Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Eighth Grade Algebra (updated)

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Thank God that I'm not in school now, because I would not have made the Algebra requirement that is now law.

The California State Board of Education passed the 8th grade Algebra mandate yesterday and everyone is weighing in on the controversial issue. Someone sent me an e-mail to add my opinion to the blogosphere, so here you go.

First of all, anyone that is against this is going to be called a believer in underachieving and blamed for being directly related to all the ills in the education world. This is crap of course. There is a difference between high expectations, and the act of setting students up for failure. I think the 8th grade Algebra mandate is doing more to set kids, and the system, up for failure for a variety of reasons.

Math is a progressive subject that students must learn and master before moving on to the next phase. If students can't add and subtract, they will have greater problems with multiplication, and then have greater problems with division, and then fractions, and so on. Saying that students will figure out algebra when they have been pushed through an education system that doesn't hold them back if they don't know math, is quite ridiculous. I was in the standard 8th grade math, then Pre-Algebra as a freshman, and finally Algebra I as a sophomore. When I went to college it took me three semesters to pass Intermediate Algebra. I look at math like a foreign language that I don't comprehend well, and advanced math as something that has little relevance in regular society (Darren at Right/Left will disagree). However, I wasn't allowed to pass college until I finished the required courses. Primary level kids are not being held back because they have trouble in math, and will continued to be funneled to high schools even if they don't know the subject matter. Are middle schools prepared to hold back students for the sake of algebra?

Schwarzenegger's Secretary of Education was asked about the cost of the new mandate. He stated that it would cost billions, with a 'b', to fund the effort to get 8th graders to pass Algebra. We are talking about a serious boom for textbook companies (what a surprise) that will be humping books, supplementary materials, computer programs, online software, and other crap items that districts will be required to use to get kids through the mandate. When pressed about where this money will come from, the Secretary basically said that he was hoping that California's budget situation would improve, otherwise he didn't know. That's one hell of a way to pay for a program.

As usual, the government is still hiding it's head in the sand when realizing that the problem with Education is much more systemic. Instead of addressing the problems of the whole, politicians cover their ass by saying that kids need to know more, and then pass a mandate that requires that more money be spent in a broken system. It will make headlines, probably shift a couple of borderline students into success, but will ignore the issues like ELD kids, students with special needs, and students that are victims of bad teaching.

It is quite embarrassing for a state that considers itself to be a world leader in innovation to have no clue about fixing a system to educate it's citizens.

Updated 8/12:

What a surprise. The estimated cost of implementing the program is about $3.1 billion, which you might see as insane, but that's because you think you have a clue about how education works. I mean education as a political practice by the way, not education as in the actual learning, because neither the mandate, nor the $3.1 billion will do much. Go up about three paragraphs and you will see where the money will go. Can you say "textbook company windfall"?

Another surprise, the state has trouble finding qualified Algebra teachers. Yet the State of California, and the teacher's union, won't look at making wages higher for teachers. I mean, we are talking about an increase in the demand of teachers, right? Higher pay? Either the state should cave and increase salaries all around (which is insane and won't happen) or the unions should look towards some sort of bonuses for exceptional teachers and teaching areas that are in demand (which won't happen because unions like to protect bad teachers in the interest of staying in power).

This is a stupid political trick by Arnie that is becoming a stupid financial issue thanks to Jack O'Connell, and will be dropped in the laps of teachers that have plenty of real issues to worry about.

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