(1) It is one of the most foundational subjects which all students must know by the time they graduate HS (and in most cases sooner). Without algebra skills students lack the tools to study any kind of calculus.
I am glad to see some people agree and others concede this - although I find it absolutely astonishing that this is even open to debate.
(2) Learning algebra is an excellent way to get students to learn how to study. In this country, vast numbers of students are not expected to learn how to study in any way that would help them in college or on a job. I think most would agree that if a student is not going to study then any worthwhile program is doomed to failure.
Here at CSUN in the San Fernando Valley with a population of almost 3 million, we see hundreds of calculus students every semester in several different sequences.
There are at least three things they have in common:
(1) They don't know algebra and above
(2) They have no conception of how to study
(3) They all have good calculators and most have gone through HS math programs which have advocated using calculators and computers. Ten years ago, my average student had much better study habits then today and there was a much higher percentage of strong students.
Now reformers will say that the HS teachers haven't been properly trained in how to use technology in teaching math. This is irrelevant from the perspective of reform because a HS math teacher who has not learned what is behind calculus will not be able to produce competent students regardless of what other training they may have received and the reform movement advocates abolishment of theory in calculus as well as de-emphasizing computation and many important topics.
Also, as I said before, it is a disaster to postpone proof ideas until the junior year for math and other scientific majors. Furthermore, there are schools, such as mine, where prospective HS math teachers are not required to take advanced calculus.
So if we examine the reform argument as a whole it says:
Eliminate theory and much computation in calculus (and I am only talking about the main calculus sequence for math/eng./CS majors) and emphasize computers and/or calculators. At the same time they claim (see the forward article following this message) that attempts to do this have failed because teachers are not prepared to do this properly.
If anyone thinks that we can somehow train teachers how to use technology to enhance HS math teaching without having them take a decent math major sequence - including real calculus and linear algebra courses - then you are sadly mistaken and there isn't a whole lot to say.
On the other hand, it doesn't really matter because in reality wide spread attempts to get technology into the HS curriculum have only resulted in worse students and there is no evidence that such a global or even local (to an entire district) can succeed.