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July 29, 2012


No student should be granted a degree without passing basic math and by any measure, algebra is extremely basic math.

In NZ, in the last three years of High School we have a qualifications course - NCEA Level 1, 2 and 3 respectively. So everyone starts off doing NCEA level 1 in the third to last year of school and keeps going as far as they can/want. So when they leave school they could have a qualification at level 1, level 2 or level 3 (or none). About 80% of kids who attempt level 2 get the qualification. And vocational training after school builds on the same system so it can start at Level 1/2/3/4 and go to Level 7 IIRC.

This three level High School qualification system means that High School isn't an all or nothing situation.

But it's pretty tough on the kids because it means national exams 3 years in a row.

The north central Europeans have the better approach. Looked at from the perspective of a dual education system, the issue is no longer one of passing algebra in order to earn a relatively worthless high school diploma; preferred is a system wherein every young person can earn a qualification (a sneaky word, with a particular meaning in labor economics not commonly understood by Americans) of more worth than a high school diploma, and one in which one does or does not study intermediate algebra depending upon its relevance to the educational career one has chosen. This means general education for everyone for nine years, not twelve; and in those first nine years intermediate algebra is only attempted in high achieving systems, which ours won't be even after the introduction of the Common Core.

Typo: "though he does't mention"

Aren't you making an assumption here? That "rigorous standards" (which are usually enforced via standardized testing) can help a "great teacher" to "spark interest" for students?
I see no data to suggest this is the case, an many anecdotes suggest the default result is actually the opposite.

More formal instruction can be counter-productive. When it comes to remedial instruction in community college settings (and this means algebra for mathematics), shorter course sequences produce better student outcomes. Part of that may be an artifact of the fact financial aid can't always cover courses that don't bear proper college-credit, or that these are typically busy adult students, a chunk of whom will drop out in any given semester (thus, the more semesters you ask them to sit through, the worse your outcomes, period). But it's imaginable that there's more too it than that- that the way we teach math is counterproductive.
Personally, I suspect there are few "great teachers" when it comes to math- only teachers who gel with certain students. Math is not verbal, and it is tricky to communicate and teach. And in all subjects, different students respond differently to different instruction styles.

There is a huge amount of racism/classism/ugliness with tracking as it is implemented in many US schools. There is a huge amount of ugliness in what are seen as less-than rigorous standards. Those are real problems, but requiring every individual pass to pass algebra to get a diploma will not help address them.

I don't understand why it would be called "tracking" if students had to demonstrate proficiency in K-8 math before being scheduled for Algebra 1, and had to pass Algebra 1 with a C or better before being scheduled for Algebra 2. It's not as if you can do well in those subjects, no matter how good the teacher, if you haven't mastered what goes before. To me, it should instead be called "readiness." And if it took a student longer to reach readiness, that should be OK.

hi.. hope this finds everyone well.

Wondering why ... in 2012 we are interested in Standardizing Public Education and moving toward a national curriculum??

This standardization... with assoicated tests have a very predictable out come of winners and losers!!

Funny to me... people argue over the content of this stuff ... algebra ...latin... does not matter...

who benefits?

hmmmm... interesting times...

be well and i enjoy your writing...michael

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