13. #13 Isabel
    June 9, 2009

    “let’s look that the last 5%. Are they overwhelmingly student of color? Are they overwhelmingly first-generation college students, or students from poor high schools?”

    Isn’t there some unnecessary redundancy in your categories? Or do you feel like there is something about being a student “of color” that would hold someone back from taking math courses that is unrelated to their economic situation or the funding of their school?

    Perhaps you could be more specific. Most people interpret “people of color” to mean all non-whites, yet Asians have the highest median income in the US and are being admitted to elite public universities in numbers far in excess of their representation in the population.

    If you mean black and Hispanic, why don’t you say so instead of using a silly, anti-white, outdated term. There are a lot of struggling white kids in Indiana and Michigan especially. Have a heart.

  14. #14 random student
    June 9, 2009

    I think that it’s a mistake to assume that Alice was somehow implying that only non-white students from underrepresented groups would be affected by this shift in policy at Purdue. Indiana has an array of students from rural districts who may only be able to offer the slimmest pickings of math courses that count for the credit. In the immediate area of Purdue, we have one school district that has lots of bells-whistles-toys-and-gadgets and neighboring districts that experience need. Ironically (to me at least) the “have everything” district tends to be dominated by professors’ kids whereas the children of graduate students tend to be in the neighboring districts. In this area of the country, “students of color” also serves as a marker for Native American ancestry; because reservations are sovereign (outside of state regulations), many people who attend reservation schools do not have the requisite courses.

    White students can be first generation students just as an African American student can be of the 2nd, 3rd, or 4th generation to attend colleges (depending on who what where and when the various ancestors lived). The last 5% of students come from all sorts of places that may involve a) rural students, b) students from underrepresented ethnic backgrounds, c) students on free- and reduced-lunch, d) students from the inner city, e) students who have a history of school relocation, f) first-generation college students, g) non-traditionally aged students, h) any combination of a through g, or i) other.

    Yes there is overlap, but people generally defy any attempts of exclusive categorization.

  15. #15 Isabel
    June 9, 2009

    “students of color” also serves as a marker for Native American ancestry

    so why not say what you mean instead of using “markers”?

    “a) rural students, b) students from underrepresented ethnic backgrounds, c) students on free- and reduced-lunch, d) students from the inner city, e) students who have a history of school relocation, f) first-generation college students, g) non-traditionally aged students, h) any combination of a through g, or i) other.”

    why would a student from (b) who didn’t fall into one of the other counties be of concern? If they went to good schools, aren’t first generation to go to college etc why worry about their color? And why mention it, as the first category to come to mind?

    It’s like the phrase “…[budget cut-or whatever] will affect poor people and people of color.”

    What color are the poor people? And if the “people of color” are not poor why are we concerned about them?

  16. #16 Hope
    June 9, 2009

    I think that Isabel has a point.

    The problem lies with how “diversity” is often defined. I have always been of the opinion that affirmative action programs at schools should be re-organized along economic lines. The kids who had access to the best schools and tutors are not the ones who need special consideration, regardless of race or ethnicity. And I say that as a 1st generation Hispanic.

  17. #17 BikeMonkey
    June 10, 2009

    Hope, diversity in most educational institutions I’ve been around for the past, oh, coupla decades IS concerned with economic, geographic and cultural (within putative racial categories) diversity. Diversity is a many faceted beast which can differentially weight many different concerns, some of which coincide and some of which do not. People like Trollabel are fond of whinging that just because one factor that is not of diversity concern to him/her personally is of concern to others, this means that there is some kind of problem. Not so.

    The goal is to break down systematic and artificial barriers to the participation of those whom you would like to participate. In the case of academics we might think of this as a general or specific set of brain talents and aptitudes. The data are reasonably clear that a host of essentially irrelevant factors can obscure the academic institution’s ability to identify, attract and nurture some of those who are otherwise desired by said institution. So policy goes about addressing the bad effects of irrelevant factors. To belabor the obvious for those who will intentionally miss the point, sex, educational background, family education level, family wealth, geographic background, putative racial/ethnic categorization, etc are all independent diversity concerns. The fact that one might satisfy multiple concerns with one type of individual does not mean that the other factors are not important. The fact that policies might make a tactical decision to prioritize individuals that satisfy multiple diversity goals is likewise no evidence that any given factor is not important. Nevertheless, institutions are free to apply different weight to diversity concerns based on their assessment of their needs and the degree of barrier posed by a given factor.

  18. #18 ScienceWoman
    June 10, 2009

    Adding to what BikeMonkey said, ethnicity can be a diversity concern even without the other factors that random student listed. Imagine a Native American student (or other trad. underrepresented ethnicity) in an affluent, well-educated community. That student could still be disadvantaged because of conscious or unconscious biases by high school guidance counselors, teachers, or other community members, that in our hypothetical case might have steered our student away from math in favor of “more practical” subjects.

  19. #19 Isabel
    June 10, 2009

    People like Trollabel are fond of whinging

    Fuck you Bikemonkey, go whing yourself why don’tcha?

    ScienceWoman makes a good point, but does not acknowledge that poor white students, even at “good” suburban schools will be victims of unconscious bias also. Believe me, I’ve been there. And come on, are you trying to tell me that our society is not prejudiced against poor and lower class white people?

    And poor students of all races, including whites, have problems with issues of entitlement. And are seriously underrepresented at elite schools, especially compared to their percentage of the population.

    I’d love to see some statistics on white ethnicities at elite schools, but since we’re all lumped together and labeled “white” I’m sure the stats aren’t available, but it sure would be interesting.

  20. #20 Isabel
    June 10, 2009

    People like Trollabel are fond of whinging

    Fuck you Bikemonkey, go whing yourself why don’tcha?

    ScienceWoman makes a good point, but does not acknowledge that poor white students, even at “good” suburban schools will be victims of unconscious bias also. Believe me, I’ve been there. And come on, are you trying to tell me that our society is not prejudiced against poor and lower class white people? And that many elites and academics wouldn’t actually prefer to hang out with a Native American (cool!) rather than a poor white (not cool)?

    And poor students of all races, including whites, have problems with issues of entitlement. And are seriously underrepresented at elite schools, especially compared to their percentage of the population.

    I’d love to see some statistics on white ethnicities at elite schools, but since we’re all lumped together and labeled “white” I’m sure the stats aren’t available, but it sure would be interesting.

  21. #21 Isabel
    June 10, 2009

    Sorry for double post! It timed out and it wasn’t posted – shoulda waited longer…I did add a sentence to the 2nd one.

  22. #22 Hope
    June 10, 2009

    @ BikeMonkey: People like Trollabel are fond of whinging that just because one factor that is not of diversity concern to him/her personally is of concern to others, this means that there is some kind of problem. Not so.

    You can say that there is no problem after Prop 209? After MI? Are you kidding me?

    I am well aware that a Hispanic child, for example, from an affluent family might face discrimination that his white counterpart would not. And I agree that the goal is to break down systematic and artificial barriers to participation. But affirmative action, as employed in many academic institutions during the admissions process, attempts to level the playing field by applying a different standard to some groups. When there is a legitimate reason for this (e.g., socioeconomic status), I – and many others, I suspect – have no problem with it. But perhaps you’d care to explain to me why you feel that a Hispanic girl is not capable of performing as well in school as her white male classmate of similar means?

    Do you think that admitting a rich Hispanic with a privileged upbringing is the same as admitting a Hispanic kid who grew up dirt poor? That is a distinction that seems to escape the several diversity efforts that I have witnessed up close.

  23. #23 Hope
    June 10, 2009

    @ Sciencewoman: Give me a break! If I’m the son or daughter in a well-to-do Native American family, and I know that 4 yrs of math are required to get in to college, do you think I’m going to listen to some stupid high school counselor? Or do you suppose that because I’m not Asian or white, my community doesn’t know the value of a college degree and would steer me away from it?

  24. #24 ScienceWoman
    June 10, 2009

    @Hope: Last attempt before I give up. First, if our hypothetical Native American student is in an affluent community, it doesn’t mean said student is also affluent. Second, if said student was already hearing messages disparaging math (barbie: “math is hard”, etc.) and those messages were being echoed and amplified by teachers and guidance counselors, then yes, I do think that the student has a higher probability of failing to meet the 4 years of math requirements then students in the same district who are not hearing those things from influential adults.

  25. #25 Hope
    June 10, 2009

    @ScienceWoman: So do you think that girls should be exempt from the 4-yr math requirement, on account of all the disparaging messages they hear?

    The point is not to have inflexible requirements, but to look beyond the sex/race/ethnicity labels to individual life circumstances. This is what many diversity initiatives, in their obsession with headcounts, often miss.

  26. #26 random student
    June 10, 2009

    It’s not about creating exemptions from the requirement; it’s about evaluating a claim that has been offered regarding the new requirement. If 95% of students are unaffected, good for those 95%. Yet, what unintentional effects are happening with the last 5%? Of the past 4 years of incoming freshmen, what are the profiles of those students? Does that last 5% have categorical differences with the first 95%? If so, what are those differences? Of the next 2 years of incoming freshmen, what are the profiles of those classes? How does it compare? Are there students who would be under the old requirements but are ineligible now? Are those students in-state or out-of-state? Has the new policy been communicated to those students at in-state districts? How do those students compare with the population of a) their district, b) the surrounding districts, and c) other in-state districts?

    Let’s turn up the analysis and see the effect of the policy instead of merely asserting that it will only hurt a negligible portion of the student population at Purdue.

    So many times schools implement policies, report positive effects, and never look for unintended negative consequences that could lead to better education in their area of service.

  27. #27 JM
    June 15, 2009

    Affirmative action based on economic status is a pipe dream that will never happen, at least in California and probably other similar states. Here, poor White kids outscore non-poor black kids, and poor Asian kids outscore non-poor black kids by a wide margin. Performance against Hispanic kids is probably somewhere in the middle. If AA based on economic status were adopted, poor Asian kids would just swamp poor and non-poor black kids in significant numbers for any given academic ranking.

  28. #28 kt
    June 16, 2009

    Wow, a lot of whinging here! And a lot of non-sequiturs! (Girls exempt from math because of disparaging messages — how does that follow from anything anywhere?!)

    My experience: rich suburban black kids in my area of Minnesota can be as alienated and unsupported by surrounding culture as any poor kid can be. They do take four years of math, though.

    My experience: an aptitude test would be better than a time requirement (I teach gifted kids, some who finish three years of calc before they finish high school).

    My experience: four years of math is not available at a substantial percentage of poor rural and urban schools. I’ve had a number of friends repeat algebra, etc. to get their hours in. They didn’t learn anything more.

    Isabel, you seem to be confusing a legitimate concern about poor whites and an idea that racism is not really a problem if you’ve got money. That is why I mention the first bit above (about well-off black kids I’ve known). I *am* worried about them, because of their color alone, because sometimes they are treated badly solely because of their color! Being lower-class/poorer often causes people to treat you badly; being of the wrong color causes the same thing even if you’ve got a lot of money or education. Just because you’re concerned about one problem that does not receive the attention it might need doesn’t mean that other problems don’t exist.

  29. #29 mom of purdue freshman
    June 19, 2009

    My daughter is upset because she has to takethe Purdue math assessment test. She had mostly Bs in algebra geometry algebra 2 at Hanover High (basically a highly rated school). But she just did not test well on the SAT overall–especially in math.

    I think Purdue is on to something. Students need the 4 years (or quality college level makeup courses!) And if not calculus, what of trig for the 4th year?

    Even my scientist husband (with college calculus coursework) is amazed at how much math he forgot as we work to retrain her in the math she forgot over the past year!!!

    I mentioned this article to him.
    Math is unforgiving. There is not a “true answer for you” but a DIFFERENT “true answer” for me.

    Bosses or customers in the WORKPLACE do not give credit for MATH related “good efforts” or “approximations” (in most cases)
    ….and, as my daughter is thinking of construction or architecture tech, customers would be even MORE unforgiving—if she messed up the math, on say a construction materials order or -WORSE YET – on the job cost!!!

  30. #30 IrishMom
    December 16, 2009

    Disclaimer: My oldest daughter is a Senior at Purdue in Chemical Engineering. Daughter #2 will be a Freshman in biochemistry.

    I have the Indiana Core 40 requirements (high school graduation requirements) in front of me. Core 40 only requires three years of math to graduate. The Academic Honors Diploma requires 4 years. What percentage of IN students graduate with each type of diploma?

    It doesn’t seem right for a Purdue to require something that the State DOE does not require of it’s high school grads. I could understand if the requirement was limited to those going into some Schools (like Engineering), but I don’t get the need to do so for all applicants.

  31. #31 J-Dog
    December 18, 2009

    My son wouldn’t qualify to go to Purdue either inder the new 4- year req. He’s in AP Trig Calc as a Sophomore, and will take AP BC Calc as a Junior – and that’s as high as our HS goes. Too bad Purdue – I guess he’ll just have to go to MIT or Northwestern. GO CATS!

  32. #32 osmanlı iksiri
    December 29, 2009

    My experience: four years of math is not available at a substantial percentage of poor rural and urban schools. I’ve had a number of friends repeat algebra, etc. to get their hours in. They didn’t learn anything more.

  33. #33 Carl
    May 21, 2010

    The reason students are having problems with calculus at Purdue is because the courses are taught by freak’n idiot TA’s. And actually they don’t teach anything, they just manage the course and jump around from topic to topic without any sense. What a waste of money and what scam in regards to reputation.

  34. #34 Chap
    July 13, 2010

    Hi Alice,

    Were you ever able to get in touch with Ken Sauer and find out
    what studies he was referring to that suggested the extra math
    “increased the odds of completing a bachelor’s degree by 73%” ?

    I see on the press release from last year that he was listed as
    “interim” Indiana commissioner for higher ed, but I still see
    him on the staff page at http://www.in.gov/che as a “senior associate
    commissioner” so he’s probably still reachable there.

    It would be cool to hear more about the studies and what you
    think of them.

    Cheers,
    -Chap

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