Education Letter to the Editor

Early Algebra: Options to Ensure ‘Readiness’

March 09, 2010 2 min read
  • Save to favorites
  • Print

To the Editor:

In your article “Early-Algebra Push Seen to Be Flawed” (Feb. 10, 2010), Adam Gamoran, a professor of educational policy studies and sociology at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, is quoted as saying that “there’s no simple solution” to the problem of how to help students many years behind grade level in math.

While there may be no simple solution, there is a possible one: Why not enroll these students in classes designed to get them to grade level before they attempt algebra or more-advanced courses? One such option could be an algebra-readiness curriculum that would help students master the math concepts they previously have struggled to understand.

Unfortunately, the algebra-for-all push has relegated algebra-readiness curricula to irrelevance. This was ably demonstrated by California’s state board of education, which first approved an 8th grade algebra-readiness curriculum, then adopted an action to require all 8th graders to take and be assessed in Algebra 1.

The problem is that completing an algebra course with a passing grade does not ensure a student’s mastery of the subject or readiness for more-advanced courses. All students learn differently, so trying to make a one-size-fits-all curriculum won’t work. We need to ensure that they receive the appropriate groundwork for success in an algebra class, so that we stop pushing them into algebra before they are ready.

Cary Matthews

San Francisco, Calif.

To the Editor:

A strange statement in “Early-Algebra Push Seen to Be Flawed” requires a response. In a quote, Chrys Dougherty, a senior research scientist at the National Center for Educational Achievement, says, “Simply sticking students in courses without preparing them ahead of time for the class does not seem to work as an intervention.” Surely he jests.

Mathematics is a cumulative subject; elementary students build a solid foundation of skills and concepts before later proceeding to prealgebra and algebra, the gateway to higher math and science courses. The move to discovery, integrated math in the 1980s and 1990s eliminated content-rich sequential coursework and weakened that foundation.

By 2000, the pendulum was swinging back toward more-traditional math education, including the “tedious task” of memorizing math facts. But reconfigured grade levels and credential requirements meant that students in the crucial middle grades did not always have teachers trained to prepare them for prealgebra and algebra.

When I began teaching math in the 1960s, we had remedial, regular, and honors classes in various academic subjects. But the cry for equality caused districts to revise that policy. By the 1980s, my Algebra 1 classes contained gifted 8th graders, average-ability 9th graders, and 10th graders who had already failed the course—a frustrating situation.

New studies on tracking suggest that recognizing students’ differences can help boost their achievement. Math teachers know that rigorous preparation is required for algebra. Students’ individual differences mean 8th graders are not always ready. Why does this surprise researchers?

Betty Raskoff Kazmin

Medford, Ore.

A version of this article appeared in the March 10, 2010 edition of Education Week as Early Algebra: Options To Ensure ‘Readiness’


Budget & Finance Webinar Leverage New Funding Sources with Data-Informed Practices
Address the whole child using data-informed practices, gain valuable insights, and learn strategies that can benefit your district.
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Classroom Technology Webinar
ChatGPT & Education: 8 Ways AI Improves Student Outcomes
Revolutionize student success! Don't miss our expert-led webinar demonstrating practical ways AI tools will elevate learning experiences.
Content provided by Inzata
Classroom Technology K-12 Essentials Forum Tech Is Everywhere. But Is It Making Schools Better?
Join us for a lively discussion about the ways that technology is being used to improve schools and how it is falling short.

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Teacher Jobs
Search over ten thousand teaching jobs nationwide — elementary, middle, high school and more.
View Jobs
Principal Jobs
Find hundreds of jobs for principals, assistant principals, and other school leadership roles.
View Jobs
Administrator Jobs
Over a thousand district-level jobs: superintendents, directors, more.
View Jobs
Support Staff Jobs
Search thousands of jobs, from paraprofessionals to counselors and more.
View Jobs

Read Next

Education Briefly Stated: May 31, 2023
Here's a look at some recent Education Week articles you may have missed.
8 min read
Education Briefly Stated: May 17, 2023
Here's a look at some recent Education Week articles you may have missed.
8 min read
Education Briefly Stated: May 3, 2023
Here's a look at some recent Education Week articles you may have missed.
8 min read
Education Briefly Stated: April 26, 2023
Here's a look at some recent Education Week articles you may have missed.
8 min read