The Texas legislature passed House Bill 5, which will introduce some progressive changes to the current education system. For example, the bill will create an endorsement plan for students to pick from five different areas of study (business and industry, arts and humanities, STEM, public services, and multi-disciplinary services), create programs to team students up with local industries in the community, allow eligibility for the TX Grant and other financial aid, and even reduce assessments for graduation from 15 to 5. However, all of these positive changes seem to be overshadowed by the removal of algebra II as a requirement for high school graduation. A majority of lawmakers do not see algebra II as a necessity for every student, and the class will become optional as a credit towards a “distinguished” degree. But, is algebra II an unnecessary class that has no relevance for the everyday person?
The answer is NO, algebra II is everywhere!
Lets start by breaking down some of the components that are taught in algebra II. One of the first things a student learns is the ability to analyze functions, including polynomials. These functions are used to keep our economy afloat by allowing the stock market to trace economic changes and trends. Furthermore, polynomials, or non-linear functions, can be used for cost-benefit analysis. In other words, one can use polynomials to determine if the benefits of an investment outweigh the costs . But algebra II doesn’t just affect financial processes; nurses use polynomials to calculate drug quantities in the bloodstream over a period of time. Can algebra II be used for a more “every day” scenario? Well, most people remember radicals as an arbitrary process of taking the roots of numbers. But what they don’t realize is that radicals are used to find interest and inflation rates. It will be impossible to calculate the interest on a loan, the depreciation of a car, or even the mortgage rate on a house without learning this skill, and at some point most everyone will need to sit down and apply a bit of algebraic principles to these life experiences.
If mortgages and the stock market are not interesting enough, lets talk about a more “relevant” subject like video games. That weird box-like object that the younger generation cannot put down would not be possible without game developers understanding the vectors learned in algebra II. Vectors describe the motion of an object, and the ability to graph them powers the basic unit of a video game. So next time a child strategically moves their alien-like creature into battle in order to shoot down General [insert ludacris name], just sit next to them and quietly whisper “vectors.”
Unfortunately, the purpose of education in this country has evolved from nurture into nature. A good chunk of students now go to college (then to graduate school) not to better their minds, but instead to be qualified for a steady, well-paid job. While the merits of higher education are up for debate, algebra II would certainly help more students access high paying jobs. Forbes came out with the top 10 jobs in demand for 2013, and all of them require students to take algebra II. Not to mention, most of the jobs, like software developers, accountants and auditors, market research analysts, computer system analysts, mechanical engineers, and industrial engineers, actually harness the skills learned in algebra II. With some of the top jobs in America utilizing algebra II, it would seem like a necessity to keep the class as a requirement. Instead of blaming the fail rate of algebra II on the irrelevance of the subject, Texas legislators should look at other programs outside the state to find real solutions to this problem.
One method of teaching algebra II and other higher level math courses (which has worked for many schools in the U.S. and countries in Europe) is to compartmentalize the math classes. A child’s mind is full of potential at a very young age; they can learn new math skills just as easily as they can learn a new language. In the 6th grade (5th grade for most European countries) students begin learning basic algebra and geometry skills, creating an easier transition to algebra I in 9th grade. When the student first learns how to solve for the area of a triangle, they also begin implementing algebra (solving for an unknown). The Maryland Department of education utilizes this method of compartmentalization, and year after year Maryland gets an above average ranking for education. Texas should also consider reorganizing their high school math classes in a more sensible way. Instead of breaking up the two algebra classes with geometry, geometry should be left at the end. Most students struggle in the beginning of algebra II because they have forgotten some of the key concepts from algebra I. Why not also emphasize the important skills from algebra II and get rid of excess information? Too many students come out of high school, and even college, not understanding the way loans and interest works.
Making algebra II optional will only lower the expectations of the students in Texas and will remove an important building block for a student’s education. If other states can find ways to effectively teach algebra II, why not Texas? Algebra II can give every student the opportunity to attend college with a very practical, real world skill.