Setting the Record Straight on Common Core and Algebra I

Recently parents and education columnists have raised concerns that Common Core State Standards’ call for “general” eighth-grade math classes instead of Algebra I will “restrain” the ambitions of students who want to reach the highest levels of high-school math. The change is “inscrutable,” Jay Mathews wrote in the Washington Post this week. Tom Loveless of the Brookings Institution suggests participation in eighth-grade advanced math classes has declined over the past two years.

Such claims are deceiving. Common Core State Standards emphasize the fundamental math skills that students need to succeed at high levels of learning, starting in the early grades. That includes the building blocks of Algebra. In eighth grade, students learn algebraic concepts alongside geometry and statistics to reinforce the core math skills.

The purpose is to ensure that students have a strong grasp of foundational skills so they are able to successfully move on to higher level material. That’s an important shift. Dr. David Bressoud, former president of the Mathematical Association of America, explains in a video by the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics:

“What we see in college is a lot of students who went rushing through the earlier preparatory material are lacking the foundation that they need in order to succeed. They’re lacking the skills in algebra, and often, they’re lacking the expertise they should have picked up in middle school…Unless you really understand what you’re doing and have that foundation, once you get to that fast pace of college and university mathematics, you’re really going to stumble.”

In another video, Gail Burril, a Michigan State University academic specialist, adds:

“I’m really excited about the Common Core State Standards as an opportunity for more kids to take more and better mathematics. In particular, I’m really excited that more kids will have the opportunity to get a solid foundation for taking calculus…It’s really important that kids have this grounding, that they understand the key, fundamental ideas in mathematics before they embark on calculus. The Common Core State Standards provide that opportunity.”

A statement by the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics points out, “The widespread adoption of the Common Core State Standards for Mathematics presents an unprecedented opportunity for systematic improvement in mathematics education in the United States. The Common Core State Standards offer a foundation for the development of more rigorous, focused, and coherent mathematics curricula, instruction, and assessments that promote conceptual understanding and reasoning as well as skill fluency.”

We have also pointed out that, “No matter what the class is called, students will be learning the material that will prepare them for success in advanced math classes in high school and beyond.” That doesn’t mean students are restricted from taking accelerated courses. But it ensures all students will have the opportunity to build strong fundamental math skills that prepare them for success in college or a career.