Getting rid of Algebra II from high school and college curricula is an insane suggestion

I recently (as in just now) read an article on Slate called “Down with Algebra II” where the author Dana Goldstein presents an argument by political scientist Andrew Hacker that we should replace “algebra II and calculus in the high school and college curriculum with a practical course in statistics for citizenship”.  (I’m all for a required course in statistics for citizenship!  But not at the cost of Algebra II).  Further, this article states in the subtitle (emphasis added):  “It [Algebra II] drives dropout rates and is mostly useless in real life.”  I vehemently disagree with this.

First of all, let me refresh your memory on some of the topics in Algebra II:

• Functions
• Complex numbers
• Polynomials
• Exponential growth and decay
• Logarithmic functions
• Basic Trigonometry

Let’s just take a few of these here and think about how these practically affect your everyday life as an adult:

Functions: The amount you pay in taxes is a piece-wise linear function. (Unless Ted Cruz is elected and imposes a flat tax and abolished the IRS!)  I’d say taxes are pretty relevant to your everyday life.  Unless you plan on making very little money at your job (which is probably because you failed Algebra II…..)

Exponential growth:  Do you want to retire ever?  Exponential growth governs how money grows over time.  Understanding this is foundational to financial literacy.

As for the others, if you don’t make students learn these things in high school (i.e. polynomials, complex numbers, trigonometry) you are shutting the door to a HUGE variety of occupations at a pretty early stage in life.  And if you ask a 15 year old if they want to take Algebra II or not, basically every one of them is going to say no.  As adults, especially adults in 2016, we shouldn’t let that happen.

So I refuse to buy the argument that math, especially Algebra II is “useless in real life”. Beyond that, Hacker seems to basically be arguing that “math is hard so let’s not make students learn it”.  Can you imagine this argument for reading?  Reading is hard for some students, but if we get rid of reading more students could surely graduate from college!  And then all of a sudden, presto, higher college graduation rates!  (I understand comparing math (i.e. Algebra II) to reading isn’t a perfect analogy, but I do believe that both are non-negotiable parts of a high school educations.)

Another thing I found odd about the article was the authors example of derivatives, which are never found in an algebra II curriculum.  It’s part of calculus, which usually doesn’t follow algebra II directly (e.g. I took a course called “pre-calculus” between Algebra II and Calculus).  This makes me wonder how strong a grasp the author has on the differences in the curriculums between these courses and what the author and Hacker consider to be “advanced math”.   Algebra II is not advanced math.

I will say, for the record, I don’t think everyone needs to know calculus.  But, and I’ll say this again, the idea of someone graduating from college without getting through Algebra II is completely insane.  I don’t know how else to put it.  It’s so insane I went back and re-read the article to make sure I wasn’t being trolled, and I checked the date and it’s not April 1.  This argument is simply insane.

Finally, I will be the first to admit that I really like reading Slate, but I do find a lot of their education coverage, especially of STEM topics to be a little weak from time to time.

Cheers.