# Students failing their first course of Algebra

1. Mar 28, 2016

### symbolipoint

Why should that be? Students fail algebra 1 either because of lack of effort, lack of motivation, or, if for any student the course is difficult, the need for just more time or repetition of the course.

Contrary to how some students found, algebra 1 was both difficult AND helpful. Took it ONE TIME to pass it, but repeated study ( as occurred upon continuing to other algebra courses), some of it on my own, was what helpted me to understand some of the more difficult parts of the course.

My belief about Algebra 1 is that you do not need to be smart - you just need to work hard; and the results will happen (successful results).

Last edited by a moderator: May 7, 2017
2. Mar 28, 2016

### Simon Bridge

It appears to be more complicated than that .., as an educator I have seen students work really hard and still not get it.
If you really want to understand the situation, I strongly urge you to teach/tutor failing or at-risk students. Lots of them.

3. Mar 28, 2016

### micromass

This is very bad. Especially considering that compared to the rest of the developed world, the mathematics american high school students see is very easy and watered down.
And now they want to make things even easier and water things down even more? How does that make sense?
Why doesn't the US look at the other countries in the developed world and see why they can handle difficult math and americans can't?

4. Mar 29, 2016

### Andy Resnick

I think the larger issue is not being explicitly discussed, which is something like: Should there be a minimum level of demonstrated proficiency-based content required to obtain a high school diploma? The same question could be posed for any academic credential.

Naively, the reflexive answer is "yes", and discussions typically devolve into details about minimal content- and often ignore the reality that in the US, there is no central authority to set content. In addition, there is rarely a discussion about the consequences of potentially returning to a time when many people do not have a high-school diploma. Maybe this was not a problem when most people without formal education lived on farms, but that's no longer the case.

Functionally, what does a high-school diploma mean? Is it a terminal degree or not? Does the concept of K-12 need to be changed to K-14 or K-16? Could community college now be thought of as the final two years of high school?

And as Simon points out, what, if any, societal obligations to we have towards 'at-risk' kids? The reflexive answer "not my problem!" is not productive.

5. Mar 29, 2016

### Staff: Mentor

Or worked in factories, steel mills, etc., in jobs which have been mechanized out of existence or moved out of the country.

6. Mar 29, 2016

### Astronuc

Staff Emeritus
In a failed educational system.

Sometimes kids are distracted - by homelessness, by poverty in which they lack proper nutrition, or in the worst case, they either witness domestic violence (spouse assaulting or battering spouse) or are a victim of violence or sexual abuse, or have to deal with one or both parents who are drug addicts or alcoholics.

When I was in junior high and high school, some of my classmates came from troubled homes, and in some cases, some had no permanent home. One of my classmates carried a gun for protection. He'd stash it near school and pick it up on the way home in the afternoon.

About 40 years later, my wife is a teaching assistant and helps students experiencing much the same set of problems. She told me of one child who came to school distressed after seeing his father assault his mother. It's difficult to focus on academics when one's world is in chaos.

The OP seems related to this thread:

7. Mar 30, 2016

### OrangeDog

This article made me sick. One of the reasons I want to get my PhD is so I can help reform the education system in the US. This quote in particular drove me nuts:
Newflash: if you aren't willing to work hard, aren't talented enough, or lucky enough (the one thing you cannot control), then your hopes and dreams are useless. We should not be lowering the standards because a large fraction of students cannot make the cut. We should be evaluating why this is the case first, then taking action. The problem is that education in America has become a business run by morons who probably couldn't do algebra to save their lives. More generally, algebra is used EVERYWHERE. I cant see how one could get ahead in life without it. Need to tip your waiter or bartender? Figure out how much material you will need to install a fence. Balance a grocery budge? All basic algebra. How can the US education system get so poor and pathetic, that they think cutting algebra might be a good option? Sometimes I wonder if it is intentional.

8. Mar 30, 2016

### Astronuc

Staff Emeritus
I've always wondered how well school administrators, school board members, government executives and legislators would do on the 'standardized tests' that high school students must take. My guess is 'not well'.

The teaching or learning of mathematics has to go back to first grade at the latest, where children learn counting, which relates to addition, subtraction and multiplication. Numeracy should be second nature at some point.

9. Mar 30, 2016

### vela

Staff Emeritus
Some of this has to do with attitudes in the US toward math. It's acceptable to be openly innumerate in US society. You're told from birth that math is difficult and that a lot of people don't understand it. These beliefs are perpetuated, often intentionally, by parents, teachers, and popular culture. It's like you have permission to fail, unlike with reading or writing.

There's also the idea that being good at math is something you're born with. If you struggle with basic math, it's simply because you, like most everyone else, don't have the inborn talent to do math; it's not because you didn't put in the effort to learn the subject. If students do put in effort but don't make much headway, well at least they gave it a shot. There's no sense throwing good money after bad, so to speak; they just don't have the ability to do math, so any more time spent will be wasted effort.

Then there's also the fact that some people just don't have the skills yet to learn effectively. (It was a revelation to one professor when he realized his students didn't know how to use their textbook, so now he spends some time at the beginning of the semester going over how the book is organized, the features it has to help students learn, etc.) Students may therefore end up spending a lot of time not making much progress. It's no surprise they get frustrated and give up.

10. Mar 30, 2016

### Kevin McHugh

First of all, you do not need algebra to graduate high school. Two years of general math will suffice. The kids who are failing Algebra, are doing it in college. So, if they cannot make the grade, then vocational programs may be the better choice.

11. Mar 30, 2016

### Isaac0427

Yes, lets get rid of algebra 1. And then you can't have algebra 2 without algebra 1, right? There's precalc without algebra 2, and no calc without precalc. Lets just get rid of all the math that is viewed as hard by society and cause people's GPA to stumble. I mean, who needs logarithms, derivatives and integrals. Definitely not the chemists who make medicine that much of our population relies on. Definitely not the engineers and physicists who design new inventions such as satellites, TVs, phones and cars that many of us can't imagine life without. Oh, and they are definitely not useful at all for providing electricity and energy, things our modern civilization could not exist without.
Exactly! Lets not give some people a useless lesson because that is not more important than medicine, technology and energy.

Please, help me understand why they think this is a good idea.

12. Mar 30, 2016

### symbolipoint

The first part is just plain false. Algebra IS a high school graduation requirement. --------at least in some states. Maybe most states. Maybe there is still a state which does not require it?

13. Mar 31, 2016

### ShayanJ

Algebra is introduced in high school? Isn't that late?
Maybe that's the reason students have so much problem with it!

14. Mar 31, 2016

### PeroK

It's actually worse than that. It is practically unacceptable (in the UK) to be openly numerate. No one interviewed on television would dare to admit any interest or aptitude at maths (except maths educators who are brought on to discuss this sort of issue). The presenters and any unwitting guests will all immediately distance themselves from mathematics and declare "I was hopeless at maths at school".

15. Mar 31, 2016

### ShayanJ

This thread reminded me of this:
Maybe this is relevant!

16. Mar 31, 2016

### symbolipoint

Hard to know if introducing it in high school is late or not late. Some students are not ready and need remediation up to grade 9 (first year high school). Some students are better and are introduced in grade 7 or 8. Remediation for basic Arithmetic and then a "pre-algebra" course were what prepared me to start Algebra 1 in my first year of high school. As I learned some Algebra, I also improved very much in basic Arithmetic and in my sense of Numbers. Still the situation would have gone nowhere if I did not put in the effort to learn.

17. Mar 31, 2016

### ShayanJ

I'm not familiar with US educational system and how they teach algebra, but the way you people talk about it, makes me think its like a university course, one course named algebra with its own book which is tought only in one grade, either in high school or one or two years earlier, and its just expected that the students know it afterwards. Is it true?

18. Mar 31, 2016

### Staff: Mentor

When I was in high school, back in the early 60s, the schools started with Algebra in 9th grade (which for me was junior high school), Geometry in 10th grade, Algebra/Trig in 11th grade, and Calculus in 12th grade. These classes were for college-bound students; not all students took these classes. As I recall, each subject had its own book -- I don't think we used the same book for 9th grade algebra as for 11th grade Alg/Trig, but I'm not sure of that.

19. Mar 31, 2016

### micromass

I think this is a very bad system. Here in Belgium, we start seeing algebra and geometry simultaneously from the start of 7th grade. Every year, we just expand our knowledge on algebra and geometry (including trig) until we get to calculus in the 11th and 12th grade. Other special topics like probability theory, statistics, combinatorics are treated occasionally. I believe this kind of continuous exposure is far better than spending an entire year on some topic.

20. Mar 31, 2016

### symbolipoint

How well does that work for everybody?
That WAS a good sequence of well-put-together courses. The way the courses were concentrated ensured that the concepts were very sharply focused. Integrating among different topics , although a bit complicated, is usually not very difficult to accomplish. This lack of difficulty about integrating among topics is mostly because many courses along this sequence of Math ARE CUMULATIVE, but this is not the only reason (and I will let the education specialists explain it further).

21. Mar 31, 2016

### Andy Resnick

That's not entirely fair. As you wrote:

There's plenty wrong with education in the US, don't get me wrong. From my perspective, there are too many competing interests.

22. Mar 31, 2016

### Andy Resnick

But the US systems doesn't work like that. In the US, each state can decide what subjects it wants taught (or not taught, as the case for evolution in Texas). Each district within a state is given responsibility to meet state requirements but not given funding to support the effort- operating funds have to be generated by taxes raised in the district. Some districts are populated by rich people who consent to give their schools their tax dollars. Others are populated by poor people who have little money and thus do not provide tax revenue to their school district. Some districts do better than others on state competency exams- I'm sure you can guess which ones. Some students receive inferior educational opportunities compared to others- I'm sure you can guess which ones.

It's the american way...

23. Apr 1, 2016

### ShayanJ

Yeah, its almost the same in Iran too. In 7th grade, there is a little chapter in the math book which introduces algebra, only the notion that you can represent numbers with variables starting with using apples and pears instead of letters and then a bit about simplifying algebraic expressions. Then the next year, a bit more and at the junior high school, it becomes more serious with the introduction of functions, algebraic identities, rational expressions and other stuff. This is really important to let the kid "grow up" with the stuff, so to speak.

The point is, using this system, algebra is not a big deal and just blends in with the other math. If someone is good with other things, they'll be good with algebra too. I mean, this is really reasonable as even von Neumann says: you should get used to math!

24. Apr 1, 2016

### Kevin McHugh

Thanks for that. I had not realized the standards had changed. It looks as most states changed the requirements around 2011 -2013.

25. Apr 1, 2016

### micromass

Exactly. In the Belgian system (and I assume the Iranian system too), the students are really slowly introduced to the various mathematics. In the 7th grade, we solve various very easy equations. So by the time we are in 8th grade, most of us are already very comfortable with what an equation is. Likewise, factoring and the special forms like $(a+b)^2 = a^2 + 2ab + b^2$ are introduced gradually so our students are very comfortable with these things. The abstraction is being raised very slowly. The same with geometry, it's really spread out to make the students comfortable. It is also constantly reinforced.

In the US (as I understand), everything is crammed into one year. This doesn't leave enough time to really get used to stuff. Furthermore, you run the risk of forgetting what you've learned in algebra since you don't use it in geometry.

I'm not saying our system is perfect. There are a lot of flaws. But I prefer this gradual system where we grow up with math, than one where everything is piled on top of eachother. I really conjecture that this might have to do something with the inadequacy of most american students.