Student works through an algebra problem. (Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons)


Opinion: California’s algebra dilemma

<a href="" target="_self">Alexandra Kim</a>

Alexandra Kim

November 7, 2023
When it comes to math, America falls short of the average. In the 2018 Program for International Student Assessment, American students ranked 36th out of 79, behind Singapore, Finland, and the UK.

In response, California’s State Board of Education released a 1,000-page math framework. But instead of rallying to catch up with our international peers, the report cites narrow studies that recommend holding off on algebra until high school.

This is the polar opposite of what we need. Mastering algebra early is critical for students to take advanced STEM courses such as computer science and engineering. The Board’s proposal would disproportionately hurt those who need the most help: Black, Latino and socioeconomically disadvantaged students.

The solution to inequity isn’t to stop teaching algebra early. The solution is to teach it better — and ambitiously. In countries such as Hungary and Poland, which invest far fewer dollars in education infrastructure, disadvantaged students excel through rigorous teacher retraining and increased resources invested in low-performing schools.

In Pasadena, some eighth-graders take Advanced Placement Calculus BC in an accelerated Math Academy program, according to the Washington Post. In a middle school math placement test, about 5% of fifth-graders in Pasadena score high enough to qualify for the Math Academy program.

We must learn from these examples.

After all, most adults will never need to compute the roots of a quadratic, but most will need to puzzle through unorthodox problems, weigh perspectives on opposing sides of the equals sign and communicate abstract ideas. We can’t afford to lose a generation in a vicious cycle of increasingly lower expectations.