Why does algebra confuse students

US author wants to remove math from the curriculum







Many US students fail their math exams. Now a retired professor explains that algebra is actually completely superfluous for the future of young people - and calls for it to be removed from the curriculum.

Why do you actually need algebra? This question is currently not only being asked by many frustrated and desperate students in the USA, but also by teachers and professors. The debate was triggered by a book by a political scientist. He describes algebra as an unnecessary obstacle that causes millions of students to fail every year. They then left school or college with no graduation.

"One in five young Americans won't graduate from high school," said Andrew Hacker, author of The Math Myth and Other STEM Delusions. “It's one of the worst odds in the developed world. Why? Mainly because they can't do algebra in ninth grade. ”Only five percent of all professions require algebra or other advanced math. The retired professor at Queens College is therefore calling for curricula that focus more on statistics and a basic understanding of numbers. And less on (y-3) 2 = 4y-12. “Does algebra help you understand the federal government's budget?” He asks.

With these statements he naturally provokes the contradiction of many teachers and professors. Math simply has to be taught better, they demand. "Every study I've seen of workers in many fields shows that you have to understand formulas, that you have to understand relationships," said Philip Treisman, professor of mathematics at the University of Texas. "Algebra is a tool to consolidate one's knowledge of arithmetic."

Bill McCallum is a professor at the University of Arizona and was instrumental in the development of a didactic reform, the so-called Common Core State Standards. He strictly rejects a possible division of students into an algebra branch and a non-algebra branch. His reasoning: "You can say that only a certain percentage of children will actually use algebra, but we do not know which children that will be."

In New York City, the largest school district in the United States with 1.1 million students, only 52 percent of students passed the Algebra I tests last year. They performed similarly to their peers across the country. However, the school authorities in New York do not want to hear about a renunciation of algebra. Instead, you launched the “Algebra for All” initiative and now want to focus more on the students in math in the fifth grade, i.e. before the introduction of algebra.

“We believe in high standards,” explains Carol Mosesson-Teig, director of mathematics for the school board. "And we believe the best way to serve students is to improve teaching."

This help comes too late for 18-year-old Isaiah Aristy. He took the Algebra I test twice and failed both times. Aristy goes to community college in Manhattan and wants a career in the police force. He was always good at math - until algebra came along. “When it started with X and Y and the graphical representation, I got worse and worse,” he says. “But we don't even have to learn what X and Y are. When in life do we write "X and Y must be like this" on a piece of paper? "

But Aristry doesn't just have to repeat Algebra I. At his community college, as at around 50 others, an alternative is offered: Quantway, developed by the Carnegie Foundation to promote teaching. "It contains basic algebra concepts, but you don't learn how to factorize polynomials or solve complicated equations," said Fred Peskoff, chairman of the math department.

Project leader Karon Klipple says the foundation developed Quantway in 2011 because so many students dropped out of community college because of algebra. 60 to 80 percent of students needed in-depth math lessons, and most failed the tests. "That is where their hopes and ambitions die," explains Klipple. "They go to college to build a better life for themselves and they get stopped by math."