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Topic: [ME] Don't teach algebra too soon
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Jerry P. Becker

Posts: 16,576
Registered: 12/3/04
[ME] Don't teach algebra too soon
Posted: Jul 6, 2000 12:41 PM
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From the Washington Post, June 15, 2000, p. M01.

Don't Try Algebra Too Soon, State Told

By David Nakamura

Maryland school systems should not require middle school students to
take Algebra I because most of them are not ready for the concepts of
what has traditionally been a high school curriculum, a state task force
has determined.

The push to offer algebra at a younger age has intensified over the
past decade. Although Maryland does not require it, many school systems
are considering making the course mandatory for eighth- graders.

But that's a mistake, said Francis "Skip" Fennell, a Western Maryland
College professor and chairman of the 35-member task force that is
studying ways to improve the state's math scores.

Not only are the concepts in Algebra I confusing for younger students,
but it also takes time away from traditional middle school math that
stresses the basics of computation skills and problem- solving, he said.

"I'm not saying algebra is not important. It is. I'm saying the
underpinnings of algebra should flow through the curriculum," Fennell
said. "Is it appropriate to take a high school course and plop middle
schoolers into it and say it's appropriate for all kids? No, it's not."

Fennell said that school systems must come up with middle school math
courses that introduce students to algebraic concepts but do not require
complete mastery of algebra by year's end.

"Taking a high school course heavy with symbolic manipulation and
dropping it down to [the] seventh or eighth grades will do nothing more
than frustrate a lot of good students," he said. "We have to be careful.
There are lots of other ways to approach algebra."

The recommendation is one of many that the task force will present to
the state Board of Education in the next two months, Fennell said.

Other recommendations likely will include requiring that high school
students take math all four years instead of three, and that students in
all grades receive an average of an hour of math instruction daily.

The task force would like middle school math teachers to be certified
in their subject matter, Fennell said. Now they need only general
teaching certification for any subject in kindergarten through eighth

Since 1996, third-grade math scores on Maryland's annual exams have
been virtually unchanged, while fifth-grade scores have declined.

While the task force will offer these specific recommendations, it will
also stress that the state do more to "market math" as being fun,
challenging and exciting.

"The notion has always been that math gets a bad name, only nerds can
do it," Fennell said.
Jerry P. Becker
Dept. of Curriculum & Instruction
Southern Illinois University
Carbondale, IL 62901-4610 USA
Fax: (618) 453-4244
Phone: (618) 453-4241 (office)
(618) 457-8903 (home)


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