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Who Needs Algebra?

Unless students intend to major in science, technology, engineering or math, I question whether algebra serves any practical purpose.  Apparently, that's what the chancellor of the California Community Colleges system also thinks ("Chancellor wants to relax algebra requirement," Los Angeles Times, Jul. 18).

There's no question that quantitative reasoning skills are essential in understanding events.  But these can be developed by taking courses other than algebra.  For example, when the media report the results of a new study, it would be helpful if readers had basic knowledge of how such outcomes were determined.  That would not make them experts by any means, but it would be far more useful than understanding algebra.

Algebra continues to be the single greatest obstacle to earning a high school diploma and an associate's degree.  When students see little, if any, connection between what they're studying and their future plans, they either act out or drop out.  I had to take College Algebra to graduate from the University of Pennsylvania.  It was the most useless course I ever endured.  And when I say "endured," I mean it.  The course was designed for what we now call STEM majors. I've never had a need to use it.

I hope that both high schools and community colleges take a closer look at algebra as a graduation requirement.  The harm done exceeds the benefits gained.

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The opinions expressed in Walt Gardner's Reality Check are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.

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