Viewing blog posts written by Gino DiCaro

Algebra earlier policy not proven anywhere

Posted by Gino DiCaro, VP, Communications on Aug. 29, 2008

The Sacramento Bee editorialized this morning that moving the Algebra I standard to the 8th grade was a proper use of the State's resources because it would force our schools to teach basic math skills earlier,  ensure that every 13 year old is ready to tackle algebra, and "increase the richness of the experience in the fifth, sixth and seventh grades."

The problem with the 8th grade Algebra I mandate isn't that every high school student shouldn't be competent in Algebra I skills, it's that an arbitrary decision to move Algebra I coursework from 9th to 8th grade has an enormous cost to a public education system that is already misprioritizing funds .  Improving California's current 8th grade math scores should be our first priority before raising the bar to include Algebra I standards.

California ranks 5th worst (45th overall) in terms of 8th grade math achievement according to the National Assessment of Educational Progress.  All 44 states that have higher scores do NOT require algebra in the 8th grade.  That's worth repeating -- not a single state that ranks higher in math achievement has done what California is about to do, let alone spent $3 billion to implement the change.

There might be some good arguments for starting algebra enlightenment earlier for some students, but, as a State that has become one of the worst in math learning and as a State Government that currently needs to leverage every single educational dollar, we should be looking at the successes around the country and emulating those before we test broad new theories.

High school and middle school dropouts continue to increase at an alarming rate in our state.    Millions of  remediation dollars are spent in our schools while we remove students from other relevant, and sometimes educational-awakening, applied learning courses (sometimes even non-math courses that teach math in other ways).  California manufacturers -- who pay some of the state's highest salaries -- can't find skilled workers for highly technical careers.  Increased spending on Career Technical Education (CTE) seems to be a much wiser expenditure of scarce education dollars.  The California Department of Education's (CDE) own education statistics show that for students who take three sequential CTE course, the dropout rate is cut in half.

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Would a business 'make a scrawny horse pull a heavier load with a bigger whip'?

Posted by Gino DiCaro, VP, Communications on July 16, 2008

Two hours ago the California Department of Education came out with their newest form of reporting high school dropouts.  They reported what we basically already knew - that the State's dropout rate was far worse than the reported 13% that was detailed during the last round of data for 2005-06.

According to the CDE,  the dropout rate for 2006-07 reached 24% (and another 8% unaccounted for),  meaning either the State was negligent in the data collection in the past or California more than doubled it's dropout rate in one year.   It's the former no doubt but now we can agree on the tragic nature and the depth of the enigma that exists within the policies of our State's education system.

These new numbers identify the virtual dropout factories that our high schools are slouching toward.  It's time for the State to run it's education like a business.  If a third of a manufacturer's product didn't meet customer needs, consumers would start going elsewhere. Then, the question that would ripple through every department, staff level, budgetary decision and stockholder meeting would go something like this:  How does every dollar spent help meet our customers' needs?   Every dollar would be accounted for, prioritized, and rationalized in terms of product and return.  That's how you react and succeed as a business.

Last week the State approved required algebra 1 for all eighth grade students.   With the dropouts number in mind, what are we getting for the billions of dollars that must go to implement this program?  Experience suggests we will see less electives like CTE in 7th and 8th grades and more drop-outs.  We can't even get a majority of our high school students to pass algebra, now we are going to force more students to fail earlier and provide them with less CTE?

Every newly allocated penny should focus on courses with inspiration and opportunity... together they might even get students to understand or take an interest in basic math or even algebra.   The Sacramento Bee's Peter Schrag said it best in a recent piece:

    "Urging the board to require that every eighth-grader take beginning algebra and the board's overnight agreement to mandate it within three years is like trying to make a scrawny horse pull a heavier load with a bigger whip. At best, it won't work; at worst, it will kill the horse."

Businesses across California understand more than anyone the failure of our high schools to help our kids find inspiration and meaningful careers.  They know because they need skilled and productive workers for their technical and high-wage jobs more than ever.   While companies find every ounce of return on their dollar, and mine for any skilled workforce they can find, our education system just threw more money at a bigger whip.

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