The War Against Dummy Math
Washington, D.C. – Jay Mathews, the award-winning Washington Post education reporter, columnist, and blogger, has written a new book that examines the national effort in the 1990s to expose all students to Algebra I in ninth grade. “The War Against Dummy Math: How Seven School Districts Changed U.S. Education by Embracing Algebra for All,” chronicles the story of Equity 2000, an initiative that played a key role in expanding the teaching of math and science to millions of students, especially minorities.
The book, supported by a grant from the American Institutes for Research (AIR), describes the uphill struggle of the individuals who challenged the assumption that poor and minority students could not handle rigorous coursework and so belonged in very basic “dummy math” courses. The book is available as a paperback and as an eBook through Amazon.com.
Equity 2000, created by the College Board, set up pilot programs in seven school districts: Fort Worth, Texas; Milwaukee, Wis.; Prince George’s County, Md.; Nashville, Tenn.; Providence, R.I.; and San Jose and East Side, Calif. The districts required all high school freshmen to take Algebra I.
The project was “a national effort to demonstrate the advantages of every ninth grader taking Algebra I,” Mathews writes. “It would set the country on a path to give millions of children more math and science and increase college attendance by minority and economically disadvantaged students.”
The Equity 2000 Project was inspired by “Changing the Odds: Factors Increasing Access to College,” written by Sol Pelavin and Michael Kane in 1990. The paper indicated that students, especially minorities, who took algebra and geometry were more likely to attend college. Pelavin later became President and CEO of AIR, and Kane became a senior executive with the organization. Both have since retired.
Mathews is the author of eight books, including four about high schools. Mathews’ recent New York Times bestseller, Work Hard. Be Nice., traced the birth and growth of the KIPP charter school network. He is the author of the popular college admission guide Harvard Schmarvard and the creator of the annual Challenge Index rankings of high schools (formerly at newsweek.com, now at washingtonpost.com). Mathews’ numerous honors include the Upton Sinclair Award for being “a beacon of light in the realm of education.”
AIR also is releasing an easy-to-understand research brief describing the results of a rigorous three-year, federally-funded study of students who took an online Algebra I course. The study found that eighth-grade students who are “algebra ready” and took an online course outperformed their peers in algebra knowledge and were twice as likely to take advanced mathematics classes in high school. The study is the first of its kind to examine the impact of an online Algebra I course on student achievement.
The brief, “Broadening Access to Algebra I: The Impact on Eighth Grade Students Taking an Online Course,” provides school officials and policymakers with the evidence-based information needed to identify and decide which practices best address their students’ educational needs. The brief is available free of charge on www.air.org.
“The study shows that using an online course can be an effective way to broaden access to Algebra I and to create a sequence of math opportunities in the longer term,” said Jessica Heppen, the author of the AIR paper.
Established in 1946, with headquarters in Washington, D.C., the American Institutes for Research (AIR) is a nonpartisan not-for-profit organization that conducts behavioral and social science research and delivers technical assistance both domestically and internationally in the areas of health, education and workforce productivity. For more information, visit www.air.org.