In 1999, California legislators decided that all student should pass basic algebra or an “equivalent course” to earn a high school diploma, starting in 2004. But it’s not happening. Districts across the state are getting waivers, claiming they forgot to tell students they needed algebra to graduate. Jennifer Nelson writes in a San Francisco Chronicle column:
Everyone who felt the requirement was onerous came forward to request waivers for regular students, special-education pupils, adult learners and kids in continuation schools. Nearly 5 percent of the state’s high school seniors have not successfully completed Algebra I, yet they expect to march down the aisle and receive their diploma this spring.
. . . The curriculum director for the San Jose Unified School District, for example, told the San Jose Mercury News, “The law says every student must take and pass an algebra course. That isn’t going to happen.” Why not? It’s the law!
San Jose Unified has won kudos for requiring all students to pass college-prep classes, which include algebra, geometry and advanced algebra/trig. They must be waiving the requirement for a lot of students if they can’t even get kids past basic algebra.
A teacher at a continuation school in the Huntington Beach School District told the Los Angeles Times, “I hate this requirement. The downside is for the bottom percentage of students. They’re just not there conceptually, and the [graduation requirement] is like pounding them over the head with a hammer. They were frustrated with algebra before, and now we’re just ratcheting up the pressure some more.”
Let me understand: Kids who don’t like school and aren’t particularly good students may feel pressure to learn, so we should just not ask them to meet any higher standards?
By the way, it’s impossible to evaluate the effectiveness of 19 math curricula funded by the National Science Foundation, says a report by the National Academies’ Mathematical Sciences Education Board. Evaluations of the math programs “fall short of the scientific standards necessary to gauge overall effectiveness.” So, NSF is funding math “reforms” without demanding valid studies of what works. By the time useful research is done, a lot of students will be finding algebra unpassable.