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Is Algebra Too Challenging to Offer to All?

Is Algebra Too Challenging to Offer to All?

New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio recently announced intentions to ensure all eighth grade students in the public school system have access to algebra.

According to The New York Chalkbeat, this initiative would benefit two groups of students: high-achievers ready for the material and low-performers in need of early exposure for high school preparation, but might also harm students not ready for the challenging coursework.

Opponents of “algebra for all” say that the coursework is too difficult for students who likely won’t need the material in the future.

"Algebra is difficult for so many that some advocate striking it entirely as a graduation requirement. Students who want to fix cars or repair air conditioners should not lose a diploma because they can’t solve for 'x,’ said Andrew Hacker, a professor at Queens College who has argued against the 'algebra for all’ movement,” the article said.

Proponents argue that middle school algebra is a critical subject for even those who don’t intend to pursue a career in math and science, and necessary for advanced students to remain on track.

States and districts who have made algebra a mandatory graduation requirement have found indications that for students who were not ready for the material, early exposure might make them perform worse in math later on.

“in 2008, California made algebra an eighth-grade requirement, and thousands of middle school students poured into algebra classrooms. A study later found that students who had enrolled in eighth-grade algebra performed worse on 10th-grade math tests. Similar stories unfolded in North Carolina and Chicago when schools instituted algebra for all policies,” the article said.

On the flip side, if algebra is made optional rather than a requirement for eighth graders, disadvantaged students are likely to be excluded as teachers are more likely to pick high performers who are often privileged.

"The city’s strategy for avoiding that scenario is to offer algebra in every middle school, rather than the 60 percent that currently offer it and among those schools, fewer than 30 percent of students take the state algebra exam,” the article said.

“Still, it remains an open question how these programs will be implemented and whether they can shift algebra readiness in the nation’s largest school district.”

Read the full story here.

Article by Nicole Gorman, Education World Contributor


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