To Algebra II or Not to Algebra II, that is the Question

Monday, December 16, 2013 -- Nyla Benjamin

The Texas State Board of Education (SBOE) recently held a public hearing on whether or not Algebra II should be a high school graduation requirement. It was standing room only, and over 90 people signed up to speak. The meeting continued late into the night as stakeholders were given an opportunity to voice their opinion prior to the SBOE’s preliminary vote. Those who spoke represented educators, parents, business organizations, and higher education, as well as others.

Two of Texas’ most influential legislators, House Public Education Chairman Jimmie Don Aycock (R-Killeen), and Senate Education Chairman Dan Patrick (R-Houston), stopped by to join voices with several speakers opposed to mandating Algebra II at the state level. Senator Patrick told the SBOE, “the idea that we think, as a board or a Legislature, that every one of those 5 million students must have Algebra II to live the American dream I think is fool's gold."

In contrast, SBOE member Pat Hardy, along with many other speakers present, voiced concern about the possibility of negatively impacting underrepresented students. Hardy said, “Who are the students that are going to take Algebra II if it is not a requirement? Probably not many of our low-socioeconomic students, those with low parental involvement. We’re creating a class structure in many ways by what we require of them in high school, a bigotry of low expectations, if you will.”

Interestingly, business organizations, which see high school graduates as their next wave of employees, are also divided. Many of those in favor of keeping the mandate say that with an already growing shortage of qualified candidates, this is not the time to  “lower standards.” Those in favor of removing the mandate are often those in the white-collar sector who feel high school graduates have an opportunity to make a respectable wage in jobs that do not require the knowledge and/or skills gained in Algebra II.

In their preliminary vote, the Texas SBOE opted to remove Algebra II from the general graduation requirements and instead require it only for those students pursuing an honors plan or seeking STEM-related endorsement diplomas. The final vote on this matter will take place at the SBOE’s January meeting.

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