Mar 2020

Is Algebra Really Necessary?

Education reformers often bemoan that schools never shed programs that are no longer needed or effective. New school initiatives are consequently layered on top of past practices, which means schools become overburdened and educators struggle to implement new ideas—all of which is costly.

But reformers often seem less likely to ask the same questions of curriculum despite changing world conditions.

Algebra is a prime example. It’s seen as a gateway course to college success, with a bevy of research to support the contention.

Reformers have often accordingly doubled down on efforts to help students pass algebra. But as with many endeavors, finding a good answer depends on asking the right question.

The logic is circular in this case. It says, in essence, that schools require algebra. Students who don’t do well in algebra do poorly in school. Therefore, shouldn’t we double down on helping more students pass algebra?

But perhaps we should ask different questions. Does every student need to take algebra?


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