Equity Builder or Racial Barrier: Debate Rages Over Role of 8th-Grade Algebra

February 16, 2023

It’s critical for student success in college and beyond.

It’s an unnecessary barrier meant to keep students of color from higher education.

That’s the argument on both sides of a long-standing debate about algebra.

There is, however, consensus on a few key issues: Race and wealth play a role in how and when the course is offered in K-12 and students’ failure to pass the course by high school or college has long kept them from graduating — and qualifying for high-paying jobs.

They agree, too, that the pandemic, which tanked math scores nationwide and stunted students’ social skills, leading to behavioral problems that continue to hinder learning, has left young people particularly vulnerable.

What they do not agree upon is a solution. While some say schools should double down on the course and offer it to all children starting in the eighth grade, others say it’s time to drop higher-level algebra as a graduation requirement and provide students with another path, one made up of more practical mathematics coursework that would not prohibit them from pursuing their education.

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