July 11, 2008

California requires Algebra I for all 8th graders

I took Algebra I in 9th grade, when I was 13. I presume I could have done fine in it in 8th grade, but I was a lot more logical in 9th grade than in 8th grade, due to puberty. But nowadays, every 8th grader in California's public schools has to take Algebra I.

Why? Because nobody cares about federalism anymore: it's part of the No Child Left Behind act. The Department of Education has finally noticed that states were making their mandatory tests easy, so they are cracking down by requiring Algebra I questions in the 8th grade state test.

And because George "soft bigotry of low expectations" Bush is a liberal creationist.

Nanette Asimov (yes, she's Isaac Asimov's niece) writes in the San Francisco Chronicle:

All California eighth-graders in public school will have to take Algebra 1 beginning in 2011 under a policy approved Wednesday by the state Board of Education in an 8-1 vote.

The board decided to make algebra testing mandatory in the eighth grade over the strong objections of Jack O'Connell, the state's elected schools chief….

O'Connell is a complete nimrod, but even he knows that lots of kids aren't bright enough at age 12-13 to get much out of Algebra I.

But board President Ted Mitchell said the move shows there is "unequivocally one set of standards for all kids, no matter their ZIP code, race or income level."

Ordered by the federal government to bring California's eighth-grade math testing into compliance with No Child Left Behind, the board endorsed the mandatory Algebra 1 testing over a more moderate approach urged by O'Connell, math instructors from around the state and the California School Boards Association.

But the board members sided with Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, who appointed them, and in a rare move overruled the strong recommendations of the state superintendent. The governor had asked the board to make algebra mandatory and he expressed satisfaction with the result.

"California's children have already proven that when we set the bar high, they can do anything," Schwarzenegger said.

Sure. They're not mathematical girly men. All they need are some Brain 'Roids.

To be fair to the Governator, I suspect he's one of the few politicians who has used much algebra since getting out of school -- he was a successful building contractor in his spare time, starting off as a bricklayer.

The decision was also supported by business groups and the chancellor of the community college system, Diane Woodruff.

Algebra 1 has been a high-school graduation requirement in California since 2004. Students are encouraged to take it in eighth grade, but can take it any time before graduating.

There are nearly 500,000 eighth-graders in public schools. Currently, 52 percent take Algebra 1. Each spring, they take the California Standards Test for Algebra 1.

Eighth-graders who aren't enrolled in Algebra 1 take a different exam: the California Standards Test for general math.

This year the U.S. Department of Education found that the general math test was out of compliance with the No Child Left Behind Act because it measured only sixth- and seventh-grade material.

So California was given a choice: Pump up the general math test to include Algebra 1 items, or require everyone to take the Algebra 1 test - which in effect requires all eighth-graders to take Algebra 1.

Failure to comply - that is, if the board had done nothing by the end of this month - would have disqualified California from several federal programs and placed most middle schools on a list of failing campuses that could ultimately be restructured from the bottom up.

"I have strong reservations about requiring all eighth-grade students to take Algebra 1 within three years without also offering any additional changes, support or resources for our public school system," O'Connell told the state's school superintendents in a two-page letter Tuesday.

He said that most eighth-graders who take general math already struggle with the material and that requiring them to take an even tougher course without extra help - tutoring, for example - is "highly irresponsible."

Among the eighth-graders in general math, he said, 86 percent of black students and 84 percent of Latinos score below proficient on the state test.

What could be better for all concerned that to shove the bottom half in with the top half in 8th grade Algebra I classes? I'm sure the 8th graders who should be in Algebra I will learn even better with classrooms full of kids who shouldn't be in it.

One thing a state can do in response to this kind of federal meddling is to raise the minimum age for kindergarten. (I wrote about the spreading practice of "redshirting" little boys by having them spend two years in kindergarten back in 2002.)

My published articles are archived at iSteve.com -- Steve Sailer

30 comments:

rightsaidfred said...

Steve, we can legislate success!! I know it. I haven't seen any proof, but I just know it.

Why is the 'ramp to failure' so crowded?

Anonymous said...

We are only taught to make parallels to Nazis. But those who do not remember history are doomed to repeat it.

http://www.ibiblio.org/expo/soviet.exhibit/collect.html

Stalin's First Five-Year Plan, adopted by the party in 1928, called for rapid industrialization of the economy, with an emphasis on heavy industry. It set goals that were unrealistic-- a 250 percent increase in overall industrial development and a 330 percent expansion in heavy industry alone. All industry and services were nationalized, managers were given predetermined output quotas by central planners... But because Stalin insisted on unrealistic production targets, serious problems soon arose.

http://sitemaker.umich.edu/dimitrova.356/nclb_overview

School Improvement: A Five Year Plan

Under NCLB, States and school districts are required to provide assistance to local Title I schools in an effort to improve those schools’ performance. The Act lays out a plan which is to be implemented if any such schools fail to meet AYP. ... Finally, if the school does not meet AYP for a fifth year, the school must be “restructured.”

http://www.rethinkingschools.org/special_reports/bushplan/drop181.shtml

"You need to understand the atmosphere in Houston," Dr. Kimball said. "People are afraid. The superintendent has frequent meetings with principals. Before they go in, the principals are really, really scared. Panicky. They have to make their numbers."

Pressure? Some compare it to working under the old Soviet system of five-year plans.

http://www.usatoday.com/news/education/2007-06-06-schools-opinions_N.htm

Congress then added a third ingredient — the requirement that 100% of students be proficient in reading and math by 2014. While states initially enjoyed a relatively free hand in determining what percentage of students had to be proficient, they are ratcheting that number up as 2014 draws closer....

Absent such changes, state reports of rising achievement will be as useful and reliable as those old reports by Soviet commissars, claiming food production had doubled in line with the Kremlin's five-year plan — and never mind those empty store shelves.

halfbreed said...

Not only is Algebra I for all eight graders a wonderful idea, I think that California should also move to stamp out sexism by insisting that any school where the girls don't perform as well as the boys on the President's Physical Fitness Test should have federal funds withheld from it. We have to move away from the soft bigotry of expecting girls to do fewer pull-ups etc. than boys. I'm sure the Governator would agree with this.

Jewish Atheist said...

And because George "soft bigotry of low expectations" Bush is a liberal creationist.

I love how everything you don't like is "liberal." Even when the two prominent politicians involved here are Republican George Bush and Republican Arnold Schwarzenegger.

Ooh, those pesky liberals get me every time!

Horatio said...

I'm ambivalent on this. While I certainly don't believe all students should be taught algebra in 8th grade, a much larger proportion of them could handle it than are currently enrolled. We need to stop making kids feel good about mediocrity. Reaching the limits of your intellect can be ego crushing, but it also builds character in a way that feel good fuzzy math courses never could.

Lucius Vorenus said...

You know, if they stick to their guns, then this could get really interesting.

Nanette Asimov says, "Algebra 1 has been a high-school graduation requirement in California since 2004."

And we know that more than 50% of all blacks & hispanics in e.g. Los Angeles were already incapable of graduating from high school even before the imposition of the 12th-grade Algebra requirement in 2004.

My guess would be that a student probably needs an IQ of at least 100 - and maybe even an IQ of about 110 - to have any hope of tackling a watered-down Algebra I curriculum [much less a really rigorous Korean/Japanese/Chinese-styled Algebra I].

Which, depending upon where you believe their IQ bell curves really lie, means that no more than about 16 percent [and possibly as few as 7 percent] of blacks and hispanics have any hope of tackling [watered-down] Algebra I.

I guess the big question is the extent to which they water down the thing - can they dumbify Algebra I enough to get maybe 25% of blacks & hispanics to pass it? Will they introduce different flavors of Algebra I for the different schools - maybe Algebra I-AJ [Asians & Jews], Algebra I-C [Caucasians], Algebra I-H [Hispanic], and Algebra I-N [Negroid]?

Will there then be race-norming of the test results - maybe even different tests altogether [I-AJ, I-C, I-H, and I-N] for the various demographies of students?

If not, then, a good 85% or more of all hispanics and blacks will never make it out of 8th grade - which means what? We're back to trade schools for 9th through 12th grades?

And maybe that's what this whole thing amounts to - a surreptitious effort to channel the minorities out of the "college prep" high schools, and into a new, parallel track of trade schools.

[Which is not to say that I would want to live in a house (in an earthquake zone, no less) which had been built by a team of carpenters & brick masons none of whom could master Algebra I.]

H. said...

This is just the kind of thing that drove me out of my native state. California looniness just never ceases, and will continue until the Golden State is completely swamped by Hispanics or slides into the Pacific from an earthquake. And to think that the rest of the nation follows Californian trends!

Anonymous said...

"The Department of Education has finally noticed that states were making their mandatory tests easy, so they are cracking down by requiring Algebra I questions in the 8th grade state test."

I don't think this is quite correct. The DoE has said that the state can't give two different tests. The test given could have no Algebra on it if California wished.

-Mark Roulo

Eugene said...

NCLB is not as strict as the centrally-planned Japanese secondary education curriculum. The big difference is that starting with junior high, Japanese students are ruthlessly sorted by entrance exams, even for public schools. Teachers at lower-ranked schools will certainly teach the curriculum, but will also emphasize "effort over ability."

Because Japanese secondary schools (excepting some American-style private schools) are ranked, and parents may send their children to whatever school they can, no additional government imprimatur is needed. Students and parents consciously choose their own fates according to which school they are able to enroll in.

kublai kahn said...

Peruse the course catalog of any Cal State and you'll find that 75% of the math courses they offer are algebra and pre-algebra. So as unready as most 8th graders are for this stuff, apparently the same holds true for 9th, 10th, 11th and 12th graders.

There seems to be a fixation on algebra and I don't understand why. If there has to be one area of math that we absolutely insist everyone master, I think it should be statistics. It would make for better citizens and more critical readers of the latest journalistic claptrap that confuses cause and effect, level with rate of change, random samples with self-selected ones, etc.

Josh said...

Its sometimes hard to tell if you're being serious or slipping in some subtle humor,but its true,who knew?Arnold worked as a bricklayer in his early years as a young bodybuilder here.But he's not all that saintly,as he recieved a lot of support from Joe Weider,including a car and help with rent. But still...Education is the key! Recently here a downtown lakefront festival was marred by groups of white T-shirt,backward baseball cap wearing black thugs intimidating people and acting up. Near the end of the nite shootings erupted and several people were wounded.Fortunately,only THEY were shot. I thought,if only these "young men" could be sat down in a poorly ventilated room on a hard chair and forced to hear about the Battle of Hastings,the Treaty of Versailles,the Table of Elements and yes,algebra,they would gladly give up their guns and drugs and fighting and get hard boring low paid jobs and save every week and get married to one girl and support their families...

albertosaurus said...

Most of the problems in the world are the result of true stupidity not mere ignorance. No education reform will solve the stupidity problem.

It would be nice if the electorate exhibited less innumeracy. Certainly the Global Warming controversy and the Energy debate would be less bizarre if more participants could handle the math. But I don't hold much hope for improvements anytime soon.

The answer is not likely to be an education answer at all.

As you point out, Asians do well on the math sub-tests. We need to understand the brain physiology that makes that so. We should look into Jewish brains too.

If we had the technology to have all students of whatever race perform academically like Asian or Jewish (or even white European) kids, then the question of when to teach algebra simply evaporates.

I propose that we spend just one percent of the total education budget on research into better brains.

Anonymous said...

Algebra can be taught so that an 80 IQ person can understand it. IMO the simple part of algebra should be drilled into the children’s head and they can start in the 8th grade if they keep it simple. What I can the one rule of algebra you can do lots of stuff to each side of an equation as long as you do the same thing to both sides of the equation. That is the useful part of algebra for 99% of the population, the rest is a trick to show who is more intelligent. The wacky thing is that California wants to show that all the children are above average intelligence. HAHAHAHa.

Moira Breen said...

Hmmm. Here in Iowa they (gasp) track. Kids who score above the cut-off on a math test given at the end of 6th grade can enter the traditional 9th-12th grade math program, beginning with Algebra I, in 7th grade ("double acceleration"). 7th graders who qualify for the "single acceleration" program take Algebra I in 8th grade. (The real prodigies can attend math classes at the local state U.).

So, all the kids in the accelerated series are smarties who have to score high on a predictive test to get in, and everybody (well, the superior, the above average, and the average, anyway), gets to learn at the appropriate level and pace.

Since all the kids in California will be put in the equivalent of one of Iowa's "accelerated" tracks, I guess we can conclude that the average Californian is much sharper than the average Iowan. Which is not surprising, since we all know blue-staters have higher average IQs than flyover types.

Eric said...

What I don't uderstand is, why stop at Algebra? Surely if what matters is setting the the bar high, we should require, say, tensor calculus. Then we'll have state full of Einsteins.

Anonymous said...

There seems to be a fixation on algebra and I don't understand why. If there has to be one area of math that we absolutely insist everyone master, I think it should be statistics.

Because you can't do statistics without algebra, just like you can't do algebra without knowing arithmetic.

Are you really this stupid? Is anyone?

mka said...

"Because you can't do statistics without algebra, just like you can't do algebra without knowing arithmetic."

You can't do sophisticated statistical work without a solid knowledge of algebra and calculus, but you can certainly teach fundamental concepts of statistics and probability using only basic arithmetic. There are actually a number of good introductory stat textbooks that do this (e.g., Kachigan's, Freedman & Purvis's).

tommy said...

We need a tiered diploma system where kids can graduate by obtaining one of two or more different diplomas. Let the bright kids work toward the more prestigious diplomas and let the less intelligent kids obtain less demanding ones.

I think average or somewhat below average students would benefit more from taking precalculus statistics and probability theory than taking Algebra II. Precalculus statistics is going to be more relevant to average students than determining the asymptotes of a hyperbola or using the binomial theorem. Re-emphasizing Euclidean geometry as a serious subject for high school students might also be a good idea.

One of the great things about acknowledging intelligence differences between students would be that we could begin to study in earnest what kids of a certain IQ are capable of grasping, at what age they can learn it, the best approaches to take in teaching it, and how much effort it is going to take to make it stick. A theory of intelligence-centered teaching has been put on hold until the PC dissipates. That is probably most detrimental to the left half of the bell curve. Thank you, cognitive egalitarianism!

Glaivester said...

And because George "soft bigotry of low expectations" Bush is a liberal creationist.

I love how everything you don't like is "liberal." Even when the two prominent politicians involved here are Republican George Bush and Republican Arnold Schwarzenegger.

Ooh, those pesky liberals get me every time!


George W. Bush and (especially) Arnold Schwarzenegger are not really all that conservative.

In any case, if you are implying that Steve thnks that creationism is a liberal belif, that was not his point. "Liberal creation" refers to someone who believes that evolution has not occurred ince humans separated into different races, and that evolution doesn ot explain any human behavior; that we are all blank slates with equal potential.

Ronduck said...

kublai kahn said...

There seems to be a fixation on algebra and I don't understand why. If there has to be one area of math that we absolutely insist everyone master, I think it should be statistics. It would make for better citizens and more critical readers of the latest journalistic claptrap that confuses cause and effect, level with rate of change, random samples with self-selected ones, etc.


I know the bolded parts despite having never attended college nor having taken a course in statistics! Is it really that hard for people to read a short article in the newspaper?

Lucius Vorenus said...

Anonymous: Algebra can be taught so that an 80 IQ person can understand it.

I'm sorry, but I have to call complete B.S. on this.

SKT said...

I took Algebra I in 8th grade about 13 years ago. It was an advanced class at my school. 3 other kids whose father's were computer science professors used to take a special bus to the high school to take Geometry, but I digress.

Algebra I was pretty tough in 8th grade even for the smart kids. I have a hard time imagining the average kid in my class at the time taking a class like that.

SKT said...

After thinking about this some more, I think overall it's a good idea. It takes some real guts for California to do something like this, which is hard for me to say since California is not a state that I respect.

I felt bored during most of my early education. It would be far easier for California to dumb things down for the Hispanic masses, rather implementing a stringent curriculum like this which is tough on the teachers, but necessary to educate the few bright ones that actually need Algebra I skills to get ahead in the world.

Michael said...

I think I dimly recall taking and passing Algebra. What I can't recall is ever putting it to use. I just retired after a bearable-enough 30 year career. Never once had any reason to use Algebra.

What a complete waste of time any math above adding/subtracting /multiplying/ dividing is for many people ...

Ron Guhname said...

One problem is our cultural obsession with reform and progress.

I see the same sort of thing played out at the college level. I dread meetings where the agenda is taking another look at some particular program. As soon as the topic is raised, everyone must be in favor of raising standards. If we leave things as they are, we're an unacceptable, mediocre bunch.

My message is always that our students are just not up to even higher standards--if we want higher dropout rates, fine by me--but I get labeled as apathetic and pessimistic. Nobody ever dares to suggest that we LOWER requirements. Such an idea is simply unthinkable.

It's not just culture--some of what drives it is the self-esteem of the faculty. Working at a run-of-the-mill university, people try to prove they're brilliant by killing the students with difficult work. Courses given by top professors are often easier because they have nothing to prove, and they want to minimize the grading workload.

Anonymous said...

I can't believe people posted saying they don't use algebra in every day life. Sure you do. How do you calculate whether you bought enough paint for your home or how much flour to use to bake a certain number of cookies? Anytime you stick a symbol in place of a number you are using algebra.

This is why EVERYONE should be required to take basic algebra and then apply it to real life problems like mortgages, car leases, and home improvement projects.

Lucius Vorenus said...

Anonymous: This is why EVERYONE should be required to take basic algebra and then apply it to real life problems like mortgages, car leases, and home improvement projects.

But therein lies the looming catastrophe - almost half of all children in the USA today have IQs so low that they will NEVER be able to do these things: They will NEVER be able to calculate mortgages by hand, they will NEVER be able to calculate car leases by hand, they will NEVER be able to calculate the materials needed for home improvement projects by hand.

These children are morons - their situation [and ours, to the extent that we have taken on the burden of providing them succor to the tune of $19,588 per family per year in perpetuity] - their situation [and ours] is HOPELESS.

Big bill said...

Correct terms, lucius: the word is not "dumbify", it is "enstupidate".

Mark said...

We need a tiered diploma system where kids can graduate by obtaining one of two or more different diplomas. Let the bright kids work toward the more prestigious diplomas and let the less intelligent kids obtain less demanding ones.

I've often thought so as well. To make it matter, though, you would have to adopt minimal nationwide standards to make sure that a Cum Laude Diploma from Minnesota means basically the same thing as a Cum Laude Diploma from Mississippi. And then encourage students to actually earn it - say by requiring them to earn it to attend a 4 year college or university or to get a student loan.

Algebra can be taught so that an 80 IQ person can understand it. IMO the simple part of algebra should be drilled into the children’s head and they can start in the 8th grade if they keep it simple.

Repitition makes lots of things possible. The elements of Algebra I that I didn't get in that class (usually because I didn't do the homework) I did get after moving on to Algebra II and Pre-Calc.

OTOH, if millions of students still don't know that the Civil War happened from 1861-1865, even after being taught it over and over agan, maybe there really is no hope for algebra, either.

Anonymous said...

i took algebra 1 in 6th grade and got straight As.