Play Live Radio
Next Up:
Available On Air Stations
Watch Live

KPBS Midday Edition

San Diego, Imperial County Educators Gather To Improve Algebra Education

A poster for the San Diego Math Network's conference on intermediate algebra on Aug. 11, 2017.
San Diego Math Network
A poster for the San Diego Math Network's conference on intermediate algebra on Aug. 11, 2017.

Editor's Note: A previous version of this story incorrectly referred to when the California State University system decided to drop its intermediate algebra requirements for non-STEM students.

San Diego, Imperial County Educators Gather To Improve Algebra Education
San Diego, Imperial County Educators Gather To Improve Algebra Education GUEST: Susan Yonezawa, associate director, UC San Diego Center for Research on Educational Equity

Is dropping in algebra requirement a win for struggling students or loss the fields of science and technology? Educators will meet tomorrow to discuss how intermediate algebra is taught and they will discuss the decision by the state university system to drop the algebra requirement for students who are in stem fields majors. Community colleges have seen Algegra II he come a stumbling block for up to 65% of students who needed to pass it to enter a California State University. Since black and Latino students are more likely to need remedial algebra courses, dropping requirement is seen as an equity issue. Other educators say it may stop students from moving into lucrative careers in science and technology. Joining me is Susan, the director of the UC Center San Diego research on equity assessment and teaching excellence. And we have a coleader of the math number. Welcome to the program.Thank you.This whole conference tomorrow to one course, intermediate algebra. Why is that class such a contentious topic and near impossible for so many students ?It has to do with the pipeline of mathematics, starting as early as second grade when students learn place value and students are trying to master and understand fractions procedurally and conceptually. As they move forward, and the statistic that you just quoted a 60% or more students do not succeed in that intermediate algebra or what we think of in San Diego at the K-12 level is integrated three has to do with early leaks that happen in mathematics that gush later on. It is 60% of the fifth-graders are also not mastering with great standards and why would we think that 11th or 12th grade would be different ?Why has Algegra II been required for 70 students even if they are not interested in a math or science career ?In early part of this decade, there was a move nationally and in California to ratchet up the standards and requirements with the hopes that would also make more students successful magnetically as they move through the pipeline.We thought expectations needed to be raised for students, particularly low income students for underrepresented minority students.Algegra II became a course that held water for people when they try to think about what would best situate students going forward into STEM careers are lucrative jobs that they were not currently entering. Algegra II became a flag that everybody planted in the ground with the aspirational mathematics class. What did not happen is the same kind of support that teachers need in order to teach the class well and of course is proceeding that and the support that kids need to learn that Mathematica down the line. Now, we have a perfect storm of students not succeeding in a course that we held up as an equity course many years ago.And a trial program, they allowed non-stem field majors to take a Massa six course instead of Algegra II. The results were an increase in the students who passed transfer level math. Making that change seems to remove that obstacle going on to completing higher -- higher education for but what do educators who do not approve of this move, what do they worry about? Back it is good intentions on all sides. Educators who are concerned and that includes people you are championing the move, they worry that a couple of things will happen. Students will make a decision early in the academic careers come as early as ninth grade or 10th grade that they are not going to pursue Algegra II and that by default, they will not pursue a host of majors and careers in STEM. We are not just talking medical school or marine biologist or engineers but we are also talking about people who want to go into nursing or other fields that one might not think of when you automatically think of high-tech STEM jobs. Computer science is a lucrative and ubiquitous in terms of job creation over the next decade. If you are not pursuing those kind of mathematics, you will likely not get a degree in computer science at any university. People who worry about encouraging students to go into statistics instead of Algegra II to early, they also worry about students falling off of the STEM pathway at a time when they are too young to make that decision. At the community college, it is different. People are old the -- holder and make different choices and they are more informed but in high school, they're worried that if we take away Algegra II, we do not encourage, we are discouraging STEM pathways.Are there new ways of teaching math skills in algebra? Is that something educators are looking into ?Absolutely.At the zeroing in event that we are hosting tomorrow, through the math network, we are going to showcase a bunch of different opportunities to learn that educators that we admire have been putting together for a number of years, Kearny high school is partnering with Mesa to put accelerated developmental math courses at the high school so students can finish this statistics class in high school and moved quickly into advanced mathematics when they get to college. Sweetwater is doing amazing things with moving robotics and computer science next to and into Algegra II or what they now call integrated 3 classes. Educators are getting savvy how to make Algegra II more hands-on and how to make it more exciting for young people and how to make it -- I like to use the word sticky so the math sticks in the brains and they can recall and use it and transfer that knowledge to other math context later on.Do you expect to reach an agreement at the symposium on what the best strategy is?I think the only agreement is that there is not one best strategy but there is a lot of talent. We hope to showcase a lot of talent in San Diego. That is the silver lining. We have struggles in San Diego County just like there is across the date and the country in mathematics. Really, we are better that everybody else countywide but definitely not where we want to be. We have a lot of talent. We want to showcase the talent. The Sandy goat map network that we have been she happening with the district collects, it is really about networking the talent and the thinking and the resources that we have in our region to tackle this collective problem. It is a collective problem. UC San Diego problem and also the problem at the the other universities are grappling with and definitely the high schools. That is what we are trying to do tomorrow, highlight the multiple ways that people are trying to solve this problem and get better at networking across our institutions. We need to stop working in silos and work together.I have been so leaking with Susan Yonezawa, the coleader of the math network. Thank you so much.Thank you.

Is dropping an algebra requirement for college admission a win for struggling students or a loss for the fields of science and technology?

San Diego and Imperial County educators will meet Friday to discuss how intermediate algebra is taught, a week after the California State University system dropped the algebra requirement for students who aren't STEM field majors. Community colleges have seen intermediate algebra become a stumbling block for up to 65 percent of students who needed to pass it to enter a California state university.


"The wheels fall off the bus in intermediate algebra. You can learn procedures, plug-and-chug, and it will kind of get you by until this point," said Susan Yonezawa, associate director of the UC San Diego Center for Research on Educational Equity. "The other issue is that math is different from other subjects—it’s cumulative in a way that other subjects are not. This all starts in second or third grade, leading up to 10th grade."

Yonezawa is also co-director of the San Diego Math Network, a partnership between UC San Diego and leaders from the area’s four major school districts, which is hosting the conference. The Friday symposium will include K-12 educators along with community college and four-year university leaders, who will review data on algebra instruction and develop new ways to improve student performance. Yonezawa said that while CSU's decision to waive intermediate algebra requirements may prove successful, isn't likely to happen at local high schools.

"Giving up on Algebra II that early signals that a student is giving up on STEM," she said. "There’s a discomfort among many people that a 10th-grader should have the right to say they’re off the rails for a number of lucrative careers. The other thing is that until last week, it has been every college’s standards."

Participants will discuss a Mesa College-Kearny High School collaboration that led to an intermediate algebra class that accelerates high school students through a remedial course.

Yonezawa joins KPBS Midday Edition on Thursday to discuss the ongoing efforts to improve algebra education.