Algebra II or welding?

 States are dropping college-prep-for-all requirements  in a school standards rebellion, writes Stephanie Simon on Politico

Florida students no longer need chemistry, physics or Algebra II to graduate from high school. Texas just scrapped its Algebra II requirement. And Washington state has dropped its foreign language mandate.

. . . They’re letting teens study welding instead of Spanish, take greenhouse management in place of physics and learn car repair instead of muddling over imaginary numbers.

The college-for-all idea is elitist, say career-tech proponents. With rising college debt and more film studies graduates working as bartenders, there’s growing interest in “middle skill” technical jobs. 

President Obama and Education Secretary Arne Duncan have been talking up vocational education recently, but they want all students to have college-level skills, writes Simon. “Especially worrisome” is “the risk that low-income and minority students, as well as children with disabilities, could be pushed into the vocational tracks.”

New Mexico state Rep. Mimi Stewart, a Democrat, has introduced a bill to drop the Algebra II graduation requirement. “We are supposed to be doing college and career readiness, not college and college readiness,” Stewart said.

Indiana State Rep. Wendy McNamara, a Republican, wants to design a vocational diploma with input from local employers.

College prep has crowded out vocational options, argue The Jobs for Texas Coalition. “For 20 years, we’ve been ratcheting up the rigor required to get out of high school, and we started to see unintended consequences,” said Mike Meroney, a spokesman for the coalition.

Letting kids opt out of college prep doesn’t mean they’ll spend a lifetime flipping burgers, Meroney said. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics lists two dozen fast-growing occupations that don’t require higher education and pay $35,000 to $55,000 a year, including heavy equipment operator and car mechanic. “What is the real purpose of education if not to prepare your students for jobs?” Meroney said. “Seriously. That’s what we keep asking.”

While Texas has dropped the Algebra II requirement, Minnesota and Connecticut are phasing in Algebra II mandates, writes Simon. 

New York set new college-ready benchmarks, but won’t expect graduates to be college ready till 2022. Louisiana is aiming for 2025.

Core meltdown

In Core Meltdown Coming, Education Realist looks at how the Common Core will change math instruction.

Right now middle school math, which should ideally focus almost entirely on proportions, is burdened with introductions to exponents, a little geometry, some simple single variable equations. Algebra I has a whole second semester in which students who can’t tell a positive from negative slope are expected to master quadratics in all their glory and all sorts of word problems.

But Common Core standards add exponential functions to the algebra one course load and compensate by moving systems of equations and exponent laws to eighth grade while much of isolating variables is booted all the way down to sixth grade. Seventh grade alone bears the weight of proportions and ratios, and it’s one of several curricular objectives. So in the three years when, ideally, our teachers should be doing their level best to beat proportional thinking into students’ heads, Common Core expects our students to learn half of what used to be called algebra I, with a slight nod to proportional thinking . . .

“Half” of geometry is being pushed down to middle school too, writes Ed Realist.

In theory, students will arrive in high school ready to learn “complex, real-world mathematical tasks.” But only if they’re able to learn in middle school what many students are not able to learn in high school.

Under Common Core, college and career readiness requires passing Algebra II. Education Secretary Arne Duncan says Common Core will stop us “lying to kids about whether they are ready. Finally, we are telling them the truth, telling their parents the truth, and telling their future employers the truth. Finally, we are holding ourselves accountable to giving our children a true college and career-ready education.”

Honesty doesn’t require new standards and tests, writes Ed Realist.

 We could just say to any kid who can’t score 500 on the SAT math section or 23 on the ACT: Hey, sorry. You aren’t ready for college. Probably won’t ever be. Time to go get a job.

If we don’t have the gumption to do that now, what about Common Core will give us the necessary stones? Can I remind everyone again that these kids will be disproportionately black and Hispanic?

Common Core math was designed to get schools to teach “integrated math” rather than the traditional algebra, geometry and advanced algebra sequence, writes Ed Realist. North Carolina, Utah and West Virginia have made the switch. Integrated math is a great way to hide the fact that many students aren’t prepared for college math, writes Ed Realist.

Texas, Florida drop college-prep-for-all

Texas won’t require all high school graduates to pass Algebra II, reports the Texas Tribune. Of five new diplomas, only the honors and STEM diplomas will require advanced algebra. The school board feared struggling students would drop out if they saw no realistic pat to a diploma.

Only half of the state’s high school graduates go directly to college, writes Sophie Quinton

Rather than a recommended four years each of math, science, and social studies, Texas students now need just three credits in each and must take five end-of-course tests rather than 15. Students will be able to earn “endorsements” in areas such as public service, arts and humanities, and business and industry. The State Board of Education is currently debating which endorsements will require Algebra 2.

Florida is rolling back college-prep-for-all requirements passed in 2010, writes Quinton.  Students who take Algebra 2 and either chemistry or physics will earn a “scholar” diploma, while those who earn one or more industry certifications will earn a “merit” designation.

Sixteen other states have made Algebra II a graduation requirement, she writes. So far, they’re staying the course.

Once a state has multiple high school diplomas, it makes a lot of sense to create a college-prep diploma, a vocational-prep diploma and a basic diploma for those with minimal skills. People worry that fewer disadvantaged students will go to college. I think more will earn a degree if they’ve chosen the academic track. And those who choose the technical/vocational track will have a decent shot at success.

College-prep for all — with easier math

Math teachers at my daughter’s old high school oppose a plan to require all students to pass college-prep classes required for admission to California universities, known as A-G courses. They say some Palo Alto High students — disproportionately black, Hispanic and disabled — can’t pass the school’s demanding Algebra II class, which requires more than the UC/CSU standard.  Water it down to the minimal level and students will end up in remedial math in college, the teachers warn.

The department chair, Radu Toma, wrote the letter (posted on wecandobetterpaloalto.org), which is signed by his colleagues. He taught my daughter Geometry in ninth grade and AP Calculus in 12th grade. Her Algebra II and pre-calc teachers signed too.

The math teachers are snobs who only want to teach advanced classes, argues LaToya Baldwin Clark in the Palo Alto Weekly. Require A-G for graduation, she writes, and create an easier Algebra II class for average students who don’t have parents who can tutor them — or pay for tutoring.

By the department’s own admission, even the regular lane Algebra II class greatly exceeds the UC/CSU. In the view of Toma and his colleagues, “diluting the standards in our regular lane to basic benchmarks which might allow every student to pass Algebra II would end up hurting the district’s reputation.” The department refuses to teach an Algebra II that satisfies UC/CSU requirements that students can actually pass. And where does the Paly math department think those students who fail to complete Algebra II should go, rather than to college? They can “go on to community colleges or jobs for which district prepares them better than most districts.”

The reputation of a high school is enhanced when all students go to four-year colleges.

Last year, 85 percent of all high school graduates in the district met the UC/CSU requirements. But only 5 percent of special-ed students, 15 percent of blacks and 40 percent of Hispanic graduates were eligible for state universities.

Many of the black and Hispanic students have transferred from neighboring East Palo Alto, a low-income and working-class town, under a desegregation agreement. Many of the Palo Alto students are the children of very well-educated parents who work in high-tech or at Stanford. There’s no question that Palo Alto’s two high schools are designed to prepare students for very competitive colleges and universities.

The local community college, Foothill, is one of the best in the state. But graduation rates are low for community college students. Starting at a four-year university — San Jose State is the likely choice — would raise the odds of earning a bachelor’s degree.

But we’re still talking about long odds. Most remedial math students never earn a degree.

If a basic Algebra II is created, it should be aligned with college placement tests, so students know if they’re on track to take college-level or remedial classes. If the high school maintains high standards in its regular-lane Algebra II, then teachers need a strategy to help math-challenged students pass.

There’s another option: Work with Foothill to create a career-prep track. Community colleges offer programs that qualify students for a “middle-skill” job in two years or less. Some require advanced algebra, but others do not. But this would be seen as setting low expectations for other people’s kids. It wouldn’t fly.

 

Algebra II mandate gains momentum

Algebra II is becoming a required course in a growing number of high schools, reports the  Washington Post.

Of all of the classes offered in high school, Algebra II is the leading predictor of college and work success, according to research that has launched a growing national movement to require it of graduates.

In recent years, 20 states and the District have moved to raise graduation requirements to include Algebra II, and its complexities are being demanded of more and more students.

In Arkansas, which now requires Algebra II for most graduates, only 13 percent of students passed a rigorous end-of-course exam.

“All those numbers and letters, it’s like another language, like hieroglyphics,” said Tiffany Woodle, a Conway High School student and an aspiring beauty salon owner. “It obviously says something. I’m just not sure what, sometimes.”

As part of its push for higher standards to prepare students for college, Achieve has promoted Algebra II. The skills learned in the course are needed for college and in the workplace, the group claims.

But Georgetown’s Anthony Carnevale, one of the researchers who reported the link between Algebra II and good jobs, says that just because taking the class correlates with success doesn’t mean that it causes success.

“The causal relationship is very, very weak,” he said. “Most people don’t use Algebra II in college, let alone in real life. The state governments need to be careful with this.”

The danger, he said, is leaving some kids behind by “getting locked into a one-size-fits-all curriculum.”

Does Tiffany really need advanced algebra to run a beauty salon?

Economist Russ Roberts, who’s married to a math teacher, warns of a one-fad-fits-all mandate on Cafe Hayek.

II Doesn’t Always = II

Algebra II Doesn’t Always = II, reports the Washington Post.  To prepare students for college and for technical careers, 20 states and the District of Columbia now require students to take advanced algebra. But the course content and standards vary significantly from school to school:  One school’s Algebra II is another school’s Remedial Math.

“I want to make sure that if a student takes a course, it’s really a significant course, not a watered-down version,” said Ronald A. Peiffer, Maryland deputy state superintendent for academic policy.

Peiffer said that when the state made Algebra I a graduation requirement in the early 1990s, many schools began offering two versions, the traditional course and one some teachers called “baby algebra.” The state tried to rectify the disparity later, mandating an end-of-course graduation test for Algebra I that students are expected to pass to receive a diploma.

Ninety percent of Virginia’s Algebra II students passed the end-of-course Standards of Learning exam. Students need the course for an advanced diploma, but skip it if they’re content with a regular diploma.

Achieve worked with a group of states to design a national end-of-course Algebra II exam with both open-ended and multiple-choice questions.  It was tried last year in a dozen states. “In some states, only one in five students passed,” the Post reports.