The push to have all students take algebra by the 8th grade may do more harm than good, says new research from The Brookings Institute. The push began in the late 1980s when the U.S. decided that it needed to bring accelerated math to more students earlier, in order to keep pace with other countries. However, the push to rush all students into advanced math is beginning to backfire.
The new research shows that as younger students take advanced math, achievement scores on year end math tests go down. This has to do with the curriculum. Because the students are younger and do not have strong math skills, the curriculum is watered-down so it can be taught to all. The problem this creates is that the skills required for high-level math such as trigonometry and calculus never get aquired.
The theory behind pushing algebra 1 to the eight grade is commendable. This is being done to ensure that minority and underprivileged kids who normally would opt out of algebra in high school, take it as a required course in middle school. While it is true that some eighth graders are ready for algebra, regardless of their race or social status, many are not. And that is where the problem lies.
One of the statistics in the report is striking. ”A 2012 North Carolina study of 141,000 students found students taking algebra early scored significantly lower on end-of-course tests in Algebra I. And, they were less likely to pass standard follow-up courses.”
Andrew Hacking, an emeritus professor of political science at Queens College in New York states, “Today at 11 o’clock, 4 million 14-year-olds will be required to study algebra. I regard that as senseless, mindless, sadistic and irresponsible.”
What should homeschoolers do with this information? It is simple. If your child is strong in math by middle school, by all means have them start algebra in the seventh or eighth grade. However, if your child is struggling in math by middle school, pushing advanced math concepts on them will not work. Instead work on strengthening math skills before advancing to algebra. This way when they do take algebra 1, they will be ready for a rigorous course that will challenge them and it will give them a solid foundation for higher math courses.
Lynda Altman has homeschooled her 4 children over the last 15 years and has 2 children in homeschool. She believes that homeschooling is a parent’s G-d given right. Lynda writes a blog called Homeschooling When Mom has Cancer. Get notices when this page is updated by clicking on the subscribe link, by email, or contact Lynda @fusgeyer on Twitter.