Tuesday, September 9, 2008

The 2008 Algebra Revolution

This is a follow-up to the posting on "Parents lobby to raise the education bar and face hurdles "
The district publicly reported that 135 children opted to take the more rigorous Algebra 1 Course.

I wrote about it in the an opinion piece:

Oakland Press: Parents right to stand up to board (09/05/08)

(by the way, I did't write the headline! I would've called it "Parents stand up for increased rigor!")

Here is the full article, in case the link doesn't work:


In late August — days before the start of school — some Rochester middle school parents connected to press for a critical curriculum change … and won!

This display of parent resolve gives hope that attitudes about education are changing.

These parents recognized the importance of insisting their eighth-graders take Algebra 1, setting higher expectations for their children than those set by the district. Hopefully their actions will inspire other parents, and send a clear signal to educators that it’s time to raise the bar.

The story begins two years ago when State Superintendent Mike Flanagan led the effort to reform high school graduation requirements. It the time, the state expected but a single class in government and one in gym/PE. Requirements have since been updated to what are now among the highest minimum standards in the nation.

Michigan high school students must now take four years of math and English, and three years of science. Graduates must at least complete Algebra 1, Geometry, and Algebra 2. The state wisely defined the content of each class, preventing schools from circumventing the requirements with inappropriate class names.

The Rochester math curriculum was adjusted to meet new state guidelines, and parents discovered students in the Class of 2013 — incoming eighth-graders — who had taken pre-algebra last year were scheduled to take a “new” prealgebra course instead of moving to algebra 1.

Parents felt their children were being shortchanged. They began calling schools, and contacting the school board. The board president thought they’d be satisfied with answers like; “It will take a couple years to complete the transition from our current math classes to the new classes.”

The district went on to say the “new” pre-Algebra was basically equivalent to the “old” Algebra.

Pressure built as nearly 100 parents attended a board meeting to voice their concerns.

Fortunately, the district superintendent was listening and responded admirably. The district still maintains Algebra 1 might be a stretch for some students, but will give them the opportunity to take it as long as parents take the initiative to “opt in.”

This innovative approach places responsibility squarely back in the hands of parents. Parental insistence on greater rigor allows teachers to insist on a stronger learning partnership with those parents.

Algebra 1 in eighth-grade should not be viewed as “accelerated” in Rochester, or anywhere else. It puts students on track to take Algebra 2 by tenth-grade, thus fully preparing them for their junior year ACT college entrance test, which includes a math component that assesses a significant number of Algebra 2 topics.

It affords students the opportunity to take AP Calculus by their senior year, better preparing them for college.

Some Rochester officials seemed willing to support the status quo by arguing the “old” curriculum would’ve gotten these students to pre-calc by their senior year, and the “new” curriculum — with Pre-Algebra in eighth-grade – would accomplish the same thing.

In fact, it was stunning to hear that the average student in Rochester won’t take Algebra 1 until ninth grade and will only get to pre-calc by their senior year.

By comparison, California has new state requirements that all eighth-graders take Algebra 1. And some studies show that of students who take calculus, more take it as high school students rather than as a college freshman.

Establishing Algebra 1 as an eighth-grade standard, as well as encouraging more graduates to study calculus are relevant and achievable goals that should be embraced by a top-tier district like Rochester. Actually, they’re appropriate goals for Michigan schools statewide.

It’s truly inspiring to see parents send a clear message to school boards that they have higher expectations. Let’s hope it’s contagious!

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