New initiative Launch Years strives to implement math that matters

Tien Nguyen

Launch Years, a new initiative from UT’s Charles A. Dana Center, hopes to bridge the gap in mathematics education between K-12 and higher education systems.

The Dana Center, which focuses on improving STEM education, is bringing together math educators from K-12 with those at the college and university level to develop Launch Years.

Doug Sovde, director of K-12 Education Strategy, Policy and Services at the Dana Center, said the project has a three-year timeline. A majority of the time will be spent not only creating math courses equivalent to those traditionally offered in high schools such as algebra 2, but also changing the heart and minds of people working in mathematics education.

“The work that is going to take time and energy is helping a wide variety of organizations and institutions believe in the worth and importance of connecting K-12 and higher education in mathematics,” Sovde said.

There is a need for this program because current K-12 mathematics education does not adequately prepare students for their respective degrees, Sovde said.

“What we have in K-12 right now is a system that does a very nice job of asking students to learn the mathematics they need on their way to calculus but it historically has not done such a great job at asking students to learn the mathematics they need for other types of degrees,” Sovde said.

For example, it would make more sense for high school students planning to enter nursing to take statistics rather than calculus as it will be more relevant to the work they will be doing, Sovde said.

“Students often perceive a mismatch between what they care about in terms of their career or degree-earning aspirations and the mathematics they’re being asked to learn,” Sovde said.

Biology freshman Morgan Klein, who plans on entering the medical field, said she experienced this mismatch while she was in high school.

“My high school didn’t really try to guide me toward taking a math course that would be relevant to my career choice,” Klein said. “I never took statistics, and it would have been helpful.”

Providing high school students with more relevant math course options, that are accepted at the higher education level, will help students see the importance of math, Sovde said.

“When we’re able to put things like statistics, quantitative reasoning, data science at the same level as algebra 2 or pre-calculus, then we’re giving students lots of options,” Sovde said. “These options help to take away the barriers to their success as they progress after high school.”

Launch Years will also develop training for high school staff and counselors so they can help students choose that math class that will be most beneficial for their future, said Martha Ellis, the director of Higher Education Strategy, Policy and Services at the Dana Center. 

“We want to help teachers and faculty change their strategies so that they can meet the needs of the current students coming through,” Ellis said.

Presently, the Dana Center is in the process of selecting several states to participate in Launch Years.

“The goal is, as we learn and develop this program, it will go nationwide,” Ellis said. “People have a fear of math. We want to grow the mindset of having success in mathematic courses as opposed to weeding people out.”


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