Monday, August 3, 2020
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Mich. moves to minimize high school math

In every state, the adoption of learning standards or objectives is in the hands of the state’s education board. But on occasion, notably when specific courses deal with matters of student health and well-being, state legislatures step in and tell the schools what courses to teach. In other words, government meddles in the actual curriculum, on top of the standards themselves.

Now under consideration in the Michigan General Assembly is Senate Bill 496, introduced by Minority Leader Jim Ananich, a Democrat from Flint, which would make Algebra II a non-requirement for high school graduation. If the bill becomes law, students will still have to take four years of math-related courses, but after Algebra I and Geometry, they could elect to take two math courses which don’t include Algebra II.

“Math literacy matters, and we need to be setting young people up with math skills that align with their professional goals,” M-Live quoted Mr Ananich as saying. “Students are being charged with learning polynomials, logarithms, and the quadratic equation, but are leaving high school without a solid understanding of how to balance a checkbook, make investments, or calculate basic statistics.”

Some choices might be a course in financial literacy or business math. A few other possibilities for meeting the requirement are found in the bill itself:

… trigonometry, statistics, precalculus, calculus, applied math, accounting, business math, a retake of algebra II, or a course in financial literacy.

I’m on the record as supporting an education in algebra, through Algebra II, for all high school students: working with polynomial division may be a skill students will never use again, but learning the techniques for doing it sharpens their logical thinking skills. And for the record, balancing a checkbook is also a skill students who graduate today are not likely to use again either. In response to Mr Ananich’s argument, I would add that the calculation of basic statistics for a dataset is also a skill most students aren’t likely to use again while being literate in the use of basic statistics is an important skill in today’s information-rich society.

Paul Katula is the executive editor of the Voxitatis Research Foundation, which publishes this blog. For more information, see the About page.

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