Public school watch: Some kids take Algebra 1 in eighth grade!


What happened to "grade level standards:"
In his latest column for the Washington Post, Jay Mathews discusses a fact we didn't know:

Under the Common Core curriculum, students don't take Algebra 1 until they're in the ninth grade. Or something! Here's how he actually puts it:
MATHEWS (4/11/16): In Scarsdale, as well as many parts of the Washington area, few topics grab more parental attention than middle school accelerated math.

But now, the nation’s biggest school reform, the Common Core State Standards, suggests those families restrain their ambitions and delay algebra until high school.


Here is how the Common Core begins its explanation of the eighth-grade math course it offers as an alternative to Algebra I: “Formulating and reasoning about expressions and equations, including modeling an association in bivariate data with a linear equation, and solving linear equations and systems of linear equations.”

I was a good math student. I took calculus during my senior year of high school, a big goal for parents who want their children to take algebra in eighth grade. But I found the Common Core website to be inscrutable. Parents who need a clear reason for restraining math acceleration in middle school are not getting it.
What Mathews specifically says is this:

The Common Core suggests delaying algebra until ninth grade. He also says the eighth grade math course offered as an alternative is described by the Common Core in a way that's incoherent.

That's the way things often go when "education experts" hold sway.

As Mathews continues, he seems to say that 43 percent of the nation's eighth-graders took Algebra 1 in 2015. That would mean that 57 percent of the nation's eighth-graders didn't.

The specific number isn't important. Here's the question we'd ask:

What ever happened to "grade level standards?" What happened to the (daffy) idea that all students in a certain grade are supposed to follow a standard grade level curriculum?

That familiar idea is very familiar. It's constantly voiced within the press. Until signing on to the Common Core, every one of the fifty states had its own "grade level standards."

We have never had any idea how that's supposed to work.

We called that familiar idea "daffy" for an obvious reason. Presumably, many kids are ready to take Algebra 1 in eighth grade. We did so in San Mateo, California two years after Mathews, our fellow San Matean, did.

(We share the old school system tie.)

That said, many American kids aren't ready to take Algebra 1 in eighth grade. Many kids are years "behind" traditional norms in math by the time they're in eighth grade. They may not ever be ready to take Algebra 1 and pass, as we discussed years ago in an award-winning week-long series.

Fifth graders aren't all alike! There's a wide array of achievement levels found among the many kids enrolled in any particular grade.

Kids are substantially different from each other when they enter first grade. That state of affairs doesn't start at eighth grade, where many kids are ready for Algebra 1 and many other kids aren't.

A wide range of achievement levels will exist in any grade. There are several unhelpful ways to respond to this state of affairs:

You can hold kids back by refusing to let them advance at an appropriate pace—for example, by making them wait a year before they take Algebra 1. (You could call this a form of "low expectations.")

A teacher or school can hold kids back by expecting too little of them. Every pseudo-liberal on earth knows how to rail against this.

That said, there's another way to hold kids back—to ruin their time in school, to impede their progress. You can ask too much of kids. You can put them in Algebra 1 before they're ready to succeed with that work. In other subjects, you can give them textbooks which are too advanced for them to read and understand.

Every pseudo has heard about the scourge of "low expectations." This involves a type of standard cant all liberals have learned to emit. This led to last week's post by Kevin Drum, our favorite blogger, which we thought was ugly, lazy and disgraceful from its headline on down.

The original report at The Atlantic was bad enough. It was typical pseudo work, straight out of the "let's pretend we know and care about the lives of black kids" shop.

That Atlantic piece was extremely weak, though heavily loaded with script and cant. How perfect! Even as The Atlantic was complaining in a separate report about school systems which assign young inexperienced white teachers to teach black kids, The Atlantic was assigning an inexperienced young white reporter to write about what happens in urban schools.

Her report was awful; Drum's post was massively worse. It was ugly from that headline on down. Truly, that's horrible work.

Last week, we stopped discussing that Atlantic report because we felt Drum's post had fouled the waters so badly. Tomorrow, we'll bravely return to The Atlantic to finish what we planned to say.

It isn't the fault of a young reporter when she lacks an education background. But when famous journals assign such people to pretend to cover low-income schools, we see again what we've long told you:

No one cares about black kids, except to the extent that they can be used to make us "liberals" look and feel good.

Teachers can do substantial harm by asking and expecting too much from struggling students. Young reporters won't likely know such things, and won't therefore know how to care.

But it does happen, all the time. We'll return to The Atlantic and finish this topic tomorrow.


  1. Bob would rather jump off a bridge than cover women's doscourse:

    1. The analysts were wondering who had kidnapped Uncle Drum:

  2. The ideal time to take algebra is after you have mastered the basic skills that enable success. We know what these are.

    The problem is that kids are not getting remedial attention when they lack such skills because the system is not set up to deliver such attention. Kids learn in classes related to their ages, not their abilities. Because school districts find that economical and easier to administer.

    This is not just a problem for low income or minority students, but also for gifted students, who may be ready for algebra long before the schools decide to offer it to them. Any kid who doesn't fit the lock-step age-in-grade system will be neglected. We have known this forever but nothing is done because it costs more money to individualize education.

    It isn't about low or high expectations. It is about how education is funded and how teachers are asked to teach. Savvy parents with extra cash go out and buy the tutoring to catch their kids up. Poor parents don't. How hard is that to understand?

    1. Dave the Guitar PlayerApril 14, 2016 at 12:50 PM

      While this may seem obvious to you and me, apparently when the issues are discussed in the media, everything reverts to scripts. That is what motivates Bob to comment on this type of coverage in the media.

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