Another Approach to the Algebra II Debate

By “Algebra II Debate” I mean mandating it at the high school level.

Commentary in the Detroit Free Press

Flanagan ask[ed], “What if that waitress, or store clerk or landscaper wants to change careers and needs to go to college … so they might study to become a medical technician or an architect?”

And my answer to Flanagan’s question is: The waitress would have to take the prerequisite math that she chose not to take in high school prior to studying for those other professions. This is a small burden compared to the two to five years of college that are necessary to become either a medical technician or an architect. Let’s call this a Type I error — the student took fewer math courses in high school than he or she needed in his or her lifetime.

Now, let’s consider the students who will be forced to take Algebra II, and because they did not pass it, will not get a high school diploma (dropout). Let’s call this a Type II error — the student was required to take a math course that he or she did not need in his or her vocation and failed it. Note: In their effort to pass Algebra II, many of these students will not have the time to take much needed vocational training.

I have mixed feelings about this argument, but I appreciate it is different from what I’m used to hearing.

2 Responses

1. Great blog, first time commenting.

The solution is simple. Teach all the same things as in Alg1 in Alg2 and then pat yourself on the back for having X% more of your students working in “college prep math”. To avoid confusion rename the “real Alg2” to Precalc. Continue in this manner until high-track senior are taking Calc3 or something similar.

Seems like this is what all the schools around me are doing. When I moved here I asked about pegging the classes to NCTM standards. The math teacher I was talking to had no idea what I meant.

And that is why I see 8th graders entering high school with Algebra on their transcript. Is there a name for this problem? “Name inflation”? It doesn’t seem like just a math issue either, I see it in language arts. Students in mid-track courses will read Hamlet. Did the understand it? Nope. But that teacher gets to brag that she has her mid-track kids reading Hamlet. (Okay, sample size of one there – but still bugging…)

Of course none of this really helps that waitress if we assume at the college level she is going to really need those skills she should of learned in Alg2. She ends up flunking the college level math class Alg2 was a prereq for and is out that money. Or has to work harder than she should have to in order to keep up.

Or this is a northeastern PA thing and no one else sees this problem.

2. It isn’t just PA.

The catch here with all that is some states are also have/are working on Algebra II tests. What I’ve seen has tended to be within what you’d call “real” Algebra II.

One coping strategy is to stretch the time (have a version of Algebra II which lasts 3 or 4 semesters, which works decently if your school can get the logistics working).