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Okagaki, Pelesko and Vukelich pen op-ed piece in The News Journal

This fall, the University of Delaware will welcome its largest, and arguably strongest, incoming class of students. Admitted with high SAT scores, excellent high school grade-point averages, outstanding service experiences, and glowing recommendations, these students will descend upon the university eager to tackle the challenges of college and confident in their (and their parents’) belief they are “college-ready.”

Yet, three of every five of these students will find themselves placed into mathematics courses that repeat what they should have learned in high school, and one of every five of these students will find themselves in a remedial mathematics course that earns them no credit toward their degree. If the newly admitted UD student happens to be a Delaware resident, the odds of him or her needing remedial coursework in mathematics is even greater.

Unfortunately, the cost of this lack of preparedness extends far beyond students’ disappointment. Parents find themselves paying for extra summer courses as students attempt to get back on track, students find themselves behind many of their peers and taking one or two extra years to obtain their degrees, and taxpayers find themselves having paid the bill for something that wasn’t delivered. Students who start their college careers in remedial coursework are considerably less likely to obtain a degree. This is despite U.S. colleges and universities spending nearly $7 billion annually on remedial instruction in mathematics.

Four years ago, Delaware became one of 45 states that adopted a new set of standards known as the Common Core State Standards in English Language Arts and Mathematics. This adoption represented an important first step toward ensuring that when students arrive on our nation’s higher education campuses, they are “college ready,” that is ready to learn and ready for participation in college-level credit-bearing courses. We urge parents, teachers and lawmakers to stay the course and continue toward this goal.

It is important to understand what the Common Core standards are and what they’re not. The Common Core standards are not a textbook; they are not a prescription for how instruction must be provided in the classroom; and they are not a set of worksheets that parents will see their child bring home from school as homework to complete.

The Common Core standards are a set of objectives –statements of what children should know and understand at the end of each grade – and they are a promise that if students demonstrated that they have met these objectives they will find themselves not only ready for admission to college, but ready to actually begin college-level, credit-bearing coursework when they arrive on campus.

Although there are Common Core standards in English language arts, our focus here is mathematics. The Common Core mathematics standards urge educators to narrow the breadth of topics they teach and to push students to more depth in each of these topics.

They urge educators to not only focus on learning the steps to solve a particular type of problem, a skill that is increasingly less valuable in the modern world, but also to focus on how mathematics can be used to solve real-world problems. They urge educators to help students develop the habit of “thinking mathematically” and seeing mathematics as not a course to be passed, but as a valuable tool to be cultivated and used.

Realizing the full promise of the Common Core standards, that is, ending the mathematics “remediation problem” and genuinely having students on track for college-level coursework when they arrive at college, is not something that will happen overnight. Parents should become familiar with the Common Core standards and hold their local schools accountable for teaching to these standards.

Teachers, likely already very familiar with the standards, should continually seek to increase their own content and pedagogical knowledge, and the Delaware Department of Education should encourage and continue building a genuine and strong partnership between K-12 and higher education in Delaware in support of these aims. It is a long road, but it is the right road, and one along which Delaware should continue traveling.


Lynn Okagaki is dean of the College of Education and Human Development. John A. Pelesko is the chair of the Department of Mathematical Sciences. Carol Vukelich is director of the Delaware Center for Teacher Education University of Delaware.


This article appeared in The News Journal on August 11, 2014.