Friday, October 22, 2010

A Brief Conversation with Jack Ditty

I met Jack Ditty on Tuesday.  He is the Republican candidate for State Senate in the 18th district.  He was in Maysville for a candidate forum that evening.  I only had a few moments to talk with him.

He asked me about the amount of developmental math students enrolled at the college.  There has been some concern about the number of students who are enrolling into community colleges, and four-year colleges as well, who are placed into developmental classes.  It is the belief of some that students who are placed into developmental classes are there because they weren't successful in high school math classes.  I got the feeling that was Dr. Ditty's opinion as well.

The problem that I have with that interpretation of the increasing number of students in developmental mathematics is that it assumes that developmental students at the community college are recent high school graduates.  I know from teaching a few developmental courses, and extensive time in the advising center, that developmental students are there for many reasons.  It is common to see student in advising has been out of school for ten or more years, and has tested out of developmental reading and writing.  It is the math skills that these students lose the fastest.  Also, one of my prealgebra students this semester was home-schooled.  It is important to remember that the community college population is very diverse.

One suggestion that Dr. Ditty made to reduce the number of students in developmental classes is to allow students to take classes at the community college during their last two years of high school and graduate high school with both a high school diploma and an associates degree.  Again, I don't see this as a solution to this perceived problem.

I have a problem with students taking too many college classes in high school.  First of all, colleges are not designed to accommodate high school students.  I teach a section of College Algebra to the students of Mason County High School.  We are very careful to limit the number of regular college students in that section.  If we didn't the section would fill up during spring enrollment, and there would no room for the students.  That happened last year, and we had 42 students at the first class meeting in a room with 30 seats.  Also, the students coming from Mason County have already taken precalculus, so I have to teach college algebra with a different emphasis than I would for students who are coming out of intermediate algebra.  The high school students quickly get bored, so classroom management is an issue.

With more students, community colleges will have to hire more faculty.  At our college, all of the full-time math faculty are teaching overloads.  The adjunct instructor pool is small for rural communities like ours, so adding additional sections can only be done with great pains.  Hiring faculty is difficult because of budget cuts and competition from industry for people with advanced degrees in math.  Adding more students from the high schools will only add to the problem.

High schools will suffer when students are siphoned to the community colleges.  When I was in high school, there were students who were bussed to the local vocational school.  Being high school students, we picked on those students.  By moving the "better" students to the community college, the students who are left in high school will be the second class students.  Student moral is already low enough without adding such a clear distinction between students.

I am able to articulate these points over the internet after a few days to collect my thoughts.  My only response to Dr. Ditty at the time was, "Nice to meet you."

In the interest of equal time, Dr. Ditty's opponent is Robin Webb.  I am unable to find a campaign website for Ms. Webb.