I used to blog for my old company, but they took the blog down. I am
not actually allowed to own the writings I put up on that blog, but as
I reference them on occasion in my writing I am putting those articles
up in my archives here for reference sake. I'll put the tag GS on those
articles noting that they were originally published on the http://schoolfinder.globalscholar.com/blog/
Higher Standards or Pie in the Sky
July 11, 2008 – 5:09 am by Brendan
It’s now a requirement that all 8th grade students in California pass Algebra. Yeah for tough standards.
Wait a second, Algebra, most 8th graders don’t even take Algebra today.
According to the AP article Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger issued a letter the night before the state Board of Education asking for an algebra requirement.
Let’s start out by saying anytime politicians are making major changes to policy that will affect thousands, if not hundreds of thousands of people, and cost billions, perhaps they should put a bit of thought into it. Then again perhaps Gov Schwarzenegger did and merely issued his letter at the last minute because he thought that was the easiest way to get the idea approved.
Which ever is the case asking students to pass Algebra in 8th grade is something that is going to hold a lot of students back. I think more students can do it than you might expect, however calling it Algebra is actually going to hurt. (I taught an 8th grade class that was about ¾ Algebra, but the kids didn’t have a problem learning it because it wasn’t called Algebra.)
I like the idea of holding students to higher standards. I don’t like the idea of using Algebra to put a block on graduating 8th grade. The problem is not just that Math is a subject that requires understanding before moving on, Algebra especially depends on the maturity of the student. The ability to understand concepts of variables and describing the world in terms of numbers and letters literally requires the brain to mature to a certain extent.
I don’t have the time right this second to look up some research on this, I simply remember it from school. The truth is I might be working under a false memory or new research might have contradicted this idea, but for now I am assuming it is correct.
For most students the maturity to truly understand concepts of variables under the complicated usage of Algebra just doesn’t click until about the age of 12 or 13. Thirteen or fourteen is the age of most 8th graders. So they should be able to understand the concepts of Algebra. However the average student can vary from what is expected by as much as two years without being thought of as “special”. This means that there can and will be a significant portion of the population that will not have the ability to understand and pass an Algebra class by the end of 8th grade.
So this idea by the California State Board of Education is either good, because it will require all students entering high school to reach a mental maturity not currently required. Or this idea could mean more students thinking they are dumb because they have to be held back, when in reality they may be normal.
I’m against this simply because of the last minute letter and avoidance of public scrutiny. I think holding students to higher standards is good. I don’t think this standard is too high, but it also shouldn’t be a line in the sand. For some students, we need to make 15 year old 8th graders realize they are normal, for others we should let them slide along and let them catch up later. The right choice comes down to the internal motivations of the student.