There Ain’t No Such Thing As A Free Lunch – TANSTAAFL
When I talk about TANSTAAFL, I am generally referring to the reality of costs, not the social construct the Heinlein described in many of his stories. Society has simply gotten too complex, with far too many structural inequalities not to have a safety net. Instead, I use a TANSTAAFL as a reminder that everything has a price, everything has to be paid for, that you simply can’t get something for nothing. This is even natural law, described by the laws of thermodynamics.
I read something like this excellent blog post and I am reminded again of TANSTAAFL and the potential costs of Big Data and analytics. When faced with large numbers of people to sort and choose, it makes sense to use screening tools to reduce costs. It’s that you simply can’t get something for nothing. There are trade-offs, some of which are not apparent, some of which have societal impacts. One of these is reliance on math scores for rankings and admission decisions.
I like math and use it heavily most every day. But that is me. Not everyone uses more than arithmetic. This includes a lot of college graduates….and non-graduates that are forced into a college algebra track as preparation for calculus. Non-graduates who are non-graduates in part because of that match track. There is a growing body of support for the idea that students not going into STEM fields need college algebra, let alone calculus, and thus statistics or business math is a better option. Given the continued use and misuse of statistics in the media (and as poor justification for such blog posts as Peter Greene takes on), statistics seems a much better choice.
I am confused though, probably because I don’t have enough data to know whether or not our college graduates score better in math than other countries. On the other hand, I feel pretty confident that our graduation rates would improve if we re-thought our approach to college math. This is a core strategy of the Complete College America Kool-Aid. Thinking back to my time as a math tutor for non-traditional students, I can’t help but think this to be something to consider.
Of course, such a change might have other consequences. We could lose students to that pathway that we really want or need to be exposed to more advanced math. There are other potential costs, I am sure, including the cost of designing the curricula. There (simply) ain’t no such thing as a free lunch.
I could go on, but it is time for the best news show ever – Last Week Tonight.
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