Solutions to the math deficit

The innumerates are legion. The math-challenged (look to any newsroom or comparative-lit class for examples) don’t carry the stigma of the literacy-challenged, often because people who scribble about education are repelled by cosines and calculus. For scribes, cubic-polynomial strugglers hit a wee close to home.

The consequences of innumeracy can be severe. As The Herald’s Sharon Salyer reported Monday, math-challenged students are less likely to graduate from high school, let alone college. The fallback courses of old (“rocks for jocks” and easy science substitutes for math) are no longer an option. Even liberal arts majors require math, not to mention engineers and health care professionals.

To brainstorm solutions, Everett Community College recently secured a $39,500 grant from College Spark Washington, a Seattle foundation that focuses on low-income students. The backdrop: Most incoming EvCC students require remedial math. It’s a deficiency that throws light on a strapped K-12 system graduating students ill-prepared for college.

“They’re not ready for college-level math,” said Christopher Quarles, an EvCC math instructor. “So the question is how can we help these students get to college-level math?”

The correlation between math and income seems irrelevant, especially with the majority of students unprepared. However, remedial classes cost money and don’t count toward degree completion.

“They’re putting in time and money and not earning credits toward a degree,” Rachel Clements, program officer for College Spark Washington, told Salyer. “A lot get discouraged and leave. A number don’t make it through the course work.”

As colleges backfill for K-12 gaps, the onus is on lawmakers to meet the requirements of the state Supreme Court’s McCleary decision to fully fund education, Washington’s paramount duty. The second component, a lightning rod for forces on both the right and the left, is proper implementation of the Common Core standards. The strange-bedfellows alignment of the Tea Party and organized labor was highlighted in a Washington Post editorial Monday.

“Tea Party opposition to the new education standards in the Common Core is getting a lot of attention,” the Post notes. “Far more threatening is the less-noticed pushback from teachers’ unions.”

Teachers’ unions demand flexibility and control over the mechanics of Common Core implementation. And the mission should be how Washington augments student achievement in math, in particular.

EvCC soon may have at least part of the answer.

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