I recently wrote about the claim that Algebra II supposedly is a high school graduation requirement in Kentucky but large numbers of Kentucky’s high school students are getting diplomas even though only a small percentage are scoring proficient or more on Kentucky’s Algebra II End-of-Course exam.
For example, in 2015 Kentucky reported its “on time” high school graduation rate was an astonishingly high 88 percent. However in the past three years the percentage of students scoring proficient or more on the state’s Algebra II End-of-Course exam never exceeded 38.2 percent.
Clearly, there is a major credibility problem regarding what a Kentucky high school diploma really represents.
But, is what our schools are teaching as algebra even the right “stuff?”
The question about what schools are teaching as algebra recently surfaced in arguments about whether algebra should even be a high school requirement.
The latest round in that need/don’t need algebra discussion has been fired by Stanford University Math Professor Dr. Keith Devlin. He just authored a Huffington Post blog article titled, “Andrew Hacker and the Case for and Against Algebra.”
Devlin, who supports real algebra instruction, certainly does an interesting job of criticizing a new book from Hacker that says algebra isn’t needed.
For example, Devlin points out that, “Hacker is not a mathematician. He is a retired college professor of political science,” adding that, “There is always a danger in setting oneself up as an advocate for change in a discipline one does not know.”
While solidly defending the need for algebra, Devlin adds more comments that question if the “algebra” being taught in our high schools today is even the right “stuff.” Devlin writes:
“For a variety of reasons, the subject now taught in schools under the name of algebra is a travesty of the powerful way of thinking and problem solving developed in the Muslim world in the 8th and 9th Centuries….”
He also says opponents of teaching algebra:
“…have no idea what algebra is or how significant it is in today’s world.”
He additionally says:
“Given the importance of mathematics in today’s world, we absolutely should not abandon the obligatory teaching of algebra…; rather, we should teach it right.”
That brings us back to Kentucky. Are the state’s public schools really teaching algebra right? If only 38 percent or so of our students can produce acceptable performance on the state’s own Algebra II End-of-Course exam, I strongly suspect the answer to that important question is “No.”
I invite our education community to spend some time with Devlin’s full HuffPost article. It might prove very educational. It might even help out with our current “math problem” in the state’s high school graduation rates. After all, if Kentucky really does require Algebra II to graduate, the disappointingly low percentages performing acceptably on the Algebra II End-of-Course exam and the very high graduation rates being reported simply do not add up.