"How will knowing how to solve algebraic equations help me get a job?"
That's a familiar question to many parents of teenagers (and to math teachers, no doubt), especially from students who struggle in math classes.
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Unfortunately, too many young people either don't get or don't listen to the answer until it's too late. So, Harper College and three school districts that feed into the community college set out to reach them earlier. Three years into the process, their effort appears to be working.
Harper President Ken Ender and the superintendents of Districts 211, 214 and 220 knew that math requirements can trip up students who have ambitions for higher education. This is particularly true when students find out at a college's door that they must first take noncredit remedial math courses -- a setback that often discourages them from continuing at all.
Harper and the three school districts formed a consortium to coordinate their efforts and provide students new ways to overcome the math hurdle, and created a template for success that should be a starting point for other districts. Key statistic: The Northwest Educational Council for Student Success, through pooled funds and collaboration among college and high school administrators and teachers, has led to an 11.6 percent decrease in students who start at Harper in a remedial math class.
From the outset, the challenge was clear. In 2010, 38 percent of students began their postsecondary education by taking remedial courses. Only 50 percent of these students ever reached college credit-bearing courses. This not only delayed their progress, but it also drained resources that could be used elsewhere by the college.
Leaders at Harper and Districts 211, 214 and 220 knew that more needed to be done to enable students to progress the minute they stepped on campus. Harper started by offering its math assessment to high school juniors. Those who do not pass it can enroll in the college's remedial course while still in high school. Last year, about 1,500 students took Harper's Algebra 2 remedial course as seniors. The school districts also developed dual-credit courses that count for high school, community colleges and four-year state universities. And a new website, edcareerpartnership.com, helps students choose courses and activities that lead to specific careers.
Ender insists the collaboration is not as difficult to engineer as some may think. And the college and school districts are now preparing to enter a second phase of the collaboration -- English.
These efforts deserve notice, and the changing demographics of the suburbs, as well as the need for skilled laborers, make such cooperation more important than ever. It's true, many students will not need to recite the formula for slope or solve a factorial once they get a job in their chosen field. But young people need a basic knowledge of math to enter the path to meaningful employment. By smoothing that path toward further education, the schools ensure young people will be more motivated and better prepared to learn skills that will help them contribute to the workforce in all fields.