College Readiness ≠ STEM Readiness

I don’t think this is a particularly controversial point. On the one hand, students who enter college with a  solid grasp of Algebra II are ready for credit-bearing college courses in mathematics appropriate for a wide variety of degrees. On the other hand, it is and always has been true that STEM-intending students should take mathematics beyond Algebra II in high school in order to prepare for the more advanced STEM coursework they will take in college.

The Common Core State Standards reflect this reality. On the one hand, they go up through Algebra II, with a fair amount of statistics in addition. On the other hand, they say on page 57:

The high school standards specify the mathematics that all students should study in order to be college and career ready. Additional mathematics that students should learn in order to take advanced courses such as calculus, advanced statistics, or discrete mathematics is indicated by (+)

All standards without a (+) symbol should be in the common mathematics curriculum for all college and career ready students. Standards with a (+) symbol may also appear in courses intended for all students.

I wouldn’t have thought it was necessary to explain all this until I saw some quotes from Sandra Stotsky, Ze’ev Wurman, and Jim Milgram at in response to our previous post. It turns out that they think college readiness is the same thing as STEM readiness.

First up is Sandra Stotksy, who says:

If both Zimba and McCallum knew before the release of the final documents in June 2010 and afterwards that there was no clear and explicit statement that STEM-intending students needed to take more math coursework than was provided for by Common Core’s math standards, then anything they have said afterwards is meaningless.

Apparently, she missed the clear and explicit statement quoted above when, as a member of the Validation Committee, she read the standards. Or maybe she is unhappy that we didn’t use the term “STEM.”

Ze’ev Wurman doesn’t have a problem with that; he sees the term hidden everywhere. Here he is twisting himself into knots trying to explain why the 2008 document Benchmarking for Success, which clearly does not call for STEM-ready standards for all students, really does:

‘Globally competitive’ is a political term for STEM.

Finally, Milgram expresses shock that the definition of college readiness in the Race to the Top competition was Algebra II, going on to say

What this means is that there is no incentive for high schools to teach any higher mathematics than Algebra II.

High schools apparently haven’t received this memo, as AP Calculus enrollment has increased 19% since 2010.

These three are certainly entitled to their opinion that college readiness should mean STEM readiness. But on the empirical evidence about what it does mean, they are simply wrong (see Table 1 on page 7 of the linked pdf for a list of 20 mathematics topics rated most important for college readiness by university professors). Students who enter college with a  solid grasp of Algebra II are ready for credit-bearing college courses in mathematics.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *