A Better-Qualified Algebra Teacher

By Sean Cavanagh — November 18, 2008 1 min read
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The state of Arkansas and the city of Chicago have shown the capacity to produce presidents from the Democratic Party. But less appreciated are their efforts to produce ... middle school algebra teachers!

A couple weeks ago, I wrote about a venture by Arkansas to create a specific endorsement, rather than a generic one in math, for teachers who want to teach algebra at the middle school level. The idea is to produce educators who are better prepared to teach that class in middle school, at a time when, across the country, more students are being asked to take introductory algebra in middle school. Unfortunately, a lot of them are lost in that class.

I recently found out that a major urban school system, Chicago, established its own middle school credential in algebra, called the CPS Algebra Qualification. It was launched in 2004. To receive it, Chicago teachers must have a general middle school endorsement, take certain courses, and pass a teacher-qualifying exam.

Chicago’s algebra endorsement is part of an overall effort to give more students access to that course in middle school, rather than waiting until high school. Chicago Mayor Richard M. Daley spoke about the city’s algebra efforts late last month outside a middle school, saying that “we know that the earlier we expose some children to more complex challenges, the better they’ll perform in the long run.”

Chicago officials say the number of students in middle school taking algebra has more than tripled since 2006—mostly in 8th, 7th, and 6th grades, CPS officials told me.

Much of the work in Chicago has been undertaken through a project called High School Algebra for Middle Grade Students, a partnership between CPS and three universities in the Chicago area: DePaul University, the University of Iliniois at Chicago, and the University of Chicago. Chicago city schools worked with university faculty in coming up with criteria to show that teachers are ready to lead a middle school algebra course.

As states and schools press to teach algebra at earlier grades, expect to see more of these course-specific algebra credentials take hold. Administrators recognize the importance of algebra, and the importance of seeing it taught well.

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A version of this news article first appeared in the Curriculum Matters blog.