(Monique Anair is an assistant professor and academic chair at a community college in New Mexico. Her view of incoming math students follows this introduction)
Compared to traditional high schools, vocational schools only have half the teaching time available to the students. The other half of the time they are in their shops – learning plumbing, IT, dental assisting, electrical, HVAC, auto maintenance, auto body, or any of a dozen other trades. Yet these students, in academics just every other week of the school year, are held to the exact same standards as their friends down the road in a fulltime high school. They must pass the same standardized tests, meet the same graduation and course requirements, and in addition must master their trade practices and licensure.
The challenge is akin to telling a traditional high school graduate that in addition to his or her current graduation requirements, now the student must be able to take apart an automobile engine, strip a carburetor down to its components, reassemble everything, and have the work certified by state inspectors.
It is far from a level playing field when comparing vokes and traditional high schools!
So the vocational schools have to work a lot harder, and in just half the time they must get students ready to pass state testing and graduate. One of the tools they use very effectively is crossbreeding core topics – especially English and Math. For math, all the shops and science courses, at the least, include math actively in their lessons. For English, frequent written “explanations” to a math problem or shop issue continually reinforces English in all areas of school. Many have a “junior-senior project” around a topic such as a business plan for a company they would like to start in their trade. The project is evaluated by math, English, shop, science, and other teachers.
The goal? Integrate the courses just as they are integrated in real life. In so doing it makes the learning more relevant to the student, and far more effective in terms of understanding and retention.
The urgency to improve math (insert almost any other high school course here!) is especially strong for children going on to college. So many are not prepared for college math that they need to divert to community colleges, or even scrap their full college plans and settle for an associate or lesser degree that will limit them for the rest of their lives.
That is a tragedy – and one we must and can fix. The vokes are already trying to master that approach. And according to Professor Monique Anair, this is exactly what is needed in all high schools.
Here is Monique Anair’s view. It has been wait-listed by the panel as likely to be included and quoted in the main chapters of the 2nd edition of Lifting the Curtain: The disgrace we call urban high school education.
A call to change preparation for college math
By continuing to separate math from applied science, we put our students at a disadvantage. Integrating math into arts and sciences allows students to achieve success in advanced high technology careers. Engineers and computer science majors with integrated skills will make better decisions – decisions that profoundly affect our world.
Yet, more than 70% of students entering community colleges test at or below Algebra I, and need to complete three semesters of math classes to “catch up” to their university peers. A student who is expecting to graduate from a two-year college in four semesters will find they start three semesters behind.
Few students will take on the challenge of additional semesters of mathematics to catch up. Community college students often opt to switch their bachelor’s degree ambitions to an associate’s degree which requires lower math proficiency. Students often can achieve success in technology-based entry-level positions if they choose a two-year degree. However, those same associate degree graduates find that without a bachelor’s degree they eventually “top out” in job markets that are flooded with university graduates. Employers expect that two-year degree students lack needed higher mathematical theory and application skills for advanced positions.
The answer is to integrate math with the arts and sciences at the high school level. That prepares students for a traditional technology-based bachelor’s degree requiring both math and science, and gives students much greater likelihood of a technology career in engineering or computer science. Those with such bachelor degrees have the language and vocabulary of science and mathematics that is crucial to invention and endeavor.