Thursday, April 2, 2009

Algebra for All?

It is very easy for politicians and various parental groups to push for more algebra (algebra for all in 8th grade and algebra II for all in high school) and the rhetoric sounds so nice. But, the reality is much different. A March 2009 study in Education Week highlights this. The article: Algebra-for-All Policy Found to Raise Rates Of Failure in Chicago states:
The Chicago school district was at the forefront of that movement in 1997 when it instituted a mandate for 9th grade algebra as part of an overall effort to ensure that its high school students would be “college ready” upon graduation.
The policy change may have yielded unintended effects, according to researchers from the Consortium on Chicago School Research, based at the University of Chicago. While algebra enrollment increased across the district, the percentages of students failing math in 9th grade also rose after the new policy took effect.
By the same token, the researchers say, the change did not seem to lead to any significant test-score gains for students in math or in sizeable increases in the percentages of students who went on to take higher-level math courses later on in high school.
“This policy that Chicago tried in 1997 seems to be sweeping the country now and not a lot of thought is being given to how it really affects schools,” Elaine M. Allensworth, the lead researcher on the study, said in an interview.

The simplistic rhetoric of algebra for all and high standards for all does not address the mathematical readiness of students and the often irrelevant traditional algebra curricula. We must stop the rhetoric and discuss the real issues such as a curriculum that addresses the needs of the 21st Century (contextual application not rote drill) with the full integration of technology.

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