Not every student will go to college or choose a career that involves math. But it’s good for every young person to get a taste of all kinds of subjects, including quadratic functions and complex numbers. Otherwise, how will they discover their interests and their talents?
Rep. Gary Howell (R-North Branch) recently introduced legislation in Lansing that would remove a state high school graduation requirement for an Algebra 2 class.
He argues that only professionals like engineers and scientists will use higher mathematics in their careers. Everyone else, he says, might be better served with alternative classes, perhaps statistics or financial literacy. Many educators have voiced support for dropping the Algebra 2 requirement.
We’re not sure that would prove best for Michigan’s students.
The Algebra 2 requirement was put into place in 2008, perhaps part of an effort to better prepare students for life in a world where science, math and technology loom ever larger in our daily lives, a world where SciMaTech careers look ever more rewarding.
Research from the University of Michigan and Michigan State University suggests that the Algebra 2 requirement may have had a positive effect on the number of students who pass the class — a particularly strong effect on low-achieving students. That’s a solid indicator that requiring the class has forced some students to increase their efforts, to up their game, to study harder.
Michigan’s high school graduation rate has increased 4 percent, from 79 to 83 percent, since 2008. As some educators have suggested, it’s a long stretch to attribute increased graduation rates over a decade-long period to a single class requirement. Other factors certainly are in play.
It’s harder, though, to generalize the cause of the significant rise in passing rates in the Algebra 2 class itself — a 26 percent improvement among low-achieving students. That success suggests that the class requirement has helped those students dredge up the power within themselves to rise to the occasion. And that’s what education is all about — to show young minds that they can discover abilities and expand horizons.
Dropping the Algebra 2 requirement, and replacing it with classes that some might characterize as watered-down, would lower the bar of educational challenge. It certainly would reverse the decade-long trend of increased passing rates in Algebra 2. And it might lead some students who could excel in SciMaTech careers to never pursue that course.
The MSU and UM research shows that low-achieving and high-risk students, including those living in poverty, were more likely to go on and take more rigorous math courses after passing Algebra 2. That alone provides a strong argument for retaining the class requirement.
Not everyone is destined for college. Worries about student debt and strong opportunities in trades careers are leading many high school students down other paths. Even for those kids, though, exposure to higher mathematics can help them in the decision-making process.
There’s already some flexibility built into the state requirement. Students can adjust their math requirement via a personal curriculum request. So students who truly cannot pass Algebra 2 can find other ways to graduate.
Education is all about exploration, discovery and stretching the mind. Not everyone enjoys doing math.
But it’s a valuable part of any high school education.