Perhaps I should use this opportunity to clarify my take on this whole Algebra-in-8 issue.I disagree with none of this.
I consider the 'developmental' and 'cognitive readiness' arguments against algebra in grade 8 completely baseless. And when they come wrapped in 'brain scans' and 'PET images' they are either charlatanism or pretentious ignorance... I often use the example of 1990 Japan, as described in Kodaira's preface to his math curriculum translation into English, as a convincing evidence that a whole cohort, with its full bell-curve ability distribution, can reasonably master both algebra 1 and geometry by grade 9.
That being said, it does not mean that in the average case students *need* to study algebra in grade 8 to succeed. Just that they can. In the ideal situation, only those students that are prepared and interested would study algebra in grade 8. After all, I don't see a big difference whether it will be studied in grade 8 or 9. And I don't think that every student needs 4 years of HS math *beyond* Algebra 1.
But we are not in an ideal situation. For years elementary and middle school teachers could dilute math education, and not prepare students for algebra even in grade 9, as there was no 'capstone' course like Algebra 1 at the end of K-8 span. All their ill-prepared charges were thrown over the wall to high school, and it became a high school's problem, instead of elementary and middle problem, to cope with the results of ES and MS neglect.
And that's why I believe having Algebra 1 in grade 8 is so important. As opposed to '7th grade math,' or '8th grade math,' Algebra 1 still has a much better defined content across the land, and placing it as a capstone for K-8 forces ES and MS to face the results of their own preparation, rather than evade responsibility and later place the blame on HS, that often anyway belongs to another school district.
So, no. I don't believe Algebra 1 in grade 8 is critical to child's future, although it should be a breeze for any reasonably prepared child, even with an IQ a full standard deviation below average. But it is critical to the improvement of our non-academically focused school system with its under-prepared ES and MS teachers.
Friday, July 22, 2011
8th Grade Algebra
In this country we seem to get in a tizzy whenever Algebra 1 in 8th grade is discussed. My favorite is when people trot out "cognitive theorists" who say that most 8th graders are not capable of Algebra 1; my usual response is to question why they're capable of it in so many other countries but not ours. A friend, who chooses to remain anonymous, gave me permission to post the following: