Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Contradictory mandates to community colleges

A goal of the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) is to prepare students to be college and career ready.  That goal is also part of the mission of community colleges.  There has been considerable discussion regarding how  the CCSS might affect students' chances for getting into college, but scant discussion about how community colleges fit into the implementation of the CCSS.

Community Colleges might be assumed to have a distorted view of what it means to be college or career ready.  After all, they typically use the word "college" when naming themselves, yet eligibility to become a community college student does not require any minimum GPA nor any minimum score or ranking in any test.  It is sometimes said that the University of California serves the top 12.5% of California high school graduates, the California State University system the top 33.3%, and the California Community Colleges serve the top 100%.  But this is too limiting--a high school diploma is not a requirement for enrollment at any California Community College.

So at community colleges, we may worry less about "college ready" but rather focus on "transfer ready".  UCLA and CSUN are my school's two nearest public universities, and both report that our transfer students perform slightly better than their native students.  So there is evidence that community colleges are not grossly underestimating what is needed to be transfer ready.

California Community Colleges are presented with two conflicting mandates .   Community colleges  are encouraged 1) to align with K-12 standards for college and career readiness (according to the California Community College  Student Success Task Force, and 2)  to provide alternative pathways to transfer (according to the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching, the Charles A. Dana Center, etc.).

Explicitly, a consortium of the Charles A. Dana Center, Complete College America, Inc., Education Commission of the States, and Jobs for the Future, asks community colleges to provide a  "fundamentally new approach for ensuring that all students are ready for and can successfully complete college-level work that leads to a postsecondary credential of value.

"...The content in required gateway courses should align with a student’s academic program of study — particularly in math... Institutions need to focus on getting students into the right math and the right English." (from "Core Principles for Transforming Remedial Education: A Joint Statement" :

The researcher at my institution estimated that 75% of our students interested in transfer are in disciplines that require no mathematics beyond an introductory statistics class to earn a baccalaureate degree at CSUN.  Evidently there are many students who can earn baccalaureate degrees without taking  single course from the mathematics department of any 4-year school.

The California Community College Success Network (, the Carnegie Foundation, the Dana Center, and the Student Success Task Force all recommend removing  curricular requirements  that act as barriers rather than aids to program completion.  The SSTF report contends, "Improved student support structures and better alignment of curriculum with student needs will increase success rates in transfer, basic skills, and career technical/workforce programs." [emphasis added]

The existing and proposed curricula of alternative pathways for non-STEM students omit many topics of intermediate algebra.

On the other hand, neither the University of California nor the California State University accepts a math or statistics course to meet  math transfer requirements unless that course has intermediate algebra as a prerequisite. 

If aligning with the CCSS implies that "intermediate algebra" should mean CCSS Algebra 2 (which includes circular trig and some inferential statistics), then the math requirements for transfer math courses will increase significantly.

And because intermediate algebra is the California Community College minimum math requirement for an associate's degree, the requirement for an AA degree will also increase simultaneously.

It is impossible for community colleges to remove unnecessary but currently required topics (for transfer to non-STEM disciplines) while simultaneously not merely maintaining but augmenting that list of required topics for all students.