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Algebra for all eighth-graders?

Original post made by Logical concern, Hacienda Gardens, on Jul 14, 2008

I'm concerned about the CA Board of Education mandating that all eighth-graders pass Algebra 1. Some kids take it as an AP class, but I know not all kids have developed the logic necessary for that type of study by eighth-grade.

Anyone else care to comment?

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Comments (13)

Posted by frank
a resident of Pleasanton Heights
on Jul 14, 2008 at 9:27 pm

I tend to agree with Logical's concern. But I conclude this only after some detailed thought.

I took what was then called "Algebra I" 49 years ago in the ninth grade. I handled it, but then again I went on to eventually achieve a Ph. D. in a hard science, so I am not the benchmark against which to compare.

At that time high school students broke into two tracks: those who chose to try for college and those who chose not to. The course program leading to a high school diploma reflected this. So-called business math, general math, etc. was required for the non-college track while four years of higher level math which included two years of algebra got the college track people qualified for the four year colleges they were targeting. At the time I felt that Algebra I was indeed too abstract for many of my contemporaries.

That type of curriculum has changed, but the intellectual capacity of students perhaps has not. Their innate intelligence is likely the same. The curricula today that most students follow is essentially what we called college preparatory. Higher level math concepts are introduced in early grades. By the time the student arrives in high school she prepares for college with math courses in calculus or pre-calculus.

What I don't know really is the content or quality of these primary grade courses that lead to algebra in the eighth grade. Additionally, I don't know what Algebra I really consists of. Is it a watered down version of my ninth grade Algebra I?

If the answer is that Algebra I today is substantively what it was 49 years ago, then I agree with Logical's concern. While we like to think that our kids are much smarter than we were, I believe they are equally as smart.

Smart, as applied to algebra, is the human brain's ability to reason abstractly. Abstract concepts are manipulated logically to arrive at outcomes. This process is then applied to real world examples (the dreaded word problems). This was tough then and is tough now for fourteen year olds.

If we look for evidence that today's youth are smarter than we were in this regard, what would that evidence be? I fail to find any. One might consider the number of graduating scientists and engineers per capita relative to the past, but I believe knowing this number will produce a disappointing result. That's why China and India are eating our lunch, so to speak. They graduate far more. We have fallen far behind.

So, simply testing the hell out of our kids does not solve any problems. If our children are motivated, they will step up to the plate and will achieve in math and science. If not, we will just drive lots of kids in opposite directions with our silly requirements.

Posted by We can do it
a resident of Foothill Place
on Jul 14, 2008 at 9:55 pm

Frank, as usual, very thoughtful comments. I don’t know the details of this mandate, but the way it is framed, I doubt it will work. Look what has happened with the state high school exit exam -- completely watered down and kids continue to struggle to pass it. We need a return to dual tracking, with true vocational outcomes for millions of kids who will never complete college. This is a fact, without emotion. For some reason, there is a misguided thought that all our kids need to go to college. We need quality electricians, general contractors and craftsmen, auto mechanics that can work with advanced electronics and many other labor professions. There is no shame in these jobs. The trick for kids is to elevate their skills to advanced labor, not general labor, since at the lowest skill level people “fight each other for very low wages.

Posted by Cholo
a resident of Livermore
on Jul 15, 2008 at 7:07 pm

Children & Algebra: Difficult for me at age 13 but I passed and also did well in plane geometry. As a teen, I learned languages easily and I also did very well in the visual arts.

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What I don't understand about American schools is that so little attention is given to the visual arts. I eventually earned a BFA/MFA in Painting but there was little if no encouragement for me to become a professional artist in the USA. I understand that PTown doesn't even have a Center For The Arts...tragic!

Posted by Thoughtful Comments
a resident of Another Pleasanton neighborhood
on Jul 19, 2008 at 2:52 pm

The thoughtful comments posted by Frank, by We can do it, and by Cholo...should be considered.

Much wisdom in these comments. I can identify with all the examples given.

For me...algebra was much tougher than geometry. Yet I picked up a degree in classical engineering well as several other degrees in two of the finest universities in the country!!!

Posted by Anonymous
a resident of San Ramon
on Jul 20, 2008 at 1:35 pm

In SRVUSD they offer ALGEBRA I and GEOMETRY in Middle School. The students take ALGEBRA I in 7th grade and take GEOMETRY in 8th grade. Students who are entering 9th grade will take ALGEBRA II. They do not receive credit for these courses taken in middle school. OUR STUDENTS RECEIVE THE BEST EDUCATION.

Posted by Anonymous
a resident of San Ramon
on Jul 20, 2008 at 1:35 pm

In SRVUSD they offer ALGEBRA I and GEOMETRY in Middle School. The students take ALGEBRA I in 7th grade and take GEOMETRY in 8th grade. Students who are entering 9th grade will take ALGEBRA II. They do not receive credit for these courses taken in middle school. OUR STUDENTS RECEIVE THE BEST EDUCATION.

Posted by annonymous
a resident of Another Pleasanton neighborhood
on Jul 20, 2008 at 1:57 pm

Most students in this area DO pass the high school exit exam the first time around. Some students do struggle. Most are special education or English language learners. By the time that students reach their senior year very FEW students have not passed the exam. It is supposed to be a basic test not a test of mastery. I do agree that we are testing these kids to death. Real education does not teach directly to the test. It combines traditional assessments like standardized testing with authentic assessment, when students are asked to apply what they know. There are things that can be improved. Ask yourself this, If the United States is sooo deficient, why do other countries send their young adults here to be college educated? I think because our schools teach how to think for ones self. Maybe we could combine the two approaches.

Posted by Stacey
a resident of Amberwood/Wood Meadows
on Jul 20, 2008 at 2:08 pm

This discussion is about a new requirement to test on Algebra I in 8th grade, not the high school exit exam.

Posted by Joanna
a resident of Another Pleasanton neighborhood
on Jul 25, 2008 at 5:47 pm

Cholo, don't confuse California with America. I can't speak for every state, but in two others where I have lived children have art class every week in every grade. I couldn't believe they didn't have art in the public schools in every grade when I moved here.

Posted by J. Henson
a resident of Vintage Hills
on Jul 25, 2008 at 6:19 pm

I think it's pointless. Saying that everyone must pass algebra in eighth grade doesn't make it so. Even if students jump through the hoops and do actually manage to pass the class, it does not mean that they will all understand algebra. Far from it.

I think that one of the problems with math teaching in this country is that students are pushed into the abstract before they are ready.

In my opinion, it would be far more fruitful if there were a concentration on mastery, rather than advancement. It is because the emphasis is on the latter that many children have to "re-learn" the same math concepts every year. Each year, syllabus requirements force them to move on before they have fully internalized the concepts in question. Thus they do not remember them the following year. Or even the year after that. And eventually, some students fall irretrievably by the wayside.

I think that children would benefit far more from spending eighth grade doing whichever level of math suits their ability. For many of them, it will be a level far below Algebra 1. But if they do this, perhaps they might have some chance of actually understanding algebra when they finally study it.

And perhaps then there would be fewer American adults who equate doing algebra with root canal treatment.

Posted by Not in agreement w/most
a resident of West of Foothill
on Jul 29, 2008 at 9:50 pm

Children in other parts of the world are being introduced to Algebra, and other branches of science at even younger ages. In UK, for instance, the rigor and repitition required to succeed in "O" and "A" levels far exceeds the "challenge" of passing a High School Exit exam in California. My children have gone through Lydiksen, Hart, and Foothill. I am afraid we are in a self-congratulatory mode when we sing praises of the PUSD. It is not a terrible school system, but I certainly don't agree that our children are getting the best possible education....this year, FHS got funding to build an all-weather turf for football, but is cutting out Junior Honors English. Go figure !

Posted by Jerry
a resident of Oak Hill
on Jul 30, 2008 at 12:02 am

Not in agreement w/most,

I hope you're mistaken about the all-weather turf for the football field at Foothill High.

I live adjacent to Foothill High and I watched them install artificial turf on the football field several years ago. I may be wrong but I thought I was told by an on-site installer it was the latest version of all-weather artificial turf available at that time and would last many years under normal use. It supposedly decreases the severity of injuries and requires very little maintainence. If I remember correctly, it has a rubber base and is "pitched" to allow proper drainage. They also installed a new surface on the track lanes around the perimeter of the field during the installation. Don't remember the exact amount but it was very expensive.

Posted by Parent
a resident of Amador Valley High School
on Jul 30, 2008 at 12:06 pm

Phase 1 of the HS master plan calls for replacement of the artificial turf fields at both Foothill and Amador at a cost of $480,000 for each school. There is also another line item for Foothill called "sand field replacement with artificial turf (including relocation of backstop and dugouts)for $1.615 MILLION.
The largest costs on the list though are new fitness rooms for both high schools.
There is a complete list in the school board packet for 1/7/08. I don't know if that was the final list and costs that got approved though.

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