NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Educators Putting More Emphasis on Algebra

August 19, 2002

Algebra is becoming the focus of a major overhaul of middle schools and junior highs that have, according to many critics, worried too much about students adjusting to adolescence and too little about preparing them for the academic load of high school.

Algebra is seen as the gateway to higher math and science -- and some educators say it should completed by the end of the eighth grade.

  • Nationally, only about 25 percent of eighth-graders have completed algebra or a higher-level math course.
  • California has adopted a policy of having every student taught algebra by the eighth grade.
  • Some teachers are criticized for demonizing algebra -- stressing its difficulties -- even though it gives students abilities to handle abstractions, including unknown quantities and word problems, and imparts confidence that extends to other difficult disciplines.
  • Changes in state graduation requirements make it likely that, in five years, students that do not pass a state algebra test will not receive a high school diploma.

At present, however, there is a wide discrepancy among states and school districts as to the emphasis placed on algebra.

Source: Jay Matthews, "Algebra Poses a Problem of Timing," Washington Post, August 18, 2002.


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