Join the Joyful Conspiracy

Making mathematics pathways the normative practice at full scale within and across institutions requires coordinated actions across stakeholder groups and across sectors. Uri Treisman coined the phrase, the Joyful Conspiracy, to describe this united effort.

We have organized the information to help people learn about math pathways in two ways.

  1. The Overview below provides general background for a broad audience.
  2. Individual Learn About pages are designed to direct people to information and resources based on their professional roles. For each role, we define the role in relation to mathematics pathways, identify Essential Ideas, and provide links to related resources. We also provide links to national organizations that are part of The Joyful Conspiracy. Many of these organizations also provide valuable tools and resources that support math pathways and related initiatives or have issued statements in support of math pathways.
A New Definition of Student Success
A New Definition of Student Success

Student success has traditionally been measured only in terms of success rates in individual courses. This failed to address two critical questions:

  1. Are students progressing towards completion of the certificate or degree?
  2. Are students learning the concepts and skills they really need?

The Dana Center joins many in the field in advocating for a change in the metrics used to measure student success to address these questions. The quantitative success metric in evaluating math pathways is the percent and number of students who earn credit in a college-level math course that is appropriately aligned to their program of study. Qualitative metrics should assess if the content of mathematics courses aligns to the quantitative skills needed for college, career, and civic readiness and if students are successfully learning that content.


Overview of Math Pathways
Overview of Math Pathways

In general, math pathways can be defined as a course or sequence of courses that a student takes to meet the requirements of her program. The Dana Center advocates for pathways designed in accordance with four principles, which we collectively refer to as the DCMP Model.


The Dana Center Mathematics Pathways Model

Institutions implement structural and policy changes quickly and at scale.

Mathematics pathways are structured so that:

PRINCIPLE 1: All students, regardless of college readiness, enter directly into mathematics pathways aligned to their programs of study.

PRINCIPLE 2: Students complete their first college level math requirement in their first year of college.

Institutions and departments engage in a deliberate and thoughtful process of continuous improvement to ensure high-quality, effective instruction.

Students receive a high-quality learning experience in math pathways designed so that:

PRINCIPLE 3: Strategies to support students as learners are integrated into courses and are aligned across the institution.

PRINCIPLE 4: Instruction incorporates evidence-based curriculum and pedagogy.

Learn more about the DCMP Model and what enactment of each principle entails.

What Do Mathematics Pathways Look Like?
What Do Mathematics Pathways Look Like?

Mathematics pathways should be an integral part of a larger student completion agenda. This vision is summarized in the report, Core Principles for Transforming Remediation within
a Comprehensive Student Success Strategy
, which has been endorsed by over 30 higher education institutions and organizations. While the report’s title specifies a focus
on remediation, we believe the blueprint laid out by the report benefits all students at all institutions.

We also advocate for math pathways to be implemented as a part of broader guided pathwaysview full resourceDownloadFile in which majors are grouped into broad categories or meta-majors. This makes it easier for entering students to make early decisions about general education courses, including mathematics because the default or recommended course is clearly defined. See an example of a meta-major list from Indiana.



Elements of Math Pathways Design

The design of the specific math pathways is based on a “pathways perspective” in which each course is viewed as a part of a pathway with careful attention paid to how students enter,
what the student’s experience is within the pathway, and where students go when they exit.

This is true even if a student only takes one mathematics course. The graphic Elements of Math Pathways Design illustrates the pathways perspective and provides guiding questions to be considered in each portion of the pathway.


Case for Math Pathways

A growing body of evidence identifies traditional postsecondary mathematics as a primary barrier to degree completion and equitable outcomes for millions of students. The two major drivers of this problem can be summarized as a mismatch between mathematics content and student needs and long course sequences that lead to high attrition without increasing student success. The long course sequences impact students who are placed into developmental courses while the misalignment of content affects all students, regardless of their initial mathematics placement. See a full discussion on the Case for Math Pathwaysview full resourceDownloadFile

Students describe the challenges they have faced with mathematics in college.

The mismatch of content to needs is evidenced by the fact that College Algebra was designed as a preparation for Calculus, yet only as few as 10% of students in College Algebra take Calculus (Dunbar, 2005)[i] Students who are successful in passing classes do not learn skills and concepts that will be useful to them. Many others fail the courses, in part, because students are less motivated to learn material when they do not see how it connects to their lives. The five major mathematical professional associations noted the need to address this issue in the Common Vision report, calling “for multiple pathways into and through mathematical sciences curricula, some of which should include early exposure to statistics, modeling, and computation” (p. 13).

The negative impact of long developmental course sequences on student success is documented in multiple large-scale studies including a Community College Research Center study that found only 20% of students enrolled in developmental mathematics earned college math credit in three years or less (Bailey et al., 2010).

OH DMP workship barrier activity_2016_04.JPG

Although the data is dismal, there is great hope in the growing evidence that many underprepared students can be successful in gateway mathematics courses aligned to their program of study if provided well-designed corequisite supports. As shown below, a number of programs have helped underprepared students succeed in college-level math courses at higher rates and in less time compared to the traditional developmental sequences (California Acceleration Project, 2015; Complete College America, n.d.; Rutschow & Diamond, 2015). Most stunning, the highest rates of success have come from one-semester corequisite models. Further, when one-year models are appropriate, their success is greatly increased when the first and second semester are linked through strategies that the Dana Center refers to as strategies for continuous enrollment in mathematics course sequences.


[i] Dunbar, S. (2005). Enrollment flow to and from courses below calculus. In A Fresh State for Collegiate mathematics: Rethinking the Courses below calculus, N.B. Hastings et al. (Eds.). Washington DC: MAA Notes, Mathematical Association of America.