Imaginary numbers and relevancy to real life aside, taking Algebra II in high school is one of the leading predictors of success in college and beyond. Because of this, more states and school districts are beginning to require it for graduation.
A national movement to ensure all high school students take Algebra II is growing. Lead by a group called Achieve, which is made up of governors and business leaders, the push for Algebra II has grown to include 20 states and the District of Columbia. Members of Achieve believe that the requirement is necessary to boost lagging college graduation rates and to improve the skill level of the America workforce.
Effect Isn’t Totally Clear
But improving the quality of the workforce by simply raising high school graduation requirements isn’t all that clear cut. Though Algebra II seems to predict future success, it could be that the students who take the course are simply smarter and more motivated than those who choose not to. Some educators worry that by making it mandatory for graduation will encourage more students to drop out of high school, which would defeat the purpose.
An example of the double-edged sword of Algebra II is Arkansas. Last year, the state became one of the first to require it for most students and to test for outcomes. What they found, however, was that only 13% of the students were considered “prepared” or better at the end of the school year. Arkansas insists that they will not lower their new standards in the wake of such a poor showing.
Although studies have shown that of top tier job holders, 84% had taken Algebra II in school compared to just 50% of bottom tier job holders, the researchers who discovered this warn that Algebra II was just one of many factors involved.
Anthony Carnevale, who conducted the study along with Alice Desrochers, believes that the cause/effect link between Algebra II and later performance is weak at best. He cautions against using it as a quick fix. Student achievement and eventual success in the workplace are the result of many pieces falling into place, and a single math course shouldn’t be given that much weight. After all, as Carnavale points out, people don’t actually use Algebra II in college or in the workplace.
Indeed it is the lack of relevance that makes Algebra II such a difficult class for many high school students to take and teachers to teach. Schools correctly worry that forcing more students to take the course will have the opposite effect that the Achieve group is hoping for in the long run.
What Do You Think?
My high school Algebra teacher, Sister Wilfred, constantly extolled the virtues and benefits of mastering her cherished subject, but even my old friends who went on to become doctors and engineers assure me that it never comes up in their real lives — ever.
Did you take Algebra II? Do you use it? Have you ever needed it? Is it, in your opinion, a solution to the dropping college graduation rates in the U.S. or the alleged workplace skills crisis? Let’s hear your thoughts and stories.
Photo credit: Algebra II by raindrops