- include Math Literacy for College Students (MLCS), Quantway, Statway, and the New Mathways Project.
- create alternative routes to or through college-level math courses, especially non-STEM courses.
- look forward to college needs instead of backward to high school deficiencies.
- emphasize critical thinking and problem solving.
- integrate college knowledge and student success into the course.
- use online homework for skill development and paper homework for concept development.
- use authentic problems and contextualized learning.
Where the differences lie are the execution and philosophy.
Quantway and Statway are part of the Carnegie Foundation's pathways initiative. The New Mathways Project (NMP) from University of Texas-Austin's Dana Center is a pathways initiative that includes a Foundations course at the developmental level as well as college level courses in both STEM and non-STEM. Each foundation has its own policies and protocols for member schools. Membership sometimes has a monetary cost associated with it, which can be substantial for a college. Other times, a member school is asked to contribute lessons, data, feedback, etc. Membership requirements for schools depend on the foundation and the level at which a school wants to work with a foundation. Options are available to provide flexibility for schools. Additionally, member colleges become part of a network that allows faculty to talk to one another through collaboratories. Training is also included.
MLCS is part of AMATYC's New Life initiative, which initially worked with both the Carnegie Foundation and the Dana Center. So the objectives of Quantway, the NMP's Foundations course, and MLCS are very similar. However, MLCS does not require a school to sign a contract or commit to a timeline. Instead, they have independence. But with that independence comes some additional tasks. They must find their own materials and training, if desired. They do not become a member of collaboratory. So they will need to establish a network within their school or with other piloting schools if they wish to have faculty communicating with each other. Because there are so many schools teaching MLCS, this is not difficult to do as it might have been a year or two ago.
MLCS is highly adaptable, ranging from 3 to 6 credit hours and replacing beginning algebra or beginning and intermediate algebra with the option of geometry as well. We chose this course because we believed in the concept of pathways but needed to adapt the course to our state's requirements. To secure a pilot and get state-level approval, we had to be able to modify the objectives and content. Also, an intermediate algebra requirement exists in many states and can heavily affect articulation. Since the MLCS objectives and curriculum were built by faculty from various states, its course outline can flex to address that requirement. Other pathways courses have a defined curriculum and credit hour requirement.
The philosophies are different too. MLCS is about taking a developmental student to college level throughout a semester. When it begins, the content is at the low beginning algebra level but progresses as high as a school wants, potentially to the high intermediate algebra difficulty level if desired. Other pathways courses feel like a college level quantitative literacy or statistics course with just-in-time remediation on algebra topics as needed. We make algebra a focus in MLCS for a couple of reasons. Many students in the course haven't seen much algebra. Those who have taken it often have large holes in their understanding. But beyond both of those concerns, students need options after the course. MLCS students have the option of quantitative literacy, liberal arts math, or statistics after the course. Including a significant amount of algebra allows a student to move to intermediate algebra if they want to bridge over to a STEM track. Without that algebra, they would have to go back to beginning algebra if they change their mind, as is the case with Quantway and Statway.
Pathways courses usually include student success facets with the content in some way, but the execution varies. The NMP Foundations course includes student success aspects but is also recommended to be paired with a student success course. Doing so requires students to take two courses simultaneously. We integrated the student success component into MLCS content for many reasons but a big one was logistics. Pairing courses is a logistical challenge, to say the least. It requires more advising and has more issues with scheduling faculty to teach them and registering students. Keeping all that content within the MLCS course simplifies things considerably. It also gives the student success content more meaning because the content is not separate. It's developed along with mathematical content, allowing students to use math to analyze various aspects of college success.
That idea of practical logistics is a key difference with MLCS and other pathways courses. MLCS was developed by the faculty who were teaching it. Every lesson we have in our book, Math Lit, has been tested repeatedly by us in our classrooms and with many class testers around the country. You learn so much when you teach something yourself. Our materials are the only ones on the market taught by all the authors. There are many materials packages becoming available now written by very talented people who are not in the classrooms where the material is taught. Occasionally, an instructor is also an author but it is not the norm. That makes a big difference. We know the developmental student because we teach them every day. We also know issues that colleges have with articulation, scheduling, adjuncts, resources, and the like. So we wrote materials with those issues in mind. Additionally, it's not necessary to have a Ph.D. in educational theory to use our materials and teach the course successfully. Our intent was that major amounts of training and collaboration would not be necessary. Yes, they are helpful but they are also hard to come by when working with large numbers of adjuncts, something that is typical of most college math departments.
The work and research that foundations do is valuable and necessary for success with this initiative. But foundations are just one necessary facet of a monumental change like this one. It also takes the practitioners from all around the country to make a course work outside of an educational lab and inside a college classroom. It takes the major publishers getting on board to create materials that faculty can use in ways they are accustomed to, such as having MyMathLab for online homework. To my knowledge, there has yet to be a grant-based or foundation-based initiative that scaled on its own. The statistics reform movement has had the most success for an initiative scaling but it too was supported by all the major publishers, not just grants or organizations. Similarly, the Common Core is starting to take off because commercial materials to support its implementation are available.
All of these components (foundations, grants, publishers, and practitioners) are working together to create lift off for the pathways movement. No one person, organization, or method is enough. And no one execution will work for all schools or states. Options are a good thing. Regardless of the approach, we are working for a common objective. How we do that differs but ultimately we are all committed to same goal: meaningful and sustainable change in developmental mathematics education.