I’d be curious to know how many schools are actually shifting their curriculum in response to the common core. In my experience, students are placed in 8th grade algebra if they seem ready to handle the challenge, and encouraged to take more pre-algebra when they are not. Supporting this practice are studies suggesting that efforts to move students into algebra faster end up diluting the course for students who ARE ready for the challenge . . . a practice that will hurt the mathematics education of the young people we are relying on to become our future scientists and engineers.
But there are some very strong arguments on the other side, including evidence that minority students are much more likely to take advanced math courses when schools require or at least strongly encourage 8th grade algebra.
Here’s some more data that supports the arguments of math common core critics. A recent analysis of ACT scores among Kentucky high school graduates shows that only 19% of students who complete a math sequence of Algebra I and II, Geometry and Trig score at “ready for college” levels on the ACT. That numbers goes up to 50% – only 50%, I’d note, which is really shockingly low – for students who also take pre-calculus. Intriguingly, adding calculus to the sequence only increases the readiness percentage to 53%, which may actually be an argument for postponing algebra until students are really ready – at least for some students.
My own inclination is to think that we need to maintain “tracking” that enables our more talented and/or motivated math students to push forward to more demanding levels while ensuring that students who struggle more with math aren’t “socially promoted” into math classes they can’t hope to handle. Unfortunately, this same policy too often allows students to indulge their math phobia or relutance to take tougher courses, and they will pay a price in college and beyond. Is it really impossible to combine tough math courses for the gifted or motivated with tough love (and plenty of math) for everyone else?
What do you think?