Developments in Developmental Math (Part II)

At least one thing is pretty much certain: the district is moving ahead with a massive redesign of Developmental Math. The first steps were taken at the Board meeting on February 11th, where there were changes made to the pre-credit math classes. Perry Buckley’s (Union President) description of the changes follows; “[t]hese courses, taught now by AFSCME members, will be called the “Foundations” program. The pay will change and the number of hours their workers can work will be reduced.”

He goes on to say that he’s “been told” that it is the district’s intention to move all developmental math courses into the Foundations program (and so, out of the hands of full time faculty). This is an important point. Via HW Math faculty member, Theresa Carlton (lots more from her to come), “Moving the Math 98 and 99 courses into pre-credit will eliminate 50% of the course offerings available to full-time faculty at HW. This number is higher at some of our sister colleges. Given that we have district-wide seniority, the possibility that we may be bumped from courses at our home campuses and be forced to fulfill our load requirement at other colleges does exist.” Perry suggests that the ultimate goal of the mandatory meeting is to sell the Math faculty on the change.

What are these changes, you might ask, other than a change of faculty? Fair question, but first the pitch…

In an email sent Saturday (2/20) afternoon from President Wright President, Chuck Guengerich to Henry Herzog, Wright Local Faculty Council, and the Wright faculty, President Guengerich writes:

We do know however that the vast majority of our students enter with less than college level skills. This is especially true in math where greater than 90% of Wright students enter at the Foundational Studies (formerly pre-credit) or Math 099 level. The vast majority never successfully reach a general education level math course and then will never complete a degree. Even for those who successfully complete math or Foundational Studies only about 1 in 4 succeeds. What it does tell us that we have to redesign math developmental education ( Please note the statistics are similar across the District.)

There have been some interesting new national models that have evolved over the past several years. The model developed by John Squires in Ohio has achieved over a 70 percent success rate and has been duplicated a four other colleges with similar success stories. The Squires model has won two Bellwether Awards at the Community College Futures assembly.

CCC is bringing Mr. Squires to the District on March 10 and all math full time math faculty are being required to attend. As A District and a college we should have a sense of urgency in looking to research and test new methodologies in developmental education.

Keith McCoy, District wide Faculty Council President and Math faculty member, showed his concurrence, broadly speaking with his College President’s message in his address to the board on February 11th, saying:

The completion and success rates out of CCC developmental math courses, including Foundational Studies (formerly Pre-credit), Math 098 and Math 099, are abysmal. I remember a few years ago the district success rate was a low 40% with no one college receiving over 50%. This is a national issue and not just a local one. Many of us, both faculty and administration, have known this from some time and have endeavored to improve these rates to little avail. Now, we have reached the point where change must occur in the developmental math curriculum. It is because of this very need to change that CCC administration is actively looking to redesign our math curriculum and is looking at good practices and successes that are occurring at other institutions. The importance of this need for redesigning of the developmental math curriculum, while presented very credibly by VC Henderson to district faculty council, has not been communicated well to faculty.

Mr. Squires received the 2009 Bellwether Award for Instructional Programs and Services for spearheading Cleveland State Community College’s course redesign project for developmental and college-level math courses. Cleveland state has had remarkable success with this project that truly warrants its review. While I myself have questions and concerns about the project and this project may not entirely fit the needs of CCC, faculty must be involved and engaged in curricular discussions regarding any CCC redesign efforts. Faculty must also be proactive in participating in driving these efforts. Regardless of whether the meeting mandate holds or is altered (I wish for the latter), going forward, I hope that the college presidents will at least relay a better message emphasizing the importance of this meeting and the involvement of all math instructors in this process so that we can all be on board with any redesign efforts.

That last point is one that he reiterated in his accompanying email, saying, “While I understand the importance of this meeting due to the administration moving forward with redesign efforts of developmental math, I think the message may be lost because of the mandate. I truly hope not. Despite any discontented feelings, it is important that math faculty are very much involved in any redesign effort.”

So what does the proposed redesign look like and who are its sponsors? Back to Perry:

The presentation is from the National Center for Academic Transformation. It is a non-profit think tank dedicated to higher ed. Just google them to get to their web site. Note well that their stated mission is a simple dual pronged statement (and I quote): “improve student learning outcomes and (bold mine) reduce the cost of higher education.” Let me repeat: reduce the cost of higher education. Draw your own conclusions.

I further have been told that part of the presentation will include how to use on-line and/or computer programs whereby students can achieve the “same or better results” with little or no teacher involvement. (If not, that is, part of the NCAT agenda.)

Theresa Carlton, who is the co-chair of HW’s Developmental Education Committee, and so is well versed in the relevant issues and research on this issue, provides a nice summary in another email sent yesterday:

I did some research on this “redesign” that Wright seems to be so obsessed with. An article from the Cleveland Daily Banner dated Dec 28, 2008 describes the redesign as a 1+2 format in which there is a one hour class meeting each week and a 2 hour lab session. Each developmental course consists of 10 modules, and students are required to complete one module per week, and are allowed to work ahead. Students take an online quiz after each module and an online final exam at the end of each course. The results of the redesign are that 37 students completed 2 or more developmental courses in one semester. Of those 37, 33 completed intermediate algebra, and 4 completed basic math and beginning algebra. Nine students completed intermediate algebra and a college level math course.

In the project write up, which can be found on the National Center for Academic Transformation (NCAT) website: it states “Faculty productivity rose by 23%. The average student load per faculty member went from 106 to 130 and the FTE teaching load per faculty member went from 21.2 to 26.0. Going forward, faculty members should expect to teach 10-11 sections, work 8-10 hours in the lab, and handle 150+ students each semester…the increased faculty productivity has enabled the department to eliminate the use of adjunct faculty members at the same time that course offerings are actually increased. Overtime loads have been reduced as a result of the redesign project.”

So there’s your description, essentially, of the pitch and the pitchers. Theresa, goes on to provide some analysis, too:

All this really shows is what we already know. Students at the higher level of developmental math are more successful than those who start out at the basic math or beginning algebra levels. There was only one student who began in elementary algebra and was able to complete a college level math course. This does not prove that the redesign works. It proves that that student was misplaced to begin with.

I am not saying that the redesign idea is completely off base or that it can’t possibly work. It is not something that should be forced upon us. Just because one college claims success does not mean that it will work for CCC. Why does the district think that they can enforce mass changes on us without first testing out the idea and seeing if it actually works? What’s wrong with piloting 2 sections over a few semesters and comparing the results to the courses that are run in the traditional format?

A few points that need to be made about the study:

1. These courses were NOT moved into pre-credit where full-time faculty are not allowed to teach them, and students are not allowed to use financial aid.

2. The redesign did not work for the Basic Math course, as clearly stated in the study write up.

3. All of these courses met in a computer classroom for the one hour session and in a designated computer lab that was staffed with faculty and tutors, and available 54 hours each week.

4. Faculty are REQUIRED to teach these courses.

5. Students must be allowed to register for the next course as soon as they complete the current course. This means that if a student completes beginning algebra during week 4 of the semester, they must then register to take intermediate algebra, and be able to begin that new course immediately.

6. The true measure of success is not how many students completed a developmental course, or even the developmental program, but how many were able to successfully complete a college level math course. The study states that the percent of developmental students who successfully completed a college level math course increased from 71% to 76% due to the redesign. No where does it state that this was actually a statistically significant increase. A 5% increase does not seem good enough, especially when they never tell us exact numbers.

7. The biggest achievement that the study claims is being able to cut costs by eliminating faculty, and increasing faculty “productivity”. I’m sure the Union would have something to say about that, which may be why CCC wants to make these pre-credit courses.

In order for the redesign to be effective in the way that is claimed, CCC needs to be able to offer ALL of the resources that the study offered. Do we have sufficient computer classrooms and a designated computer lab that can accommodate our students? Is our registrar’s office prepared to offer students flexible enrollment throughout the semester? Do we have the money and the personnel to place tutors in the tutor center, the math department and in a computer lab for 54 hours a week? In my experience at CCC, the district likes to enforce a change with no follow-through and no assistance to ensure success.


2 thoughts on “Developments in Developmental Math (Part II)

  1. Theresa’s questions are very fitting. We are short-staffed as it is in math. I can see how increasing productivity would be appealing to those making these types of decisions. But at what cost? My main concern is one that I’ve voiced before coupled with a new twist. We need the most dedicated, skilled faculty teaching the students with the greatest need. This is not to say that adjuncts aren’t skilled or that full-time faculty are skilled but rather that the faculty teaching these classes should
    a) want to be teaching that class
    b) be dedicated to working really hard to do so
    c) have read something/experienced teaching/talked to someone, etc. about teaching this course

    The second point has to do with the idea of deskilling. Are we going to adopt a course package that essentially takes the skill (and art) out of teaching? 1 hour in class and 2 hours in the lab presupposes that students can learn all there is to know via a computer and that the teacher is not as important in the equation. The is exacerbated by the fact that faculty load and student to teacher ration will increase. Further, it puts the emphasis on solutions rather than process. Further, what is the goal of education? What are we hoping to nurture, a student driven only by correct answers and grades (extrinsically motivated) or one that is more intrinsically motivated.

    I encourage us all to keep digging and see what this initiative is all about. We’re all very busy, but I’m going to try to do some more digging.

  2. There are a couple of issues I see about the developmental math. I’ve been teaching these developmental courses as an CCC adjunct for 6 years and have a ton of teaching experience outside of CCC.

    First, in reading the information above it sounds like success is based on how far up the ladder a student climbs in our classes and doing this with as little cost as possible. The true measure of our student’s success is how much of the math knowledge they retain. Herewithin lies one of the biggest problems with the Developmental courses; the students do not retain the information from semester to semester. I’ve taught the Pre-Credit and Math 098 back-to-back and it is amazing how much these students, even the good ones, cannot remember once the enter Math 098. The least successful students in Math 098 seem to be the ones coming out of Pre-Credit. That is a problem

    My second observation dovetails what is mentioned above about the instructors of these classes. I am amazed at the backwardsness of education. We typically let our best teachers teach the higher level classes as a reward for their good work. While that is a nice gesture, it does not do justice to the students we serve. The better students who are more motivated will learn no matter who teaches the class, but the students who struggle become even more frustrated when assigned a teacher who cannot communicate clearly to them and on their level. This problem is not inherent to CCC, but the entire US education system. If CCC wanted to be innovative in it’s approach to developmental education, it would ask/require it’s better faculty. presumably many of whom are full-timers, to teach more of these courses and drop any requirement about the pre-credit vs credit classes as fulfilling their contracts.

    My final thought is specific to the CCC Developmental Math program and has to do with the amount of material we are expected to complete each term. I have always thought there is an abundant amount of overlap in the Math 098 and Math 099 material. While Math 099 may have more challenging material, the topics are virtually the same. I would propose splitting Math 099 into two courses. We would cover the same material and to the same depth as Math 099, but at a slower pace. I think the students would benefit from more time and more than likely retain the infomation. (Ah that term again, what I consider our real goal). The slower pace would allow for some type of lab experience or in class one-on-one instruction. As it currently stands, we have to power through tons of material in Math 098 and 099 and the students who do really well are typically the ones who have seen the concepts before. Trying something like this would probably achieve the real results we want; better, stronger math students, rather than students checking off classes towards a piece of paper called a degree.

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