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Saturday, April 25, 2009

8th Grade Algebra?

While I do believe that 8th grade algebra is a good thing, it requires us teachers to ramp up the quality and rigor of arithmetic instruction in the previous grades:

Assumption Four: The United States should require all students to take algebra in the 8th grade and higher-order math in high school in order to increase the number of scientists and engineers in this country and thus make us more competitive in the global economy.

This assumption has become almost an obsession in policymaking arenas today. Requiring every student to study higher-order math is a waste of resources and cruel and unusual punishment for legions of students. It diverts attention away from the real problem: our failure to help kids become proficient readers and master basic arithmetic.

The United States must indeed produce more scientists and engineers to compete in a global economy. But it is fallacious to assume that we can accomplish that by requiring every student to take algebra in the 8th grade and higher-order math through high school. It is like believing that by requiring high school students to take a few courses in painting, we will make them all artists.

Most young people who go into science and engineering are well on their way by the time they start high school, because they become hooked on science or math in the early grades and do well in mathematics in elementary and middle school. Some will go on to become scientists and engineers; others will not. To expect otherwise is unreasonable.

If the nation wants more scientists and engineers, then educators need to find ways to awaken and nourish a passion for those subjects well before high school, and then offer students every opportunity to pursue their interest as far as they wish.

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