“No Real Solution”—Arnold Schwarzenegger`s Algebra For Dummies
"Everybody who is in a
position of power knows the facts, but, THINK OF THE
CHILDREN! We can`t deflate their
self-esteem by mentioning the truth in public. Don`t
worry, though, the big guys aren`t naïve—they won`t do
anything stupid just because we`re all supposed to talk
as if everybody is exactly the same in intelligence."
Sounds reassuring, right?
But the evidence from what the big
guys do makes appallingly clear that, in fact,
they actually really, truly believe their own press
Last month, the former action hero
persuaded the California Board of Education, all of
whom he had appointed, to make California the first
state to require that all public school students, no
matter how slow, take
Algebra I in eighth grade.
This will be so destructive that
even the State Superintendent of Public Instruction,
Jack O`Connell, a
notorious nimrod who last year
blamed lower black test scores on white teachers
imposing too much discipline on black children
taught in black churches to be physically active,
Currently, in the massive Los
Angeles public school district,
four percent of students take Algebra I in seventh
grade (as my son did when he went to an LAUSD middle
school), 45 percent in eighth grade, 55 percent in ninth
grade, 20 percent in tenth grade, and eight percent in
eleventh grade. (The numbers add up to 132 percent due
to students repeating the class because they flunked
Here`s that paragraph in
The four percent of kids (in the salmon-colored cells on
the lower left diagonal of the table) who make it into
their second semester of Algebra I in 7th grade, and
thus are qualified to take the California Standards Test
in Algebra I, are the same type of math stars who go on
to take Geometry in 8th grade and Algebra II in 9th
Similarly, the 45 percent of above average kids who take
Algebra I in 8th grade (the yellow diagonal) go on to do
okay in Geometry in 10th and Algebra II in 11th.
The kids in the bottom half of the bell curve (gray
diagonal) begin taking high school level math in 9th
grade. They do poorly in it, as well as in Geometry and
Algebra II. (The kids in the uncolored cells in the
upper right are typically ones who flunked a standard
track course and are trying to catch up later. They do
Obviously, there are many students who would benefit
studying basic math in 8th grade rather than jumping
in over their heads into algebra.
Governator prevailed by an 8-1 vote.
The technical issue at hand was whether the state
would continue to offer two different California
Standards Tests to eighth graders in the late spring of
each school year: a harder one for the half who are
taking Algebra I and an easier one for those who haven`t
started on algebra yet because their teachers and
parents don`t see them as being ready for it.
Testing drives classwork. Hence, making all eighth
graders take the algebra test means that all must take
the algebra class.
Schwarzenegger denounced the current two-track
testing system and demanded equality. Apparently he
thinks only mathematical
girly men worry that some students just aren`t
bright enough for algebra in middle school.
Board of Education president
Ted Mitchell, a Schwarzenegger
appointee, proudly said the new policy rammed home
by Schwarzenegger demonstrates that there is
"unequivocally one set of standards for all kids, no
matter their ZIP code,
race or income level".[Algebra
1 to be required for all 8th-graders, By
Nanette Asimov, San Francisco Chronicle, July 10,
In previous generations, Algebra I was traditionally
a ninth grade subject. It was felt that most students
weren`t ready for the higher level of abstraction that
algebra requires until well into puberty. These
went on to design
space rockets with slide rules, so maybe this wasn`t
such a bad idea.
Lately, though, the educational system has pushed for
introducing more advanced math earlier. And California
has taken the lead. As Schwarzenegger noted in his
decisive letter to the Board of Education:
"Since 2003, the number of California eighth
graders taking Algebra I has increased from 34 percent
to 52 percent, compared with just 30 percent of eighth
graders nationwide. We expected more of our students,
and they delivered."[PDF]
Bunk. In reality, the students didn`t deliver at all.
California public school students scored nine points
below the U.S. average on the National Assessment of
Educational Progress math test for eighth graders. In
2007, after the large increase in the number of
California eighth graders taking Algebra I that
Schwarzenegger boasts of, they lagged the national
average by ten points.
The more things change, the more they stay the same.
Or get worse.
It is true that students who take Algebra I
earlier in their careers average higher on the CST than
students who take it later.
However, there`s a very simple explanation—the kids
who have been getting into advanced math classes at an
earlier age are better at math.
Unfortunately, that`s not the kind of explanation
you`re supposed to mention in polite society.
Here are the percentages of Los Angeles students
scoring Advanced (the equivalent of an A) or Proficient
(B) on the California Standards Tests, with some
color-coding to help you see what`s really happening.
The small fraction of kids (4%) who are good enough
to do Algebra 1 in 7th grade (see the first
table, top left) are so good that well over half (61%)
get an “Advanced” or “Proficient” grade on
the CST. Conversely, the small fraction of kids (8%)
who are so weak in math that they only get to Algebra 1
in 11th grade (see first table again, top
right) are so weak that only one in 20 (5%) get an
“Advanced” or “Proficient” grade on the CST.
A pretty simple model, huh? Nevertheless, it`s
largely unintelligible to our ruling class—due to
pervasive political correctness.
Indeed, Schwarzenegger`s letter is a classic example
of how ideas have consequences—even self-evidently
stupid ideas. Schwarzenegger enunciates the race-denying
Blank Slate theory on
Why? Because we punish prominent leaders like Summers
and Watson who admit that they don`t believe the
reigning dogmas. Therefore, we shouldn`t be surprised
when other leaders, like Schwarzenegger, act as if these
dogmas are real.
Just because there is such a thing as an imaginary
number, though, doesn`t mean there is such a thing as
imaginary reality. But don`t try to convince the
governor of California of that. He doesn`t care.
"The State Board must choose whether we align the
eighth-grade mathematics test with our high expectations
or perpetuate a two-track system: one for high achievers
and one for those of whom we expect less."
Personally, I think a two-track system in math
education seems like a good idea.
Barbie correctly noted: "Math is hard!"
The second semester of Algebra I is particularly hard
California standards focus on quadratics and
The first half of
Algebra I, fortunately, is devoted to straightforward,
widely useful problems like this one taken from the most
California Standards Test of Algebra I (the test
that was the subject of the dispute between
Schwarzenegger and O`Connell):
By the spring, however,
California`s Algebra I standards demand a wholly
different level of cognition:
The answer, symbolically enough, is D: "No real
The United States of America is currently undergoing
an economic crisis caused, in some not insignificant
measure, by California homebuyers who couldn`t calculate
the impact of a rise in interest rates on their home
mortgage payments. We could be teaching the
less-advanced half of eighth graders about interest
rates. But instead, Gov. Schwarzenegger insists that we
teach them all about rational expressions.
expression”, as you no doubt remember, is not what I
say as opposed to what the Governator says—here`s an
example from the CST:
The answer, in case you were
wondering, is C.
The Bush Department of Education
(needless to say, given its authorship of the No Child
Left Behind fiasco—see below) cheered Schwarzenegger on.
The Associated Press
"Assistant U.S. Secretary of
Kerri Briggs praised the board`s action. She said
California was setting a bold goal that would not be
easy to achieve but was critically important. `Kids are
dropping out because they`re bored and they don`t feel
like there`s enough challenge and expectations for
them,` she said. `This may be exactly what they need to
help spur achievement.`"
No, actually—the number of students
who drop out because they aren`t being taught enough
abstract math is negligible.
Far more drop out because they
can`t pass required math courses like Algebra I and
Geometry (and starting, this fall in Los Angeles,
Nor can they see how they would
ever use the kind of techniques taught in the second
Schwarzenegger goes on:
"This fork in the road is a
choice between California`s bold future and a status quo
that is safe, mediocre and unacceptable".
Bunk (again). In reality,
"mediocre" would be a distinct improvement over
California`s present. As Schwarzenegger admitted, "In
2007, California`s eighth graders ranked 44th in the
nation in mathematics achievement".
(By my count, though, California`s
eighth graders actually came in
45th out of the 50 states. Yet, who cares about
simple arithmetic when we have the abstract worlds of
algebra to conquer?)
"I am asking the State Board to
do away with the below grade-level General Mathematics
test and designate the state`s existing Algebra I exam
as California`s test to measure eighth-grade mathematics
for federal accountability purposes. To do otherwise
would lower our expectations and continue to divide our
children between those we believe in and those we leave
frequently accused of over-rating the importance of
IQ. Nonetheless, it`s the mainstream (and nobody more
perfectly represents mainstream thinking than the
liberal Republican governor of California) who
repeatedly act as if they believe
lower IQ people are so innately worthless that we
all must pretend that they actually have the same IQ as
"If we don`t believe in every
child`s potential, how can we ask children to believe in
This is both a cliché and insanity.
We all know that the potential of
some individuals in mathematics is incredibly
greater than that of others. As Charles Murray
wrote in the "Summation" chapter of
Human Accomplishment, quoting math historian
"Before the Eulers, Gausses and
Newtons, we are worms, worms."
And, guess what? The vast majority
of human beings don`t find their sense of self-worth
shattered by not measuring up to
Gauss in mathematics. (Indeed, most of them have
never heard of him.) As
"No one is satisfied with his
fortune, and everyone is satisfied with his wit.`
Schwarzenegger sums up:
"Today`s decision sends a signal
to the rest of the nation that California has faith in
our students to achieve their dreams and exceed
expectations. California`s children have already proven
that when we set the bar high—they can do anything.”
You might wonder whether
Schwarzenegger`s delusional reasoning reflects
steroid-induced mania or merely conventional wisdom.
Yet, these days, is there really
much of a difference? For example, in 2001, President
Bush and Senator Kennedy got together and passed the
No Child Left Behind act, which mandates that
every single public school student in America will by
2014 score "proficient" (i.e.,
This madness is driven by the
perceived need to act as if, real soon now, we`re going
to social engineer all ethnic groups into equality.
children get hurt by this irrational policy-making.