Yesterday I read an article in the Washington Post discussing the movement in some states toward making Algebra II mandatory. I found the article via Get Schooled blog post at Atlantic Journal-Constitution. Below is my comment on the issue.
America is the country that really believes in numbers. Students are not performing well – give teachers more money, still not good, put more computers in classrooms. Kids do not know arithmetic – make them take 4 years of math in high school.
Funny, but no one will attempt to build a four story building if the foundation or any of previously built floors are not good. Any construction worker who did not take algebra II in high school knows one simple fact: before laying any new layer of bricks the previous one must be done correctly.
Will most of the children use the knowledge of Algebra II in real life? The answer is no. Crystal clear. Right? The Washington Post article quotes an employment manager at a plant saying:
We’re looking for people with the ability to think critically,” said Jeremy Cannady, until recently a manufacturing efficiency coordinator at the plant. But “not the ability to do exponential functions or logarithms.” [link]
Really? What about compound interest? Do you need general public to understand the brutality of compound interest when it works against you in mortgage or car loan or the beauty of it when one is starting the retirement savings at 22.
Compound interest is an exponential function, but guess what? Kids can not understand it since they can not do simple exponents, which are part of Algebra I.
4 years of bad teaching is not better than 3 years of bad teaching. Algebra I is the key. If every kid in America knows Algebra I well, America’s future is safe and sound.
2 weeks ago I was interviewing a beautiful young kindergarten teacher. I gave her a simple problem to solve: 2X-2 = 10. She wrote X=10. I said why, she explained that she subtracted 2 from 2 and was left with X on a left side of the equation.
When I draw the following picture X + X +2 = 10. She started to think. I explained to her that 2X means 2 boxes of apples. We do not know how many apples in each box, but we know that there are the same amount. So in this problem we have 2 boxes of apples plus 2 apples, and we know that together we have 10 apples. She solved the problem immediately and was surprised how easy was it. She got her teaching degree, but X is still a problem.
Do we need to make Algebra II mandatory?
My answer: we have a bigger problem. We graduate kids who do not know Algebra I. What they are going to do in the future economy?