"It eats up time and financial aid, especially when we have students who have to retake those courses three, four, and five times," says John Kellermeier, the TCC math faculty member who taught Hawley's Statway course. Students who test two or three levels below Algebra II—considered college-level math—have to pass multiple developmental courses before they can take a course that counts toward graduation.
In 2009, Carnegie founded the Community College Pathways Program, a network of community colleges, professional associations, and researchers determined to improve math literacy. Participants wanted to rethink the content and the teaching method of developmental math, and to draw from the best research available. A number of foundations helped fund the development and implementation of the new materials, including the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, a Next America sponsor.
The program came up with two one-year courses: statistics course Statway and quantitative-reasoning course Quantway. Statway blends high school algebra and college-level statistics all year, while Quantway is divided into two semesters: one more focused on developmental math, the other more focused on college-level quantitative reasoning.
"Algebra really is a bunch of tools you're teaching students to make math music [with] later," says Rachel Mudge, a Statway instructor and a faculty member at Foothill College, a community college in Los Altos, Calif. It's not until calculus that students face complex problems with no clear answer. But in statistics, data sets get messy early, allowing students to use more creative thinking.
Both courses allow faculty to teach algebra in the context of public debates and questions they'll face in the workforce. In Statway, students learn to read graphs, determine probability, and detect bias in data. They brainstorm ways to prove or disprove theories, like the assertion by astrologers that birth dates determine personality traits.
Students are grouped into threes or fours and may stay in those groups throughout the course. The groups work through the material together every day, and are responsible for keeping each other up to speed. The sense of obligation to a study group helps boost attendance and keeps students engaged, Mudge says.
The courses also include exercises that address math anxiety. Many students believe they're just not 'math people.' "If we don't change how they see themselves, they're going to realize a self-fulfilling prophecy," says Bernadine Chuck Fong, the director of Carnegie's developmental math initiative.
Instructors stress the value of "productive struggle"—the idea that struggling with the material means you're learning and growing, even if you don't get to the right answer. Students read an article that explains that the brain, like a muscle, can bulk up to handle more challenging tasks. By learning how to do other math, students gain confidence in their ability to approach algebra.