Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Wither, Reform (Math)?

I received info on a new study on remedial math and studying economics by an acquaintance of mine, Andrew Selzer. Summarizing, they find:
  • overall high school performance and performance in high school math positively affect performance in college economics courses.
  • taking remedial mathematics after arriving has a statistically insignificant effect on college performance, performance in economics core courses, or other long-term outcomes (i.e. these outcomes have more to do with "ability" and pre-college performance).

I guess that leaves more questions than answers, though. We know that students who are deficient when they arrive will struggle, but what do we do about it? Essentially, this tells us that if our goal is getting the econ curricula to stick, then remedial "catch-up" math courses are basically a waste of University resources, but why?

I would suggest that the weak link for deficient students is not math per se, but those types of analytical and critical thinking skills that are developed with a longer-term exposure to mathematical reasoning (Atin, we've talked about this in fact). There is also some selection bias in which students are more or less attuned to acquiring these critical skills. Some students (namely non majors forced to take economics courses) have deliberately avoided those types courses as much as possible, taking just the bare minimum. At the same time, this choice may reflect those students' rational awareness of her or his own abilities. Therefore a "D is for degree" approach to their econ courses may be optimal for obtaining the degree credential. Similar selection bias has been show to be exhibited in the fertility choices and educational outcomes of women.

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