I took Algebra I in 9th grade, when I was 13. I presume I could have done fine in it in 8th grade, but I was a lot more logical in 9th grade than in 8th grade, due to puberty. But nowadays, every 8th grader in California's public schools has to take Algebra I.
Why? Because nobody cares about federalism anymore: it's part of the No Child Left Behind act. The Department of Education has finally noticed that states were making their mandatory tests easy, so they are cracking down by requiring Algebra I questions in the 8th grade state test.
And because George "soft bigotry of low expectations" Bush is a liberal creationist.
Nanette Asimov (yes, she's Isaac Asimov's niece) writes in the San Francisco Chronicle:
All California eighth-graders in public school will have to take Algebra 1 beginning in 2011 under a policy approved Wednesday by the state Board of Education in an 8-1 vote.
The board decided to make algebra testing mandatory in the eighth grade over the strong objections of Jack O'Connell, the state's elected schools chief….
But board President Ted Mitchell said the move shows there is "unequivocally one set of standards for all kids, no matter their ZIP code, race or income level."
Ordered by the federal government to bring California's eighth-grade math testing into compliance with No Child Left Behind, the board endorsed the mandatory Algebra 1 testing over a more moderate approach urged by O'Connell, math instructors from around the state and the California School Boards Association.
But the board members sided with Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, who appointed them, and in a rare move overruled the strong recommendations of the state superintendent. The governor had asked the board to make algebra mandatory and he expressed satisfaction with the result.
"California's children have already proven that when we set the bar high, they can do anything," Schwarzenegger said.
Sure. They're not mathematical girly men. All they need are some Brain 'Roids.
To be fair to the Governator, I suspect he's one of the few politicians who has used much algebra since getting out of school—he was a successful building contractor in his spare time, starting off as a bricklayer.
The decision was also supported by business groups and the chancellor of the community college system, Diane Woodruff.
Algebra 1 has been a high-school graduation requirement in California since 2004. Students are encouraged to take it in eighth grade, but can take it any time before graduating.
There are nearly 500,000 eighth-graders in public schools. Currently, 52 percent take Algebra 1. Each spring, they take the California Standards Test for Algebra 1.
Eighth-graders who aren't enrolled in Algebra 1 take a different exam: the California Standards Test for general math.
This year the U.S. Department of Education found that the general math test was out of compliance with the No Child Left Behind Act because it measured only sixth- and seventh-grade material.
So California was given a choice: Pump up the general math test to include Algebra 1 items, or require everyone to take the Algebra 1 test - which in effect requires all eighth-graders to take Algebra 1.
Failure to comply - that is, if the board had done nothing by the end of this month - would have disqualified California from several federal programs and placed most middle schools on a list of failing campuses that could ultimately be restructured from the bottom up.
"I have strong reservations about requiring all eighth-grade students to take Algebra 1 within three years without also offering any additional changes, support or resources for our public school system," O'Connell told the state's school superintendents in a two-page letter Tuesday.
He said that most eighth-graders who take general math already struggle with the material and that requiring them to take an even tougher course without extra help - tutoring, for example - is "highly irresponsible."
Among the eighth-graders in general math, he said, 86 percent of black students and 84 percent of Latinos score below proficient on the state test.
What could be better for all concerned that to shove the bottom half in with the top half in 8th grade Algebra I classes? I'm sure the 8th graders who should be in Algebra I will learn even better with classrooms full of kids who shouldn't be in it.
One thing a state can do in response to this kind of federal meddling is to raise the minimum age for kindergarten. (I wrote about the spreading practice of "redshirting" little boys by having them spend two years in kindergarten back in 2002.)