California community colleges consider eliminating algebra requirement


Please consider donating to Behind the Black, by giving either a one-time contribution or a regular subscription, as outlined in the tip jar to the right. Your support will allow me to continue covering science and culture as I have for the past twenty years, independent and free from any outside influence.

The coming dark age: Because algebra is hard for many minority students, the California community college system is considering eliminating their algebra requirement.

“The second thing I’d say is yes, this is a civil rights issue, but this is also something that plagues all Americans — particularly low-income Americans,” [said Eloy Ortiz Oakley, chancellor of the California community college system.] If you think about all the underemployed or unemployed Americans in this country who cannot connect to a job in this economy — which is unforgiving of those students who don’t have a credential — the biggest barrier for them is this algebra requirement. It’s what has kept them from achieving a credential.”

Hey, Chancellor Oakley, you know that you are implying that blacks and minorities are not capable of understanding algebra.

Meanwhile I, as a conservative, instead think that if we demand them to do better, they will do better.

So who’s the racist?

Share

31 comments

  • Cotour

    Low standards is not standards.

    When the institutions of higher learning (I assume they already are) start pumping out doctors and lawyers and engineers who are unable to properly think because of these kinds of accommodations for the “Minority” class, then what? Try getting to the moon with a building full of “accommodated” flight engineers.

    This is one other stellar example of the offensive Liberal / Democrat culture of dependency / Big Brother will take care of you mess that we the people have allowed to exist.

  • Michael

    “If you think about all the underemployed or unemployed Americans in this country who cannot connect to a job in this economy — which is unforgiving of those students who don’t have a credential — the biggest barrier for them is this algebra requirement. It’s what has kept them from achieving a credential.”

    Why not send a “credential” in the mail to all state residents to avoid the hassle and then all will be well.

  • Garry

    For the past few years I’ve had a part time job teaching SAT, and have found that many students are completely lost in math. Anecdotally, many teachers in inner city (and even suburban) schools lack a fundamental understanding of math, particularly algebra. Some students tell me that the teacher literally reads the book with them, page by page, and it’s obvious that the teacher doesn’t understand the book.

    I have seen some of the teachers in action; many of them are incredibly dedicated, but they just don’t have the tools. Perhaps they were given credentials they didn’t earn.

    Why is this allowed to happen? My guess would be teacher unions.

    Some of my most rewarding experiences have been helping kids pull together the bits and pieces of math that they do know, and getting them to see the big picture; in some cases it’s like turning on a light switch! Sadly, that’s not how it goes the majority of the time. The most disturbing part to me personally is that I always give my e-mail address out and tell the students to contact me if they ever have any problem with high school math, and none of them have ever reached out (even though many have gone out of their way to give me great ratings online).

    It must be incredibly frustrating to have to go to class every day, completely lost, and try to build on a foundation that’s never been established. Minority kids are often the victims, because of where they live; city schools generally are horrible (despite very high levels of funding).

    This is all part of the huge cesspool that our public education has become in far too many cases.

    I looked into becoming a math teacher in city schools; the job pays well, but I got the distinct feeling I would not be allowed to do my job properly. Ironically, without a teacher’s degree, getting the credentials to teach involves an incredible amount of red tape; it seems that one’s tolerance to red tape is valued over one’s ability to control a classroom and teach.

  • DougSpace

    Regardless of which groups do better than others, I would question how many of jobs require all of the algebra that is required.

    I don’t know if the quadratic equation is one of the requirements for algebra. But after 35 years, I finally came across a situation which required it, and that because I was doing a complicated space advocacy problem. I was stuck solving for X and so contacted my high school’s algebra teacher asking how to solve the equation. She asked if I remembered the quadratic equation. Well, I barely recalled the word but nothing more. A brief review and I had my answer (suprizingly sort of recognized the formula).

    My point is that education ought to be oriented to what we will actually use rather than some notion what constitutes official education. We should reverse engineer education starting with what people are likely going to need and then work backwards.

  • Cotour

    Doug:

    Its almost not relevant whether people use the algebra or not. Its like chess, it organizes and structures the mind to be able think properly. That in the end is the goal. The moment you “get” it that is the moment the switch goes from permanently off to always on.

    (For me intensely playing chess when I was younger structured my mind in many ways, never particularly paid attention to algebra. Was always distracted and thinking too much about another “Bra”.)

    If you do not think your going to use algebra or you just can not get it, then start playing chess or some related academic activity that provides some level of mind organization and certification.

  • Garry

    I echo what Cotour wrote; algebra does structure the mind, in a way that’s useful across vocations.

    To get a quick idea of what kind of students I’m dealing with, I usually ask them how to find the slope of a line, given 2 points. Typically, (when they know how), they give me the formula (y2-y1)/(x2-x1). I then ask them how they’ll be able to remember that formula in a few decades, long after they’ve taken any math classes.

    if they can’t derive it, I remind them of the basic concept that slope is the rise over the run, and show them visually. When the points are labeled, it’s pretty easy to derive the formula, as I do every single time I use it.

    Too many kids think of algebra as memorizing a bunch of formulas, and a regular part of my shtick is that I was lazy in high school and took a stupid kind of pride in not memorizing formulas (except the quadratic formula, because even I recognized its great usefulness). Yet, 30 years after my last math class, I was able to get a job teaching SAT (getting a perfect math score as part of my audition), and was able to jump right in and teach (after a brief training period). That’s because I learned concepts instead of relying on a faulty memory.

    I’ve found all kinds of applications for algebra in a wide variety of work settings, and it’s enabled me to do some great things with Excel sheets, saving lots of time and money and avoiding many crises that would otherwise have come up due to inefficiencies. I’m talking everything from making loading plans to move a Marine unit and its equipment for a contingency situation, to calculating payroll, to making budgets, to planning production of complex custom-made products, to finding seasonal patterns in work from my clients. None of my job descriptions ever included applying algebra, but algebra has helped me achieve a lot.

    Concepts are the soul of learning and the key to thinking on one’s feet to find a solution on the job. In too many cases the teachers don’t fully understand concepts and instead teach by the brute force of memorizing formulas (or, as eloquently called by a Japanese commuter a colleague of mine once encountered, “brain stuffing”).

  • Joe

    Must learn algebra, was never taught the uses or theories, one more little regret.

  • Cotour

    ” That’s because I learned concepts instead of relying on a faulty memory.”

    Much like fundamentally understanding the concepts in the Constitution, once you understand them in your minds eye and “see” them, its “Switch on”, and its very difficult for someone to argue against it in a conversation or debate with you.

  • I think everyone here is also missing a major other reason for these students to learn algebra. Some of them might find that they like it, have a talent for it, and decide to go on to become engineers working in aerospace.

    If we deny them that chance, we essentially tell all minority students they are not good enough to do what others do, and are trapped in the world of menial low-paying jobs.

    Like I say, this is what Chancellor Oakley is advocating. Meanwhile I, the conservative, want to give these minority students the chance to go as far as their dreams and abilities will take them.

    So, who’s the racist?

  • wayne

    Echo what Garry & Cotour noted–
    None of these introductory College Math/Geometry/Physics/etc., classes are really about memorizing formulas, its about learning how to think about the world in a logical fashion.

    I don’t know about California, but in Michigan if you want a 2 year Associates Degree, you have to pass College Algebra 101. One Semester, 3 credits.

    It’s not rocket-science, and I say that as a math-challenged person who had to learn statistics in Grad school, or they wouldn’t give me my degree.

  • wayne

    It’s the bigotry of low expectations.

  • Cotour

    “and are trapped in the world of menial low-paying jobs.”

    Isn’t the implication of this accommodation that these individuals who have been accommodated will have entry into the higher paying jobs world but are not truly equipped to competently execute them?

    This is the concern IMO, not the menial jobs that someone might perform. No one cares much about ill prepared workers doing non essential work. Its the accommodated doctor, scientist or engineer that are moved forward as per politically correct policies instead of competence.

    This may well be the source of the many fake and phony scientific papers and things like fraudulent or “fixed” data in things like “Global warming / Climate change”.

    Those who can do, those who can’t, fake it.

  • Ted

    Maybe these college experts didn’t watch Hidden Figures! Tell Chancellor Oakley to watch the movie!

    http://www.smithsonianmag.com/…/forgotten-black-women-mathematicians-who-helped-wi...
    Sep 8, 2016 – The True Story of “Hidden Figures,” the Forgotten Women Who Helped Win the Space Race.

    Sorry Mr. Z but ya fix stupid and this guy is STUPID!

  • Ted

    ya CAN’T fix stupid. But I can fix my keyboard!

  • Garry

    Joe (and anyone else who is interested in learning), I recommend that you visit Khan Academy https://www.khanacademy.org/ which offers lessons on algebra and many other subjects, all for free.

    I’ve heard great things about it, and the few lessons I’ve checked out were very well done; they do a great job teaching the concepts. I would guess that, since you already had algebra long ago, you would find yourself fast-forwarding once you relearn a concept; if you don’t catch on right away, from what I see they hit it several times so that it sinks in.

    I hope this type of instruction catches on, beyond high school. When I was growing up my father took a lot of ICS courses; this seems to be their modern equivalent. I think this type of learning lends itself to well-done Internet videos; in my mind colleges are mostly there for discussion (which can be done on the Internet), having the college experience, and making connections. Hopefully this type of learning will reduce the disproportionate influence colleges have (and their disproportionate costs).

  • ken anthony

    I can never remember the quadratic formula. Instead, I always start with…

    AX^2+BX+C=0 then solve for X. Not that I remember how to complete the square anymore either.

    Then there was the 3D space game I wrote in the late 70s. Years later I came across a book with all the formulas I derived except mine were left handed and the book’s were right (or visa versa?)

    I have to agree that algebra (and trig.) are useful for teaching you how to think but seldom have practical purpose in most life situations. Same with calculus.

    Calculus is useful in providing a sense for where the formulas we do use come from, particularly in electronics which has more general daily uses.

    Mostly, I just feel uneducated.

  • Garry

    Anyone who uses Excel to do anything out of the ordinary needs to be able to write algebraic equations, and sometimes manipulating equations to solve for a particular variable.

    Much of the skills taught in algebra seldom have applications in most people’s work, but the basic skill of writing algebraic equations comes in handy and can give one access to very powerful tools.

    I sometimes find myself knowing that I could solve a problem if I just remembered more of my calculus, but I don’t remember

  • pzatchok

    In my opinion its sad that Algebra even needs to be taught in collage.
    But then again I have always thought that American schools were not challenging or pushing students enough.

    Dropping the requirement for any reason is typical of leftist thinking. If you can’t teach it then just drop it. If the student will not learn it then just pass them on.

    Want more minorities in collage just make it easier. Don’t worry about teaching them correctly before they get there.

    It just like their attitude on drugs. If you cannot teach people to not use illegal drugs them just let them do it. Like marijuana, lets just decriminalize it.
    Now that marijuana is pretty much decriminalized in every state Oregon wants to start doing the same with meth, crack and heroin.

    If you want less drug addicts in jail just make it legal.

  • Mitch S.

    As others here have said, it’s the racism of the liberals “the bigotry of low expectations”.

    As Chancellor Oakley might say (and a liberal professor did say to me) “then how are *they* supposed to get into college?”

    Two words: Charter Schools

    They take the inner city kids the unionized public schools have told us are ‘unteachable’ and turn many into top students.
    Their success angers and terrifies the public teaching establishment (if it isn’t the students maybe it’s the people running the schools…). Explains why Betsy DeVos is perhaps the most hated and feared member of the Trump admin.

    Look at the “Success Academy” that runs schools in neighborhoods such as Harlem, Bed-Sty and the South Bronx.

    http://www.chalkbeat.org/posts/ny/2014/05/01/at-success-academy-schools-high-octane-test-prep-leaves-nothing-to-chance/

    http://www.chalkbeat.org/posts/ny/2015/08/12/eight-top-10s-from-new-york-citys-2015-test-scores/

  • Joe

    Thanks Garry, will check out the link you provided, was never challenged or taught algebra in high school, have done alright despite this hole in my learning, learning is good exorcise for the mind, going to high school in the mid to late seventies, critical thinking was also not taught.

  • wayne

    Joe-
    Good luck with all that!
    No reason you can’t master algebra, and I say that as a math-challenged person who had to work way harder than I wanted.

  • Cotour

    On point:

    This is one crazy story that is in the news recently.

    http://www.foxnews.com/us/2017/07/17/minnesota-police-officer-who-shot-killed-australian-woman-offers-condolences.html

    Guess how this particular Somali born, now Minnesota policeman became a police officer? Your going to love this.

    He was “accommodated” (pushed through due to psychological issues?) in his police training apparently at the insistence of the Minneapolis Liberal mayor who was looking to show how much she loves the Somali refugee community in her city. He was her politically correct symbol of social justice?

    The situation is inexplicable, the officer was the passenger in the patrol car as the woman, unarmed, in her pajamas approached the drivers side of the car. He apparently had his weapon drawn and as she bent to speak with the officer he just shoots her in the face. Shoots her in her face inside of the patrol car past his partner.

    Besides the deafening effects of the weapon in an enclosed car he shoots an unarmed woman past his partner ???????????? I am sure this will never be understood, either his motivation or the justification of accommodation in education or in the training of anyone who is in possession of any responsible job.

    This is a glimps of our future? Like I have stated here many times: Political correctness and social justice has the potential to kill us all.

  • Garry

    Mitch, charter schools can be great, but there’s a large variation between charter schools. This is promising; I suspect that in the long run, unlike public schools, some will be allowed to fail and the fittest will survive.

    Last year I interviewed for a position at a local charter school, part of what looked like a very successful system. It was not a good fit for me, for various reasons. I have since heard some things from other teachers that confirm that it was not a good fit for me.

    However, I remained on their e-mail list. In November, the day after the election, they sent out a long e-mail (probably 10 pages if printed) to all faculty, parents, and everyone else on their list. When I first saw that they had sent me an e-mail, I naively thought that perhaps they would acknowledge that at least Trump professed support for charter schools, so there was some good to take out of the election result.

    Instead, the e-mail was basically a long tearjerker saying “we’re all snowflakes and Trump is coming after us with a blowtorch; join us for crayons and play-doh” This reinforced my gut feeling that the system was imbued with a spirit of “racial minorities have to be coddled at every opportunity, because anyone who isn’t [doesn’t appear to be] a flaming liberal is a bigot who is out to get them.”

    I like the idea of charter schools, and many of them do good, but personally I think it would be easier to bring someone from a poor performing school up to speed on algebra than it would to turn around someone’s attitude who had been indoctrinated by this particular school system.

    I can’t tell you how many times fellow teachers, even those who know my background, have started conversations with me that showed they assume I’m just another flaming liberal.

    I never bring politics in to the classroom, and quickly quash any discussion of politics, although I talk a lot about self-reliance.

  • Commodude

    I despise watering down standards, I saw it in the military, and I see it now in my current employment.

    We couldn’t hire enough qualified technicians, the main roadblock being a long, involved, and difficult test involving electronics, mechanics, hydraulics. There were questions involving both the theoretical and practical application of each subject.

    Well, there weren’t enough people applying and passing to fill the vacancies.

    Solution?

    Eliminate the difficult questions, hence lowering the standards, letting more people pass, and placing more of a burden on those who had the knowledge required to pass the test.

  • DougSpace

    It may be that learning algebra turns on a switch in the brain that is applicable to other fields. But I think that we should ask for evidence that this is true. Otherwise we could make that same case for any other topic. Maybe studying the courting rituals of ancient African tribes will expand our mind in ways that are not obvious. Should we make that a requirement?

    But I am also making the point that there are degrees of algebra. It may be that everyone should learn a certain amount of algebra whereas those who have an aptitude are more likely to need more because they are more likely to pursue fields where more algebra is needed.

    My guess is that a certain percentage of people are required to take algebra at a level that doesn’t make a positive difference for them but instead makes them frustrated against education.

  • Edward

    Garry and Cotour are correct. Algebra, geometry, and trigonometry do not teach us what to think but how to think. People use them in daily life without realizing it. They even use the math without realizing it, such as when sizing up a recipe.

    wayne is correct. “It’s the bigotry of low expectations.” The racist is is the person who thinks that “the biggest barrier for them is this algebra requirement,” that they are not able to overcome that barrier, and that this is a civil rights issue — meaning that it is an issue of race.

    The racist is the person who is worried that some races will get the idea that it is OK to think for themselves rather than go with the Democrats’ PC edict of the month.

    In my youth, algebra was a freshman high school course, not a college course. What happened that it has moved into college? Is not the tragedy here the low expectations of high school freshmen — and worse — of the graduates? Is not the tragedy that California’s school no longer want to prepare students for college? Oh, my. I am seeing multiple tragedies in this action by uncaring educators.

  • Garry

    DougSpace wrote,

    “It may be that everyone should learn a certain amount of algebra whereas those who have an aptitude are more likely to need more because they are more likely to pursue fields where more algebra is needed.”

    I often tell my students that there is only one basic rule of algebra: you can do anything (except divide by zero) to both sides of the equation, and the equation still holds. The complication comes from those things that you do to both sides, be they multiply by polynomials, take the natural log, the square root, etc. But just knowing that you have to do the same thing to both sides often helps you find the right approach to the solution.

    Similarly, calculus revolves around limits; you may not be able to walk across the room to touch the other wall, but it you can walk halfway, then halfway to the wall from that point, then halfway. . .you get infinitesimally close and effectively reach the other wall. But the complications come from what that means, be it determining a slope, an area, dealing with a trig function, or what have you.

  • ken anthony

    Normally this would be a self correcting problem. The educated should do better on average than the uneducated. Only government could screw that up.

  • wodun

    Learning math is important because you don’t really know what you will be doing later in life and it is useful for so many professions.

    Certainly more journalists should have studied math because they are incapable of analyzing so many things.

  • Edward

    Garry wrote: “I often tell my students that there is only one basic rule of algebra: you can do anything (except divide by zero) to both sides of the equation, and the equation still holds.

    Two comments: when I was young, I went to a mathematician friend with a proof that one equals two. Without looking up, he asked, “where’s the divide by zero?”

    Second: when working a physics problem, your students can check their work by keeping track of the units (length, mass, time) and making sure that the units in the answer are still correct. If they aren’t, the answer is definitely wrong (e.g. the units of speed have somehow become kilograms per second instead of meters per second). If the units are correct, the answer could still be wrong, but at least there is a chance that it is correct.

    ken anthony wrote: “The educated should do better on average than the uneducated.

    Which is why we send them to school and buy them their books. We want all our kids to be well educated, and we spend a lot of money to do so.

    A good movie on the topic of the American education system is “Waiting for Superman” from 2010.
    http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1566648/?ref_=nv_sr_1

    One of the things that it points out is that the modern public (government-run) education system is still preparing our kids for the requirements of the workforce in 1960. Unfortunately, the modern workforce needs more STEM educated people (Science, technology, engineering and mathematics). Reducing the mathematics education requirements reduces the ability to work in the three other areas that so desperately need the more highly educated workers.

    Instead of needing a lot of people who only put tires on cars at the auto factory, a job that robots could do — and do now — we need people whose jobs are to think. Modern jobs are less robotic and more creative, allowing for even greater advancements in our economy and lifestyles. But instead of expecting more from our kids, we now expect less. President Bush said that our schools should work harder to leave no child behind, but policies like (Democratically controlled) California’s are doing just that, leaving more and more of our children farther behind the rest of the world and farther behind where their parents were at their age.

    It is stupid educational policies, like this one, that result in so many unemployed Americans while American companies must import workers from other countries. Then the Democrats give the uneducated the impression that they are worth $15 per hour, more than twice their actual worth.

    What a fantasy world that the Democrats live in.

  • ken anthony

    What’s a journalist?

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *