Monday, September 25, 2006

Education makes strides

The past week and a half has seen two developments which promise to increase the opportunities for higher education available to students in under-represented socioeconomic groups. Firstly, the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics voted to return to a focus on basic skills in math instruction for grades K-8. Secondly is Harvard University’s decision to terminate its early admissions program, a move which has also been adopted by Princeton. Neither of these ideas involves creating separate admissions standards for under-represented applicants, rather, they call for equal standards to be imposed for all students both during formative years and during the admissions process.

The National Council of Teachers of Mathematics recommendation is being viewed as a break from a 1989 report which advocated for a less “basic facts” approach to learning math. The 1989 recommendations called for the presentation of a variety of topics and methods, and instead of encouraging mastery of material, encouraged students to reason through problems in their own ways. While learning how to think through problems is an important ability to foster, this program left many students far behind their peers by the time they got to high school and college. With out consistent standards, it was often poorer students who suffered from this the most.

The early admissions programs at some of the nation’s most prestigious universities was utilized by the most competitive prospects as a means of determining early whether they would be admitted into their top choice school. In many, but not all of these programs, students must commit a priori to attend the school if admitted. Thus, they would be locked into a deal without knowing how much financial aid they would receive. By eliminating the early admissions program Harvard University has set a precedent from more equality in the opportunity for admission.

Lydia Pfaff
DI columnist

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