City Journal Winter 2016

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Winter 2016
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Ze’ev Wurman and Bill Evers
Out of the Equation « Back to Story

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Why has no one (neither the article's authors nor anyone else) responded to the comment posted by Robin Johnson below (September 25, 2012)? If her contention that the learning objectives of the traditional Algebra I course are covered throughout the middle school grades by the Common Core standards is correct, it obviates the call to retain Algebra I as an option for advanced eighth graders. In other words, if the claim is factual, the national Common Core standards, at least with respect to introductory algebra, exceed those of California and should, therefore, be embraced by anyone who agrees with the article's quoted statement of former Governor Schwarzenegger.
The Math experts would not sign off stating these standards leave kids at least 2 years behind. I can tell you first hand with all the fuzzy math basics are skipped over and gone. This is not what I want for my child or any other. Back in the day they had already rejected this type of teaching in the 60's. They have brought it back again through a back door, it failed before, it will fail again. But so will our children.
There seems to be a global misunderstanding here about what is actually contained in the Common Core Middle School courses. I took Algebra I back in the 1970's, and went on to MIT. Many (most) of the learning objectives of the traditional Alg I class are contained within the Common Core Middle School 6-8th grades courses. The high school common core standards in math actually take the student BEYOND what we learned in the Alg I, Geometry, Alg II sequence "back in the day."
The Left knows only one way to achieve its false equalities - destroy the high-achievers, level all to the lowest common denominator. How very tragic that this should be happening in California, the very home of high tech!
But why is this false equality never imposed on athletics? Let's deny training to the athletically gifted and insist that our teams save a quota of spots for the less co-ordinated.
Those with tin ears and no comic timing should not be disfavored in talent contests, either.
False equality in sports and entertainment would do us a lot less harm than false equality in algebra.
It seems we are not only facing times when politicians want to redistribute the wealth. They also are attempting to redistribute academic achievement by holding back those who have more ability. These are the ideas of a declining nation. The California I left after graduating from College no longer exists.
With all due respect, I think we are too quick to dismiss the concerns of those who wish to do away with the building blocks of education and life, living, being and doing.
Algebra is one of those. And, if we recall, philosophy at the high school and even the college level was another.

The problem is students, parents and casual observers often ask "Will I ever use Algebra in life? If so, how?" Unfortunately, almost all teachers and even professors do not or cannot answer their question. As a result, Algebra becomes one of those esoteric courses, as students find no connection and thus cannot and do not engage with any real interest.

Yet, we all "seek to solve" for X (the unknown or uncertain) in life. For example, when we want to purchase a TV, a car, a home, or when we are seeking a career, or perhaps a relationship. The process of Algebra teaches us to put things in order, simplify--add, substract, multiply and/or divide...until we
arrive at what X equals.

Students of Algebra learn "process" is important to "outcome." The same is true of education on the whole. Of course we must not do away with Algebra, for if we do we take away from our students' and "our" completeness.

I would urge both the authors to look into the Hewlett Foundation's acknowledgment that CCSSI is just a ruse to change assessments, curriculum, and instructional practices. The President acknowledged the same first in a speech at a Nevada high school and then in his Convention acceptance speech.

California Tomorrow has a 2010 report out on using the Hewlett deep learning strategies and the freedom of the new formative assessments to push Critical Race Theory and Change Agent training in the schools.

CCSSI will go down as the greatest Bait and Switch ever if accurately perceived in time. Otherwise it will be the final assault on the US noetic system.

And it always has been about levelling our best students and making school and now colleges and universities about attitude and values reclarification.

CASEL, CASEL everywhere. Systems Thinking. Eliminating Fixed Mindsets in favor of Growth Mindsets.

Of course they are taking Algebra out, the 1998 2nd edition of Best Practices complains that the California Governor overrode the original reforms in favor of restoring an emphasis on computation.

What this article refuses to address are the tens - if not - hundreds of thousand of students who drop out of high school or are unable to get a diploma simply because they an not pass algebra - or get too frustrated trying to pass it and drop out.

I was an AP math/science major in high school when I graduated in 1966 - and I have yet to need any of the higher math I spent three years learning when I could have been learning about subjects I already knew would be part of my future life.

But the real tragedy is the high drop-out rate in both LA and California schools - and banning algebra as a condition of graduating - retroactively - will do more to increase the number of students who finish high school than anything else.

This would also allow those who want to try algebra later in high school to get into college (on a pass/fail basis where the fail would NOT be on their records)or when they feel better prepared to tackle the subject - the option to do so without fear of hurting their academic record.

Or the time not spent on algebra, might be used to help those struggling with even basic math - to better develop those skills. And if they can then master those skill, they should be allowed to try algebra - but only in a way that will not harm their overall grade average.

So while I disagree with any move to make it harder to take algebra, I far more strongly disagree with keeping it as a requirement to get a high school diploma.
I taught HS science and math in the 90's. It was always the case that the younger the student was when they took a specific math class the better they did. Some students entered HS having taken Algebra in 8th grade and Geometry in summer school. They began 9th grade with Algebra 2. 100% of the time they got an A in the class, while the juniors or seniors in the class typically (not always, some did very well) struggled to get a B. Another problem of public education is that many administrators did not study math and science in the university. Way too many teachers despise math. In all likelihood, Senator Hancock must think that her bill will help the mathematically challenged. Surrendering to the lowest common denominator will leave the students at an extreme disadvantage.
Dropping algebra from the 8th grade curriculum amounts to expelling the top 50% or so from school.

Imagine its reading equivalent: no books with big words or compound sentences will be allowed in 8th grade. Students may not be shown any book more complicated than Little House on the Prairie.

Parents who learned algebra in 6th, 7th, or 8th grade and who have children ready to learn it at that age will have no choices other than to leave California, enroll their children in a private program, or home school them in algebra. Parents who didn't learn algebra? Their children are just screwed.

Algebra is a must-know subject. For the child who's ready, it's a liberation. It's an explosion of light in the head. How DARE they deny the next generation that human heritage? Later is too late, for those hoping to go beyond unskilled work. There is no royal road to mathematics. The course must be walked, and each step takes time. Kids who don't start early won't get far enough before the clock runs out on high school.

What's more, school can be boring. Algebra, happily, offers a challenge. It's a realm in which there's a bright line between right and wrong, where getting it right isn't easy but "getting it" is exciting. Students who are turned off by the emptiness of school are as much "at risk" as those who struggle to keep pace with the convoy.

The idea of "no child left behind" was not that no child should get ahead. The proposal is worse than mistaken or misguided. It's an abomination and an outrage. Aux barricades, citoyens!