New algebra rule stirs controversy

July 10, 2008 6:18:15 PM PDT
The new California education rule requiring algebra for eighth graders is already prompting a lot of controversy. It was just approved yesterday with a lot of backing from the governor.

Seventh graders at Willie Brown College Prep Academy in San Francisco are learning algebra over the summer.

Computer games make the introduction easier.

"I firmly believe these kids will learn whatever you teach them," said school Principal Tareyton Russ.

Russ supports teaching algebra I in the 8th grade, a proposal made by the governor which the board of education has now adopted.

"What we have to do, even if they are not prepared, we have to give them the core. We have to expose them to the core all the time. If the core is algebra then we have to have them do algebra," said Russ.

Until now, it's been it's up to each individual school to decide if students should start algebra in the 8th grade or wait until they start high school.

The algebra I requirement would take effect in three years. At that time, 8th graders would have to take a test to prove they are proficient in that subject.

Andrew Grimstad is an algebra teacher. He believes not every student is developmentally ready.

"Kids develop and learn at different rates and we have to be a little more flexible," said Grimstad.

The Superintendent of Public Instruction, Jack O'Connell criticized the governor for putting his political muscle behind the plan without having any educational support in place and in a year of budget cuts.

"I believe this measure of requiring all of our students without adequate preparation to take algebra will make our students frustrated, lose interest and force them to drop out of school," said O'Connell.

"Part of what I hear from high school teachers today is that we have students that take algebra in the 8th grade don't master it, and have to repeat it in the 9th grade and arrive with the attitude that I've already had this so they shut down and then they wind up taking it another time," said Grimstad.

O'Connell also worries there won't be enough qualified algebra teachers to fill the need.

"We have some systems in place to recruit science and math teachers in particular because of this shortage," said Jeanne D' Arcy from San Francisco Unified School District.

Sixty-five percent of all students in the San Francisco Unified School District take algebra in the 8th grade. Statewide it's 50 percent.


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