From Pine View Farm

Everybody Knows Pi R Round 0

There’s a kerfuffle on the left coast about whether Algebra II should be required for high school graduation:

(The Palo Alto math faculty’s) counterpush against raising graduation standards to include Algebra II has angered educators and parents who believe schools, including districts like Palo Alto with strong college-going cultures, are failing poor and minority students by expecting too little of them.

The parents point to startling statistics: In the Palo Alto and Gunn high schools’ 2011 class of seniors, only 15 percent of African-Americans and 40 percent of Latinos completed the prerequisites for the University of California and California State University with a C or better. That compares with 79.5 percent districtwide meeting those so-called A-G requirements.

When I went to school, the “tracking” system was popular. My little high school had academic and general tracks. “Academic” students got the languages, almost all math courses, and all the sciences. If they took shop or typing, it was usually a one year elective; “general students” got less in the way of languages and sciences and more in the way of shop, secretarial skills (typing and shorthand), and how to be a housewife home ec.

Tracking has gone out of fashion; too often, it seemed subject to misuse (the Wikipedia article gives a fairly even-handed description of the objections to it).

I got the whole math deal: two algebras, geometry, trig, and pre-calc (we did not have a calculus class). Algebra I, geometry, and trig were pieces of cake. My mother was my Algebra II teacher; I remember that class for other reasons.

But the pre-calc, well, the stuff wasn’t making any sense to me. When it came to proving that one equals zero, I could do it by rote, but I didn’t see it (to my daughter the math teacher, it’s as obvious as a shark in a swimming pool; she must have gotten the math gene from her mother).

I’m inclined to think the math faculty is on to something. I suspect that Algebra II is not for everybody.

I do know this: since I graduated from high school over four decades ago, I have used Algebra I skills (solve for one variable) precisely five times–that’s more than once per decade!–and Algebra II skills never.


And don’t tell me Algebra taught me logic. Geometry and Boolean Algebra, maybe. Algebra taught me that X is horizontal and Y is vertical.


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