mathematics readiness

New math initiative targets high school-to-college readiness

Targeting the time from late high school to junior year of college could help improve students' math performance

A new initiative from the Charles A. Dana Center at The University of Texas at Austin aims to drastically improve students’ college readiness and success in mathematics by targeting the “junior to junior year” timeframe.

The new initiative, called Launch Years, looks to align K-12 schools and higher education and is supported by a $6.68 million grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

Launch Years specifically looks to address barriers that keep many students–especially first-generation college students and those from low-income families–from progressing in their math courses between their junior year of high school and their junior year of college.

Launch Years rethinks current structures, policies, and practices that shape the mathematics experiences students have in those years, because they tend to be critical in preparing students for entry into college and guiding them through higher education pathways to degree attainment. Successfully progressing from high school through college math coursework is an obstacle for too many students.

“Mathematics across K-12 and higher education has been marked by high failure and dropout rates, too often becoming a burial ground for our students’ aspirations,” says Uri Treisman, Dana Center executive director. “Focusing on the critical junior-to-junior year timeframe, the Launch Years initiative puts forward a fundamentally new approach to mathematics. It maintains the rigor needed for postsecondary degrees and high-demand jobs, while also creating new pathways for significantly more students–including those traditionally underserved–to thrive in college and realize their dreams.”

This multiyear strategy includes work in several states, to be announced in early 2019, to begin enacting new approaches to high school mathematics pathways. This includes bringing together K-12 school districts with regional higher education institutions to identify the needs of today’s students and create clear paths for their success.

“We’ve focused for years on preparing college-ready students. Launch Years recognizes that we must create student-ready colleges,” says Carolyn Landel, managing director of the Dana Center. “Mathematics pathways reforms in higher education have redefined college readiness. Yet, K-12 school districts have had almost no visibility into that changing landscape and are therefore disconnected from the implications for their curriculum, teaching staff and students.”

Another critical component of the Launch Years initiative looks to ensure the mathematics pathways established between K-12 and postsecondary translate to the needs of today’s workforce. During the past 20 years, mathematics has become increasingly important to a growing number of professions, particularly with the proliferation of data and its impact in business and in our everyday lives.

“Through the Launch Years, we’re looking to establish a new dialogue–one that brings together K-12 and higher education but also includes the voices of equity advocates and professional societies,” says Doug Sovde, director of the Dana Center’s K-12 education strategy, policy and services. “It’s this consensus-building process that will shape how we create–and ultimately implement–a new framework for high school mathematics that connects seamlessly with higher education and the needs of today’s workforce.”

As part of the Gates Foundation award, the Dana Center is joined by partners Education Strategy Group, Community College Research Center (CCRC) and Achieve Inc.

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