Friday, August 22, 2008

The Perfect Storm (Take Math in the Spring 12" Remix)

Since I am spending more than eight hours a day on placement, you will be hearing about it. Never fear, this will eventually come to an end. Especially when I get the scanner set up in my office, as the undergraduates, they write the funniest things down on paper.

Back at the tail end of the spring semester, I talked to the heads of all the advising units on campus. In addition to talking and showing the PPTs (well, as you can see, Keynotes), I also made a handout with all the slides. Back in the winter, between fall and spring terms, we pestered hundreds of students who were in the wrong math class and made them switch to a lower class. Advising centers should be pretty well aware that I am a placement zealot. This is because the math department is fed up with trying to teach calculus to students who can't do algebra.

We are in the midst of a budget situation. This makes it harder than usual for us to just add sections to the schedule. Even if there is demand. Even if Professor Staff really could teach all of them. When students advised over the summer do not sign up for College Algebra, we certainly are not adding capacity to College Algebra. When hundreds and hundreds of students sign up for Calculus when they should be taking College Algebra, this causes a problem during the first week of classes. College Algebra is full. Like, totally full. No more room.

I'm not sure where to place the blame. We don't get much autonomy in the schedule situation, especially in tight budget situations. If the class doesn't have N students by day d, then it's cancelled from the timetable. We can't hold lower division courses open in anticipation of increased enrollment. Some of the advising centers seem to think that placement is only a suggestion and not a rule. None of the students read the catalog. None of them. We have students who just decided to come here last week and didn't get oriented and advised until the day before classes started.

I don't really feel bad about this. Students can take math in the spring. They can sign up for College Algebra during pre-registration, and then we'll know how many of them plan to take the course and we can adjust capacity accordingly. Then they can take calculus next fall. They'll be a bit older, wiser, more grown up, better capable to handle the demands of college-level work. There's no rule saying that you have to take calculus when you're a freshman.