Who needs algebra?

So asks Andrew Hacker writing at the NYT when pondering our (national) educational shortcomings:

This debate matters. Making mathematics mandatory prevents us from discovering and developing young talent. In the interest of maintaining rigor, we’re actually depleting our pool of brainpower. I say this as a writer and social scientist whose work relies heavily on the use of numbers. My aim is not to spare students from a difficult subject, but to call attention to the real problems we are causing by misdirecting precious resources.

The toll mathematics takes begins early. To our nation’s shame, one in four ninth graders fail to finish high school. In South Carolina, 34 percent fell away in 2008-9, according to national data released last year; for Nevada, it was 45 percent. Most of the educators I’ve talked with cite algebra as the major academic reason.

Shirley Bagwell, a longtime Tennessee teacher, warns that “to expect all students to master algebra will cause more students to drop out.” For those who stay in school, there are often “exit exams,” almost all of which contain an algebra component. In Oklahoma, 33 percent failed to pass last year, as did 35 percent in West Virginia.

Love the last quote from a teacher. We can’t teach this skill so let’s just get rid of it, thus preventing more kids from dropping out. Rather than solving the problem (the lack of skill addressed at an earlier grade level when kids are then just passed on like chattel to the next grade without necessarily mastering the skills necessary), let’s … um, get rid of it! That’s the solution!


Hacker points out the need for solid basic math skills. I agree. But that’s lost in today’s education system as well. And next we’ll be told that it’s not necessary, either.


2 Responses

  1. So basically, they want to graduate students for the sake of graduating, not to show that they mastered concepts. Pathetic.

  2. Understanding math is an essential part of understanding our world. My high school piano teacher pointed out that my studies were also gymnastics for the brain. The mental exercise alone is worth it.

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