Have you ever started an exercise program, stopped for a year and then tried to pick up where you left off? It’s a mistake.
California education officials are making the same mistake with our students, with math. All through elementary school, middle school and the beginning of high school, students in California take mathematics.
Then in their last year, they stop, because they are only required to take three years of math to be admitted to University of California and California State University campuses. They need just two years to graduate from high school. This makes no sense.
The state is one of only a handful in the country with this low requirement, according to a 2013 report by the Center for Public Education. The vast majority of states require three years of math for a high school diploma.
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Even three years is not enough. On average, only 10 percent of California’s high school juniors are ready for college-level math. Once in college, many need remedial classes, slowing progress to a degree and reducing options for a related major. About 30 percent of students in the CSU system need remedial math; the number is lower in the UC system. Still, extra classes cost money.
So, why do we encourage students to take a year off from such an important subject?
That is the question being asked by leaders at K-12 schools, colleges, businesses and community organizations in Riverside and San Bernardino counties who have been working together since 2009 as the Federation for a Competitive Economy. Led by the University of California, Riverside, and joined by California State University, San Bernardino, and others, these education leaders are working to increase high school and college graduation rates.
Only about 19 percent of adults 25 or older in the region have a bachelor’s degree or higher, though the local economy depends on a well-trained workforce. The fastest-growing and highest-paying jobs require post-secondary education and more than basic proficiency in math.
The federation took a significant step toward advancing its goals this month with word of a $5 million award from Gov. Jerry Brown’s $50 million Awards for Innovation in Higher Education program. Its goals are to reduce the time it takes to complete a degree, increase the number of bachelor’s degrees and ease the transfer process from community colleges to four-year state colleges and universities.
Starting in fall 2016, our pilot project will target high school juniors who, with a little help, can avoid taking remedial math in college. We will offer them an intensive fourth year of math during their senior year in high school. Twenty school districts have already agreed to take part. CSU San Bernardino has agreed to accept these students for admission; UC Riverside is considering the same.
Traditionally, school districts and colleges don’t think about how their different standards and expectations affect students. Our group has set out to change that. We have made significant progress. If our pilot project works, it can be replicated across the state and get our young people in better shape for college.
Pamela Clute is a math instructor, special assistant to the chancellor at UC Riverside and a founder of the Federation for a Competitive Economy.