There's been a big row here in California in the last week. Even though our state standards have said, since 1997, that 8th graders should be in Algebra 1, not all of them are. In fact, even though 8th grade algebra percentages have risen dramatically since 97, to the point where (if I'm not mistaken) just over half of 8th graders statewide take algebra, we're not where our standards say we should be.
Enter the No Child Left Behind Act. Apparently we're not following it because we're not testing all 8th graders in Algebra 1.
Here's some background information from the local fishwrapper: link, link, and link.
I'll be honest, I'm having a hard time getting worked up over this. While much of the rest of the developed world does have kids taking algebra in 8th grade, we have some cultural differences here and I wouldn't have any problem at all if California moved algebra back to 9th grade. Until that's done, though, we need to try to get our students to meet our high standards.
Yes, I know the world needs ditchdiggers, too. However, I don't like the idea of closing all doors but ditchdigging on a 14-year-old because we think that the kid can't achieve. When the President talked about the soft bigotry of low expectations, that's exactly the attitude he was talking about.