CUNY's Frosh Math Skills Don't Add Up

By Victoria Cavaliere and Hasani Gittens
|  Thursday, Nov 12, 2009  |  Updated 3:31 PM EDT
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CUNY's Frosh Math Skills Don't Add Up

AP

Students work out math problems. (AP Photo/ Karl DeBlaker)

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Graduation rates are up at city high schools, but that doesn't mean students can do even basic algebra.

A report from City University of New York found that a staggering 90% of 200 students tested couldn't solve a simple algebra problem. One-third couldn't convert a decimal to a fraction.

Such math involved fractions and decimals, and the results seem to suggest that city middle and high schools aren't preparing students for college, the CUNY report shows.

"These results are shocking," said City College Prof. Stanley Ocken, who co-wrote the report on CUNY kids' skills. "They show that a disturbing proportion of New York City high school graduates lack basic skills."

The lack of math skills means the CUNY students - nearly 70% of which come from city schools - could struggle to keep up with peers, fail classes or even drop out, the professors charged.

The council submitted its report in September 2008 to Schools Chancellor Joel Klein with a plea to work with city schools, The Daily News reported.

"We didn't hear anything until this past June," said Lehman College professor and math chairman Robert Feinerman, noting there was a discussion about working together at the time. "But that whole thing seems to have petered out," the News reported.

CUNY Chancellor Matthew Goldstein countered that he and Klein joined forces several years ago to "tackle the problem head on.... At the senior colleges, we've seen massive improvement," he said.

Meanwhile, the city's six community colleges are so overflowing with applications that the typical fall-back option for high school graduates is becoming out of reach for some.

This fall most of them were forced to abandoned their open-arms admissions policies for the first time, the New York Times reported.

“Enrollment has been growing steadily, but this was a tidal wave for us this fall,” LaGuardia Community College president Gail Mellow, told the Times, noting that the student body had  grown by nearly 50 percent  over the past ten years. “I’ve never seen anything like this. We used to pretty much be an open door.”

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