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No Real Solution
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September 23, 2008, 05:57 PM
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Back in August, in a VDARE article entitled "No Real Solution — Arnold Schwarzenegger`s Algebra for Dummies," I explained that the new California policy mandating that all 8th graders take Algebra I was kind of stupid.

Now the Brookings Institute agrees, although under a slightly less provocative title: The Misplaced Math Student: Lost in Eighth Grade Algebra. The LA Times reports:

The new study, released today by the Brookings Institution in Washington, D.C., looked at who is taking eighth-grade algebra and how they are doing.

And there was some ostensibly good news. Nationwide, more students are taking algebra than before. Over five years, the percentage of eighth-graders in advanced math — algebra or higher — went up by more than one-third. In total, about 37% of all U.S. students took advanced math in 2005, the most recent year in the analysis.

Yet some 120,000 of these students — about 8% — are scoring in the lowest 10% on the eighth-grade National Assessment of Educational Progress. Many thousands more are performing well below grade level.

And when students perform poorly in a math course where they don`t belong, no one benefits, said Tom Lawless, a senior fellow at Brookings.

Across the country, "you have 120,000 kids sitting in algebra and geometry classes and they don`t know how to multiply and divide," Lawless said. "That`s an absurd situation. They`re not going to learn anything. And the kids who are sitting next to them, who are well prepared, are not going to learn anything either" because their learning will be slowed down.

On average, there are at least two students in every eighth-grade algebra class with second-grade math skills. That number rises in urban school systems where these students are more likely to attend overcrowded schools with teachers who are less experienced and less likely to have math degrees or college-level advanced math. These students also are disproportionately low-income minorities.

For many, algebra has become a civil rights issue. Students who take algebra early have a leg up on college and career. And minorities and the poor have a glaringly lower enrollment rate in early algebra. But just taking the course is not enough.

As evidence, Lawless pointed to the District of Columbia, which rates near the top in eighth-grade algebra enrollment and dead last on the math portion of the eighth-grade national assessment. Near the top in math achievement are Vermont and North Dakota, which enroll a comparatively small percentage of students in advanced math. There is no correlation nationwide between eighth-grade algebra policies and performance in algebra, Lawless said.[California`s new 8th-grade algebra rule gets some poor marks | Critics warn that the requirement will be bad both for students with solid math skills and the unprepared. By Howard Blume, Los Angeles Times September 22, 2008]]