To the Editor:
Some thoughts in response to “Researchers Suggest Early Algebra Harmful to Struggling Students” (April 25, 2012): In our extensive work with algebra-readiness programs across the country, we believe that preparing students for success in algebra is more important than pushing students to take the Algebra 1 course as early as possible.
The key to success in algebra, whether in 8th grade or 9th grade, is in fostering algebraic ways of thinking alongside content coverage and skills development. Rather than push for all students to take a formal algebra course at any particular grade level—which will undoubtedly leave some students behind—we should focus on improving students’ algebraic instruction and understanding at all levels. Algebraic thinking and reasoning should be developed across the grades, even in the elementary grades, and doing so can support the critical transition from arithmetic to algebra.
Taking an algebra course no doubt opens up opportunities to succeed in further science, technology, engineering, and mathematics—all the STEM fields. Most important, however, is making sure students have many opportunities to develop their mathematical reasoning, thereby supporting them to succeed across the spectrum of high school mathematics.
For all students, we should ensure that there are opportunities to succeed in algebra. For those 8th graders who are prepared and ready to take Algebra 1, we should do what we can to make the course available.
June Mark and Bryan Wunar
Senior Project Directors
Education Development Center
A version of this article appeared in the May 16, 2012 edition of Education Week as Algebraic Thinking Should Be Taught Early, Often