Still another bite at a “farewell to algebra”

While I’ve expressed my skepticism about letting many (if any) students opt out of algebra, I have also posted about many math educators’ concern that universal algebra requirements result in schools offering dumbed-down math courses that penalize gifted students.

Here’s some more support for this point of view, from the Fordham Institute’s Education Gadfly.

The “college for all” klaxon has reached near deafening levels, with much attention paid to ensuring that every youngster has access to the courses necessary to prepare him or her for post-secondary work. But as more kids are flung into mandatory college-prep courses, what happens to the high achievers who already occupied desks in those classes? So asks a new study by Takako Nomi from the Consortium on Chicago School Research. Following six cohorts of Chicago high school students (more than 18,000 in toto, spread across close to sixty schools), Nomi examines the consequences of a 1998 Chicago policy mandating that every ninth grader take Algebra I. First, Nomi finds that this algebra-for-all policy resulted in schools’ opening mixed-ability classrooms—and all but abandoning practices of tracking. The resulting mixed-level classes “had negative effects on math achievement of high-skill students.” To wit: Rates of improvement on math tests slowed for those top-notch pupils placed in heterogeneous classrooms (findings consistent with our own prior work on the topic). All students deserve to be challenged to achieve their full potential. This includes our highest flyers, whose needs are too often subjugated to the grand plans of social engineers.

The story includes a link to the study, but it is only available to subscribers or for a hefty fee.

I still don’t see why requiring all or most students to take algebra leads to non-tracked math classes . . . but apparently it often does.

I’d  be very curious to hear from any readers who have had direct experience with movements away from (or toward) tracked algebra education.

One comment

  1. Carolyn Sharette

    It doesn’t make sense to me that requiring all students to take Algebra leads to non-tracking of students. At our schools, we don’t call it tracking, we call it “achievement-leveled grouping”, signifying that we place students based upon what they have achieved thus far – as opposed to “ability” based which is terribly subjective and doesn’t work out that well for students who may be bright but are highly unmotivated.

    I assume that requiring all to take Algebra could lead to a general attitude that “everyone has to take it, so we can just put kids all together since they are at the same level” which is misguided thinking at best. Schools SHOULD require algebra for all, and then they should assess students and place them in achievement leveled groups that take into consideration things like where the student assesses into the curriculum, AND the students’ needs for academic structure, behavioral structure, and independent work speed. When we do this and we place students in groups where they are with students at or near their level in these things, the group can progress at maximum speed.

    Our staffing plan includes 2x as many math teachers as English, History, Science, etc. For example, if we need 1 History teacher to cover 6 sections (teaching 180 students), we would need a minimum of 2 fulltime math teachers for the same number of students (180) so that the class sizes can be smaller and so that we can offer these different types of levels. We have had great success with this model. We do have to cut out other things to make it happen, but since student academic achievement is our #1 goal, we find a way to make it work.

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