America’s math problem

Stop teaching dumbed-down algebra to unprepared eighth graders and we can solve America’s math problem argues Jacob Vigdor in an American Enterprise Institute report. Unprepared students don’t benefit from Algebra Lite and prepared students are turned off to math, he argues.

Charlotte-Mecklenburg schools pushed most eighth graders into algebra classes, he writes. Students scored much lower on the end-of-course exam than those allowed to take algebra in ninth grade — and accelerated students did worse in geometry. The district abandoned the experiment after two years.

Our math problems are largely “self-inflicted,” Vigdor writes. In order to bring low performers up to the standard, schools have lowered standards.

Closing the achievement gap by improving the performance of struggling students is hard; closing the gap by reducing the quality of education offered to high performers—for example, by eliminating tracking and promoting universal access to “rigorous” courses while reducing the definition of rigor—is easy.

The first step to improving math performance is to concede that students differ in abilities, he concludes.

Algebra for all is a growing trend, notes Sarah Garland on Hechinger Ed. “Schools across the country are gearing up this fall to introduce new common standards, which promise that ‘students who have completed 7th grade and mastered the content and skills through the 7th grade will be well-prepared for algebra in grade 8′.”

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