Algebra Requirement Gets Mixed Responses

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To some education experts, California's new algebra requirements for all public school eighth graders doesn't quite add up. KPCC's Adolfo Guzman-Lopez reports.

Adolfo Guzman-Lopez: Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger lobbied for the proposal. His appointees on the state board of education passed it eight-to-one. Schwarzenegger's Secretary of Education, David Long, said the change fulfills a federal requirement, and is in line with state efforts to ramp up student skills.

David Long: If they are good, sound readers and can handle mathematics and algebraic functions and decision-making, we think that we've set a good base for them for their future, whether they decide to go to college or any other career they might choose.

Guzman-Lopez: About half of California's eighth graders are enrolled in Algebra 1. On a standardized test of their knowledge last year, fewer than one-third scored as proficient or higher.

California Superintendent of Public Instruction Jack O'Connell says he's all for raising expectations. But he added that the state doesn't have the money to make the necessary overhauls in eighth grade algebra and all the math classes leading up to it.

Jack O'Connell: I don't believe this can happen in three years. And I pray that I'm wrong. I pray that this doesn't contribute to the drop-out problem or the achievement gap.

Guzman-Lopez: High-achieving school districts are in a better position to meet the new algebra requirement. So are school districts that already spend money to improve their math instruction, such as the San Gabriel Valley's Rowland Unified School District. In spite of her district's efforts, superintendent Maria Ott says, the new requirements will strain resources.

Maria Ott: It would require some consistent professional development, which would mean offering some courses to teachers and, you know, the pay, their hourly and daily rate pay for that... it would be a good amount of money, but not an unrealistic amount.

Guzman-Lopez: Last month, Rowland Unified's school board cut almost $6 million from its budget. Governor Schwarzenegger pledged to find the money to help school districts fulfill the new algebra requirements.

Several teachers voiced their opposition to the new policy on KPCC's AirTalk. Laurel, a long-time Santa Ana Unified algebra teacher, said she's frustrated.

Laurel: We just adopted new eighth grade standards which would take place next year, and now they come down with this. As eighth grade math teachers, we're just shaking our heads.

Guzman-Lopez: State superintendent O'Connell expressed doubts about the new policy's future. Democrats in Congress want to overturn the federal education law that pushed California to make the change. That likely legal challenge to the No Child Left Behind Act, O'Connell added, may keep mandatory eighth grade algebra from becoming state law.