Algebra a tough equation to solve

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Algebra (specifically, high school algebra) truly is a gatekeeper to a student’s future.
Non-technical college degrees generally require completing a college algebra course, which might be called Algebra III. Technical programs require at least one year of calculus. Success in many vocational/technical post-secondary programs certainly depends on skills developed in high school algebra.

Educators, researchers and publishers have struggled for six decades to find a means of delivering high school algebra classes successfully completed by most students. The New Math, Saxon Math repetition, the use of technology and project-based approaches have not been the answer. This year, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation awarded 15 grants of $100,000 each to organizations claiming to have an answer to effective algebra instruction.

A significant number of incoming college freshmen must take “developmental” math, which are non-credit courses covering the curriculum of Algebra I and II. At Central Arizona College and Maricopa County Community College, Elementary and Intermediate Algebra courses require students to finally learn what they could not get in high school. A few years ago, more than 1,000 of the 10,000 incoming freshmen at ASU had to take Intermediate Algebra (Algebra II).

Recently, several journals have published articles investigating high school algebra. The Hechinger Report in a July article recommended the teaching of Algebra I be “slowed down” rather than have failing students repeat the course. A report from St. Louis University offered a program that gave students a “double dose” of Algebra I. Education Week reported an algebra support class taught along with the standard class appeared to benefit students.

Two school districts in Georgia created a sequence for students who struggled in math, replacing Algebra I with a two-year “stretched” approach so concepts are developed slowly. An applied geometry course follows, then Algebra II for Seniors. This latter course is only for 12th graders and the class text is a standard Intermediate Algebra book.
Students are told they can learn it now or pay for the same course when they do not pass the math assessment in college.

Students heading for college tend to be more focused when they understand the consequences of not learning the material. Students who struggled during math class for three years react positively to the Algebra II for Seniors course and many avoided developmental math in college.

Is this something local schools should investigate?

Murray Siegel, Ph.D., has more than 44 years of teaching experience and volunteers at Butterfield Elementary School.

This story was first published in the September edition of InMaricopa magazine.