July 30th, 2012
11:30 AM ET

Should we be teaching algebra?

by Donna Krache, CNN

(CNN) In an op-ed in Sunday’s New York Times, Professor Andrew Hacker asks “Is Algebra necessary?”

He answers that question “no.”  Hacker says that algebra “is a stumbling block for all kinds of students” and that it takes a toll on both high school and college graduation rates.

He says that while the study of math is important, “…in the decade ahead a mere 5 percent of entry-level workers will need to be proficient in algebra or above.”

The question of whether or not to teach algebra sparked a lively discussion on Monday’s Starting Point with Soledad O’Brien.

CNN education contributor Steve Perry says for students of historically disadvantaged populations, algebra “does present a real barrier” to graduating college because “too few take requisite number of math courses.”

Perry acknowledges that “Algebra is a gatekeeper,” but adds “I don’t know that it’s necessary for every child."  He says that we need to get away from “one-size-fits-all academic experiences.”

“We need to create more compelling academic experiences that children are more connected to,” says Perry.

He says that colleges and the SAT measure algebra.  “But is what we’re teaching the best way to ensure we’re getting the best from every child?”

What do you think?  Should schools be teaching algebra?  Post your thoughts in the Comments section below.


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soundoff (256 Responses)
  1. LIsa


    I'm a graphic designer. I went to art school, one which did not require any math to graduate. I make a good living WITHOUT Algebra. No, not even once have I had to do an algebraic equation in my working career.

    Some people are simply not wired for math. Period. I flunked Algebra SEVEN TIMES in high school. I HATED every minute of that class. I wanted to spend my time in a more productive way with things I knew would help my career, not waste my time with something I simply had no talent for.

    Some people seem to be mentally wired for math. Good for them, without that, we would not have most of our modern inventions, buildings, so forth.

    But to those of you smugly posting on here about your math skills, I'll make you a deal. You come to MY HOUSE and paint a portrait as well as I can. I'll come to YOUR HOUSE and try to act like I give a crap about higher math.

    I think basic math is enough for most people, and we need to do away with manditory Algebra classes.

    August 1, 2012 at 12:31 am |
    • wow

      I'll tell you what, you go ahead and make the medication that requires higher level math and science to design and compound. Then take it yourself. I'll paint you're picture call it art and sell it to some idiot for w/e they'll pay for it.

      There are some things in life that are not just about the content, but how they mold people. Not everyone understands that part, but those who do, appreciate it.

      August 1, 2012 at 12:51 am |
    • heliosheath

      I'll give you the following dollar amount for your best artwork. "If Billy had $75, and wanted to buy an annuity at same price, with 8.2% continuously compounded interest over 10 years how much will Billy will have at 6 years".

      August 1, 2012 at 1:36 am |
    • Luke

      Who cares about your artistic skills?

      August 1, 2012 at 2:59 am |
  2. John

    Schools definitely need to be teaching algebra. It teaches the student how to reason.

    Then there is the argument that if a student doesn't do good at algebra, it might hurt their self-esteem. Give me a
    break. Suck it up! It's a tough world out there, Nobody's going to cry over your self esteem – your employer will just get someone who can handle your job. Maybe this recession is a good thing, employers don't have the patience to waste on losers. Maybe it will toughen the country up.

    Want be a carpenter or a contractor? What if you don't have a computer and all that's available is a calculator, or worse yet, just a pencil and paper? Need to rough out an estimate? You may need simple math, algebra, trigonometry, and geometry to do that profitably.

    And finally, we need to train people to use the left side of their brains – that's the part which does logical thinking.(e.g. think engineer)

    The right side of the brain is the touchy-feely part of the brain. (e.g. think artist)

    Everyone has varying degrees of dominance on either the right side or the left side.

    We need balance between the two sides of the brain. Types that are completely dominant on one end or the other can be either savants or abominations.

    Unfortunately, there are way too many right dominant types in government, who lack reasoning skills, i.e. liberals.

    August 1, 2012 at 12:30 am |
    • Mathematician

      As an electrical engineer with both a degree in mathematics and electrical engineering and being a liberal, I say suck it John. I guarantee you I make 2-5 times in the first 5 years of my career than you ever will. My superior logic skills have brought me to the conclusion that what is destroying this country is not the liberal left, although there are certain fringe elements that would, but this my way or the highway BS coming from the right. The right wing has become more and more fringe and extreme over the last 10 years. Ronald Reagan couldn't be elected as a Republican in this climate. The current congressional freshmen class that was recently elected flying the banner of the tea party has made it a point to be loud and completely bring the government to a halt. I must admit it is quite a striking strategy when they can roll into the election year and blame it all on Obama saying his administration failed when it was their doing the entire time. Well played. Those of us with a brain know better even if you are conservative.

      Wise up and realize that compromise is the only way we're going to move forward. No sworn oaths to Grover Norquist or any other billionaire funded PAC funds will keep this country afloat.

      August 1, 2012 at 1:07 am |
      • wow

        No one cares. This isn't about politics. It's about algebra belonging in schools. Get over yourself.

        August 1, 2012 at 1:12 am |
      • John

        Just for the record, I am also an electrical engineer – a graduate of one of the big ten schools.

        My minor was psychology.

        August 1, 2012 at 2:23 am |
  3. ArmyVet

    Don't need algebra? Well, I guess if you want our jobs shipped overseas. I do not have a college degree. However, my current standing would be as a senior and 30 hours of that is math, all of it based on algebra. I used algebra (among all the other math) every day, most of the day, in solving problems in product demand planning and programming solutions to those problems. What was always funny to me, was I continued to get promotions ahead of those with college degrees. But, because they had difficulties solving analytic problems and developing algorithms for those problems(all those MBA case studies instead of the math, I guess), they were puzzled on how I could understand those things without having a degree. I was laid off by our corporate HQ, as it made sense to them to cut those who are in positions that require degrees, but don't have one. After three months, friends still at the company were telling me how component ordering was so far off as to be causing problems with productions. As it seems those with degrees, but not the math, couldn't solve the problems, or program around the problems to get a precise enough demand plan. To them, solving for x, y and z was some sort of arcane dark art, not an exercise in logic. As for me, I got a job (with a raise) working for a company who wasn't so much worried about whether you had a degree as much as whether you could solve the problems.

    August 1, 2012 at 12:28 am |
  4. Chris

    Algebra is a nightmare for visual thinkers. You can have a highly intelligent child who can run circles around you in solving spatial reasoning problems and that child could struggle with algebra. I was unable to pass an algebra class until I was allowed to take Trigonometry. After that the numbers meant something and I had dipped my toe into the field of solving formulas that seemed previously to be mysterious abstractions. I have a tested IQ of 141 so I know I'm not stupid. I literally had to retrain my brain to "get" algebra.

    August 1, 2012 at 12:28 am |
    • Chris

      I meant to type geometry instead of trig. Anyway, I do think algebra is an important subject for students to learn, but the current way we go about teaching it could use some rethinking.

      August 1, 2012 at 12:35 am |
  5. Rich

    Algebra provides the skills needed to file a tax return, understand a mortgage, and succeed in the high-school level classes that provide the grounding needed for college courses in areas like business, economics, and the sciences.

    if there are barriers then the task at hand is to work hard to get people over the barriers.

    August 1, 2012 at 12:25 am |
    • Naomi

      I've never heard of anyone using a quadratic equation to do their taxes.

      August 1, 2012 at 12:30 am |
  6. Mike S

    Here's my problem with Professor Hacker's reasoning; Math is about more than math. Math teaches the individual how to apply abstract reasoning skills. Taking math out of the core curiculim is like blinding one eye and removing the ability to percieve depth.

    I struggled miserably with Algebra when I took it in school, and believe me I feared it. But eventually something "clicked" and I was able to see problem solutions (and not only with math) through the ability to apply abstract reasoning. I eventually graduated with honors with a BS in Chemical Engineering, hardly expected at the time when I could not solve for 'X' in secondary school.

    Professor Hacker voices his theory based on his own aversions. But Math as core curiculim fosters that ability to abstract reason, something that is very necessary to develop problem solving capabilities. We should not be teaching something that is "easy' to learn. What growth can come of that. To expand ones self means that you have to challenge ones self. I seriously hope our future in this great country is not moving toward a dumbing down of education, that would be such a loss for both the individual and society.

    August 1, 2012 at 12:18 am |
    • Aloisae

      Thank you Mike S for articulating my gut reaction to this opinion piece so well. Algebra is as much about teaching students how to reason as it is about teaching "math" and I find it extremely troubling that Professor Hacker seems to think that a high school graduate shouldn't have been given at least the very rudimentary grounding in logical thought provided by algebra.

      August 1, 2012 at 12:44 am |
  7. heliosheath

    I cannot believe what I'm reading. This is so pathetic, unacceptable, humiliating and sickening. I can assure you, an educated population is always better than the alternative. It's simply up to people, on a person-by-person basis to reject the "drift" of your peers to flunk out, cease trying and give in. I grew up in a very poor, Hispanic, single mother household with 4 kids. I was also in remedial math in high school. I knew I had to get educated. 11 staight years later I earned a PhD in mechanical engineering and now am a satellite structural analyst at a prime contractor. There is no way a difficulty in math can't be overcome. Please stop this insane discussion. The capacity to understand algebra is almost a very definition of what it means to be human.

    August 1, 2012 at 12:18 am |
    • heliosheath

      I'm also an adjunct professor of engineering at two san francisco bay area universities. Minorities, for the love of God turn your back on this discussion and keep trying, don't stop. It's an automatic death sentence to give in. please trust me.

      August 1, 2012 at 12:21 am |
  8. Camper

    Remove Algebra from schools, bad move.

    I took Algebra and Algebra II in high school and breezed through it, not because of the teacher per se, but because math was always for me. Instead I tutored others since I was in elementary school, yes math was that easy even back then. But part of it was a good foundation.

    I'm tutoring now, but finding that the child's school didn't require the child to learn or memorize her multiplication tables, I had to request that the mother work with her to "know them" so that she can rattle them off. Without a good basic foundation, how can anyone be expected to learn and understand algebra. Let's get back to teaching basics in elementary school so that by the time they are in middle/Jr.. high and high school they can understand and do algebra.

    August 1, 2012 at 12:16 am |
  9. DuluthMN

    Just another dummy-down step for devaluing a college degree. Unbelievable it even gets consideration. College should a place where learning takes place, important learning. Not everyone can cut it and that's an important point. The degree counts so let's keep integrity with it. For everyone who busted their butt getting through college and stood the expense it's offensive to think some mental cow pie could unjustly get the same degree just so "everyone can be a winner".

    August 1, 2012 at 12:16 am |
  10. Sean Haughey

    Yeah. Let's throw out algebra, let's just throw out everything, I mean, let's throw out food when there starving. Let's be less smart. Don't stop learning ever. Why is language similar. Matr, Mater, Mother. All derivative from all language, Sanskrit, place of all religion India. Let's throw out all statistics. All percentages. All numbers. Lets see where that gets us then. Next time, think before you speak. OH wait, we threw that out too. Thanks for the misinformation and propaganda CNN. Thanks alot. Truly yours. WIth best wishes and intentions. Spread Consciousness. OM KALI MATR!. Learn. Love, Tolerate, Respect Indifferences, Embrace the Strange. Live your life.


    Sean Patrick Haughey

    August 1, 2012 at 12:10 am |
    • Sean Haughey

      Oh yeah, and grammar. Let's throw that out too. Save a life, or lose yours.

      August 1, 2012 at 12:11 am |
  11. Ezo

    I disagree. Algebra, and math in general, is all about learning and applying methods (rules) to solve problems. Many of these are real world problems we all inevitably encounter at some point in our lives, beyond any career. The solution is not to eliminate the teaching of this important subject, but to find novel ways of introducing the subject without scaring youngsters off. At first sight, many math problems seem like a complex foreign language. However, with persistence and patience, the majority of students can master the basics.

    I believe it is also extremely beneficial for students to "stretch" their brains and not to settle for one-dimensional teaching. The problem just may be a not so apparent dwindling of time available for teachers to cover math to the extent it demands. This requires more effort on the part of both the student and the school system.

    August 1, 2012 at 12:07 am |
  12. wow

    Just...unbelievable. "It's a stumbling block." So naturally the first thought is to remove it. What have we come to? We should be ashamed that this discussion is even occurring. Let's not tell people that hard work gets you anywhere. We should just remove all the barriers that people face that way they all live dull, uneventful lives, getting fat and more and more ignorant of everything as days go on! We have the opportunity to take our hardships and turn them into strengths. Why would we want to thwart that? We are defined by how we react to different actions, it is through these reactions that we grow and mature. By removing "stumbling blocks", you stunt the ability for people to grow. At the age that students take algebra, I would say that this is a necessary "Stumbling block" that shows people that LIFE IS NOT EASY!!! And they should appreciate it in the future when they grow from the experience.

    August 1, 2012 at 12:04 am |
  13. Edwin

    A lot of people on this site said it quite well: we teach algebra because it teaches LOGICAL THINKING. You can't solve a quadratic equation by hunches or intuition - only by understanding the proper steps. Only math relies so heavily on thinking critically and logically.

    It is important BECAUSE it is hard. If people were naturally logical, then everyone would find math easy. They don't, so clearly it is hard for many humans... so if you remove the one course that actually forces students to come to grips with algorithmic analysis, most students will never learn it. The future this author sees is a future filled with worker drones that cannot think for themselves.

    August 1, 2012 at 12:02 am |
  14. wx

    So we decide to stop teaching a subject because its hard for some students? What an absolute joke... Lets stop teaching algebra and see how many people can still learn to balance their checkbooks, its already a sad state how far behind we as a nation are in math and science and to only further debilitate the young minds of our society in the name of equality is ridiculous.

    If you are bad at math work harder, rather than trying to make everything easier maybe we should teach people to work harder rather than looking to find the easy way out. The idea that everyone should be able to "pass" and graduate is something that is only practiced in this country. There is no reason a student should be "passed" along if they are an abject failure, education is a privilege and people should treat it as such instead of taking it for granted.

    August 1, 2012 at 12:01 am |
  15. ilikemath

    This is ridiculous! The problem is that students are ill-prepared for algebra because the fail to master arithmetic. They fail to master arithemetic because teaching math is difficult and they are not excited about learning. I did terrible in all of my math classes up through high school. It seemed like a waste of time, especially "imaginary numbers" (just know that they basically form the theoretical foundations for all of modern technology). When I finally got to college and the professors actually gave some interesting context and explained what math can do it was like a light turned on and math changed from a tedious chore to a way to describe everything that is awesome in the universe! I ended up switching my major to math, graduated with my B.S. and now I am working on a Master's. Kids just aren't excited about science and math because they haven't been told all the awesome things its used for like if they want to make video games when they grow up they should know that graphics programming uses this crazy number system called the quaternions as a way to simplify coding of motion in 3d space. Sorry for the rant. We just need to change the way we teach from "Two trains are ..." to something more fun and exciting!

    July 31, 2012 at 11:59 pm |
    • Edwin

      They also have trouble with arithmetic because college prep courses for elementary school teachers allow future teachers to more-or-less fail math and still qualify. I have sat in on "Math for Elementary Education Majors" courses - the students couldn't add fractions correctly!

      Now, it is no sin to have trouble with fractions - unless you are the person responsible for teaching others how to work with them. No wonder students learn fractions are hard: their own teachers can't do them.

      August 1, 2012 at 12:11 am |
  16. SciGuy

    If algebra is beyond you, do yourself and the rest of us a favor–don't go to college.

    July 31, 2012 at 11:58 pm |
  17. Daniel

    I agree that requiring some algebra to be learned improbably beneficial, but the key word here is SOME. I'm almost 40 years old and pursuing a degree in film/media at a community college here in SoCal. I always had difficulty in math, never having passed even a pre-algebra college course previously. But now I have taken TWO semesters of algebra, and still have to take TWO MORE before I can get an ASSOCIATE'S degree. I have to take almost as many math classes as film classes, it's ridiculous. I can guarantee that I will never EVER have to graph equations or parabolas while working on a film set or writing a script. This time around I got all A's in my algebra classes, but this one-size-fits-all policy is forcing me to devote a LOT of time and energy that could be much better spent elsewhere. It's ridiculous and presents a real impediment to completing my education.

    July 31, 2012 at 11:53 pm |
    • Daniel

      ...that was supposed to read "is probably", not "improbably". Damn Mac predictive text is always messing up what I type.

      July 31, 2012 at 11:54 pm |
    • jdoe

      If any course should be curtailed, it should be history, not algebra. I see kids of all races getting along just fine together, until they learn about the past transgressions of one race or religion over another, either from school. Next thing you know they don't get along so well, or even learn to hate each other.

      History should be an elective. Learning history is fine, as long as it's in the context of whatever else you're learning, such as learning that Edison invented the light bulb in science class. People say that we should learn from history as to not repeat it. I disagree. More often people learn the wrong thing from it.

      August 1, 2012 at 12:03 am |
  18. engineer

    I graduated with a 3.0 in engineering. Before that I was a C student at best in high school and failed out of college my first year. When I returned to a small community college my college algebra class consisted of me, 2 other students and a legally blind teacher. That teacher helped me get through algebra and the confidence gained later got me through Calculus, Trig, Physics, Chemistry, Statics, Strengths, etc. at a university.

    July 31, 2012 at 11:52 pm |
  19. hypatia

    Figures that they would try to eliminate the one form of higher math i use practically. Any excuse to dumb things down?

    July 31, 2012 at 11:49 pm |
  20. riclergy@gmail.com

    Reading is a stumbling block as well, we are stressing our youth population.

    July 31, 2012 at 11:49 pm |
  21. John

    Algebra??? I think CALCULUS should be a prerequisite for voting.

    July 31, 2012 at 11:47 pm |
  22. riclergy@gmail.com

    Give it a non-Islamic name and we will be more comfortable .

    July 31, 2012 at 11:47 pm |
  23. badcafe

    Scary what this author is saying... I've been to third world countries, and one thing that amazed me was the following .. the really poor kids who did not know how to read or write knew really well how to add and subtract in their heads. If you gave them some money to buy an item, they would tell you when they got back exactly how much they paid and how much the balance was .. and I saw this repeatedly, with no exceptions. You could not hoodwink them on your purchases even if you tried. They were really good with practical day-to-day maths. Their survival depended on their math skills, not their reading skills.... go figure! People who think maths is not important are simply asking for their jobs to go to the ones who excel in them...

    July 31, 2012 at 11:44 pm |
  24. DCB

    I can't believe this stupid idea to stop teaching algebra is actually getting traction. I was a math prodigy in high school, and an abject failure in college. Math can be very hard for anyone; even I understand that because of my aforementioned experience. Nonetheless, during my 40-year career in business I have made many millions of dollars for my company and a little bit for myself using math. And what math did I use? Ninth-grade algebra. Never needed geometry, trigonometry, calculus, or the more esoteric studies of advanced mathematics. High school algebra is a process of problem formulation and solving in a practical, applicable manner. I have preached for years that the only math that high schoolers should study and master is algebra; the rest is optional. I can NOT believe this trash from Professor Hacker and CNN's Steve Perry is being taken seriously. If it's hard, we shouldn't learn it? We're screwed.

    July 31, 2012 at 11:44 pm |
    • BeadlesAz

      DCB – you nailed it!

      July 31, 2012 at 11:46 pm |
  25. riclergy@gmail.com

    It is easy to know any teacher's opinion on this. Can they do algebra themselves? Sadly for some, the answer will be No.

    July 31, 2012 at 11:43 pm |
  26. jdoe

    Wrong. Algebra is not just about math. It's about complex problem solving and logical thinking, which absolutely needed to be successful, in college and life. Too many courses like history and geography, while necessary, often require only rote memorization. Courses like Algebra (and writing) requires more active thinking. You may never use algebra again, just as you may never use countless other courses, but unlike many of those other courses you have gained the skills needed to tackle complex problems. And algebra is only the very beginning of higher math.

    July 31, 2012 at 11:42 pm |
    • BeadlesAz

      Well said.

      July 31, 2012 at 11:47 pm |
  27. Tim

    oh great another political scientist who knows nothing about education or mathematics but has a strong opinion about both

    July 31, 2012 at 11:37 pm |
  28. JC

    Wonder if a China journalistwould even bother to ask the same question? I would bet not, he would probably lose his job!

    July 31, 2012 at 11:36 pm |
  29. Alex

    I agree that the school system is flawed, but at the same time, the whole point of secondary school is to prepare students for a variety of career paths. It's pretty painful to get into college and all of sudden realize that you want to be an engineer, but yet you never got past algebra...at least the very least, they will have been exposed to it in high school and so taking it over in college will be easier. Having these beginning courses allows students to transition into new career paths easier as they already have some of the foundations. Basically, I think the problem isn't so much what we're teaching, but rather the lack of variety offered. For example, where all the psychology courses offered in high school? or philosophy? or astronomy? I went to a public school maybe there are other schools that offer more options, but I definitely got sick of taking the same type of courses every year – math, english, history, lab science...it seemed like the same stuff over and over again. Maybe online courses need to be integrated more.

    July 31, 2012 at 11:36 pm |
  30. mvbasten

    that's great. the pants don't fit because we got fat, so we... buy bigger pants. apologies to seinfeld...

    July 31, 2012 at 11:35 pm |
  31. jean

    I don't like the idea of eliminating Algebra. I, too, had difficulty with it. I was placed into Algebra too soon and struggled greatly. Although I completed my high school math requirement in 8th grade, I believed that I was "stupid" and didn't take another math class in the remaining years. Following high school, I knew that I wanted a college degree but knew that I couldn't without passing more Algebra classes. I found textbooks and studied on my own until I felt confident enough to try another Algebra course. I took the Algebra classes first, since I knew that if I failed there was no point in continuing a college education. I passed the required courses and no longer label myself as "stupid." How many students label themselves as I did and limit their career options? We need to find better ways to teach Algebra. We need to find ways to help students see the practical applications in everyday life and get rid of the textbooks. Make it relevant to them.

    July 31, 2012 at 11:33 pm |
  32. winkum

    The key to learning is the ability to read. The key to problem solving is knowledge of algebra. Even problems that di not involve math yeild to the methods of problem solving one learns in the study and mastery of algebra.

    July 31, 2012 at 11:33 pm |
  33. Robin Jones

    Did Professor Hacker get where he is because his parents and teachers taught him to have low expectations of himself, that he shouldn't have to learn subjects that were difficult for him? I seriously doubt it. If his goal is to raise a generation of people capable only of "would you like fries with your order?", then his approach is guaranteed to be effective.

    July 31, 2012 at 11:30 pm |
  34. dd

    I can't believe this. Algebra is what allows you to look at any equation of life parameters and manipulate it to solve for an unknown given the known parameters. Sure not everyone needs to do this. They just don't solve that problem and lose something: money, a tree, a speeding ticket, .... Algebra teaches people how to think! Liberal arts people can't understand this because they don't know how to think and we get stupid reports like this. Journalists are liberal arts majors. That might be why junk science gets more headlines than real science. I guess the US has somehow entered an era of IGNORANCE, STUPIDITY, and INTELLECTUAL FAILURE. Sure, Obama is President. What would you expect?

    July 31, 2012 at 11:23 pm |
    • jaline

      Correct!!!!! I am no mathematical genius, but in high school took Algebra I, Algebra II-Trigonometry (2 yrs. of math in one year), skipped College Algebera I and went directly to College Algebra II, then took a class in Boolean Algebra. When my daughter began to have problems in Algebra I in high school, I tried to help (as I had done with my son 3 years prior)...but was completely lost when trying to follow her textbook. I had my son (who was in college Calculus at the time) try to help, but he, too, couldn't make head nor tails of the textbook. I found out that the book being used was WRITTEN BY STUDENTS!!!!!!!!!!! It was no wonder we couldn't follow it. What ever happened to the old-style boring BUT UNDERSTANDABLE textbooks written by people who knew mathematics backwards and forwards???????

      My high school teacher was named Kiyo Fukasawa...and she would be ashamed of anyone even suggesting such an idiotic thing as not teachin algebra.

      Algebra is a necessary course if this country plans on keeping up with other countries in the world. What should we do...drop any course that's a bit difficult???????????????? We are failing the students...and failing our country. At this rate, we'll be the laughingstock of the world!!!!!!!!!!!!

      July 31, 2012 at 11:38 pm |
    • aaron

      you are right and wrong. algebra is necessary for the reasons you gave, but the college of liberal arts includes the fields of mathematics, physics, chemistry, astronomy, biology, geology, and others. all of these fields are predicated on algebra and im sure if you ask any professor, they will insist algebra is essential to someone in their class. journalism, however, is its own college–the college of journalism. journalism is not a liberal art.

      July 31, 2012 at 11:43 pm |
    • Realist

      Obama is hardly the problem. Only a racist would make such an ignorant and baseless connection. In Texas, home of George Bush's No Child Left Behind plan, students don't have to score over 50% on tests to pass on to the next grade. The problem started decades ago and Obama is no more the source of it than any one Republican. We live in a nation that still believes in gods. If we, as a culture, support such illogical beliefs, why should we expect our children to master a logical skill such as algebra?

      July 31, 2012 at 11:58 pm |
      • Luke

        Realist- for someone who believes they are smart, you are quite dumb.

        August 1, 2012 at 3:04 am |
  35. Robert Johnson

    "Stumbling block" that "takes a toll on graduation rates"? Reducing expectations to produce more "graduates" serves only to reduce the value of a diploma. Coddling children is an insult to their intelligence and potential.

    July 31, 2012 at 11:22 pm |
    • VFRMike


      You are absolutely correct. The coddling has to stop yet it continues. Eliminating Algebra or any of the other relatively rigorous courses only serves to take away from the value of a diploma.

      July 31, 2012 at 11:31 pm |
  36. andres

    Hacker is crazy period. So he pulls a 'fact' out from a wet brown part of his anatomy that less than 5% of the future workers will need algebra. It appears that he has resigned the future generation to entry level service jobs. Algebra as well as geometry, I struggled with it mightly but I perservered and eventually became an engineer. I wasn't that smart and my teachers weren't that good, but dam n my Mom would not countanance me failing.

    Just because the teachers cannot or will not teach in a method that can at least provide passing grades and parents that don't demand better of their children does not mean that we need to condemn our children to proverty.

    The teacher's union is the bane of our education system. LA unified couldn't meet it's goals of a C or better grade so what did they do? Demand more of the teachers, students, and parents? No way, they determined that D or better is a passing grade. Won't be many more years until F or better is a passing grade.

    July 31, 2012 at 11:21 pm |
  37. Ben

    It looks like we are trying to justify our ever-slipping world rankings in math and science. Yes, you need to learn algebra because it is a basic math skill. Do they need calculus? No. Do they need trigonometry? No. But algebra and geometry are very important skills to have.

    Oh, entry level workers don't need it? Well, I guess that's just great if you want to be an entry level worker all your life. Remember when Americans wanted more than that?

    July 31, 2012 at 11:19 pm |
  38. Doug

    America- the only country in the world at the moment where laziness is rewarded and we give up on things when they become too tough
    BOO HOO. Cry me a river.
    This country was founded on hard work and perseverance and now we take things for granted. No wonder we keep falling in the world's education rankings. This article is a joke.

    July 31, 2012 at 11:18 pm |
  39. Tom

    I've taught algebraic principles to some of the slowest people on earth with great success. If you "just don't get algebra" or feel "it's a foreign language" it's not the subject matter... it's you. Either you're too lazy, too stupid or you simply don't want to get it. If you have a math aversion, just admit it, but don't be trying to lay on some kind of "I don't really need it" crap. Without algebra, you cannot do even the most rudimentary business analysis. You can't do a home budget, figure out materials for a job, calculate savings after paying expenses, figure out how long your prescription will last, or much of anything else. My 6-year old granddaughter figured out on her own how many cups of lemonade she had to sell to make enough money to buy something she wanted... using algebra.
    Algebra isn't really the problem... it's the student. Many students get into algebra unable to add 8+7 or multiply 5×3 without a calculator. When you can't conceive of the relationships of numbers, how are you supposed to work through operations? You've got to do the work... learn and practice addition and multiplication until you immediately know that 91 is 7×13 and that 64 is 2^6. I make my students learn to count by 2s, 3s, etc, all the way up to 12s... and they have to be able to multiply numbers in their head... BEFORE we do any algebra. But, if you're not willing to do that kind of work, algebra will batter you... and you deserve it.
    Need it? You can't operate in modern life without it.

    July 31, 2012 at 11:16 pm |
    • bozorocks

      @ Tom
      Tom, I am 55 years old and have never taken an algebra class in my life. It was not required in the high school I attended. I am able to do my home budget, calculate materials for jobs I do around my home, calculate my savings after expenses and I sure as heck can figure out how long my presciptions will last. I did not need algebra to do these things.

      "Algebra isn't really the problem... it's the student." This statement is in part true, but laughable. I suspect it is more the teachers fault. If students get into a algebra class and don`t have the basic math skills down yet, they just do not belong in the class and the teachers prior to their class failed and not the student. Why would any competent teacher allow a student to move on to an algebra class with out basic math skills. Perhaps the teachers are stupid and lazy. If you are having to have students learn multipication tables and counting by 2s and 3s in an algebra class, guess what... your teaching the wrong class. I see you post as more or less you whinning about having to actually teach then the failure of a students ability to learn becuase they are lazy or stupid.

      "Need it? You can't operate in modern life without it." . . . . best laugh I have had all day ! I am living proof you can do just fine without it. Now if I could just learn how to spell.

      July 31, 2012 at 11:59 pm |
      • Bill

        My first career (25 years) I was not a teacher. My second career I am a high school math teacher. Believe it or not, the skills you mentioned are algebra skills. Fairly straight forward, and relatively simple algebra skills, but still algebra. You may not think so, but you probably have good math reasoning and understanding skills. It appears you picked them up naturally, without realizing it. I want my students to be able to logically reason why it is a better deal to get a 30 percent price cut in lieu of getting 30 percent more material. Algebra is more than just numbers, it is a way of thinking.

        August 1, 2012 at 1:20 am |
    • Tiffani Covais

      I love your posting. I was so scared of Algebra. Being a 4.0 student, and a English major, I struggled with accepting Algebra. What I have discovered, is that Algebra is a brain puzzle to solve. I passed my final with a 98%. I am not a genius, I just tried hard. Really, really hard. Thats all you have to do. Believe me...I wear the dunce hat in this class. 🙂

      August 1, 2012 at 12:08 am |
  40. Joey Merlino

    Algebra. It's worth it.

    And it beats cotton-picking any day.

    July 31, 2012 at 11:10 pm |
  41. John

    Sounds all right to me. Every time a few thousand kids/young adults decide to avoid math and science my yearly income increases. All I have to say to them is just don't start protesting when I'm making 5 times what you are.

    July 31, 2012 at 11:09 pm |
  42. rukezilla

    Dear New York Times,

    I will gladly take this Professor Hacker's salary for drastically superior op-ed pieces. In my best Allen Iverson voice..."Algebra... we're talking about algebra man... algebra.."

    July 31, 2012 at 11:07 pm |
  43. Tracey

    Algebra is about so much more than just math, it is logic and rational thinking and it applies to almost every other area from finance to science to figuring out how much paint it will take to cover a wall. Perhaps we need better approaches to teaching or better teachers, but please don't water down education any further. Most people will learn games with ways more 'rules' with little problem...and please don't say that it should be taken out college because only 5% of 'entry level' jobs need it. First of all who goes to college to land an 'entry level' job? And second, check your facts think it overlaps every area of life way more than you think.

    July 31, 2012 at 11:02 pm |
    • Robin Jones

      Well said, Tracey. Dumbing down education so children do not have to master "hard" subjects cheats children of skills that will serve them regardless of whether those skills are directly needed in their jobs.

      July 31, 2012 at 11:17 pm |
  44. Joey Merlino

    IF you teach football and facebook, you got all of the bases covered.

    Then watch your remaining jobs go to China.

    July 31, 2012 at 11:02 pm |
  45. JW

    You have got to be kidding me. It is a joke that this argument has any traction. In any given subject some students will struggle. That does not mean that they shouldn't be required to take it and pass it. Keep on settling for less and we'll keep moving down in educational rankings. We will soon be longing for the days when we were in the company of Latvia, Portugal and Uruguay.

    July 31, 2012 at 11:00 pm |
    • andres

      Urugauy has an excellent education system and demands much more of its students. But for the morbid economy they would have some jobs.

      July 31, 2012 at 11:26 pm |
  46. Helen Grandeis

    What ever happened to the concept of a liberal arts education? Math is one of the fundamental forms of communication. True we could further dumb down the population; however let's teach math better and make it more relevant than one train going west.....Similarly English, art, music are all vital to human self expression. It is truly a shame that more people don't make it past calculus to get that first inkling of how things all fit together in differential equations. The truth of the matter is that all human understanding is just an approximation of the even greater glory of creation.. (think of discoveries like dark matter) Maybe the author is right and all we need is a personal approximation sufficient to allow us to function in our piece of the world.

    July 31, 2012 at 10:56 pm |
  47. Midwest Ed

    Yes, lack of knowledge of Algebra is a barrier to getting into a good college. So is lack of knowledge of reading, so I guess we should stop teaching reading skills too?

    Seriously, algebra is needed to understand finance, do anything in any science or engineering field, make informed choices as a voter, etc. etc. etc.

    July 31, 2012 at 10:54 pm |
  48. Aditya

    While what the author says is true, it's also true that no worker needs to read novels at work, and very few workers have to write essays as work. But I support having those in the curriculum, and I support having algebra in the curriculum as well - at least simple algebra. I don't mind if non-science majors don't want to learn how to find multiple roots or something like that.

    July 31, 2012 at 10:51 pm |
    • Brian

      I am a math teacher. I have taught in middle and high school. We MUST continue to teach Algebra. I think it is simply crazy that people would say that we need to consider not teaching something just because people think it is difficult. Consider what will happen to humanity if everytime we find something to be too difficult, we just walk away from it. In response to those who claim the teaching of Algebra is indicitave of "one size fits all" teaching, I would say that there are countless connections to be made within the teaching of Algebra and it is the teacher's responsibility to make those connections and make them evident for the stduents. Algebra, as we have come to understand it, has its origin in cartesian philisophy and when placed into its proper context has implications for the social sciences as well as the applied sciences. There are many connections to be made not only to math, engineering, biology, chemistry; but also to philosophy, sociology, psychology, and even politics. If we do not teach Algebra, we will be doing a huge disservice to our children. We should all remember the words of DesCartes at a time like this..."I think, therefore I am." It sounds like the mantra of this generation is slowly becoming "I think it is difficult therefore I walk away."

      July 31, 2012 at 11:22 pm |
      • adrianforte

        You keep teaching math, Brian. Algebra is more than math, it conditions the mind to analytical thought, to problem solving. Algebra is winds up teaching the basic structural foundation that unpins all forms of computer programming: Logic, variables, order of operations. Without Algebra, these skills are lost to students. Algebra is not an option in a modern world, it's a necessity.

        July 31, 2012 at 11:33 pm |
  49. Josiah

    Really, CNN? A single screen-length about the importance of algebra, but an article on Foursquare gets eight times as much? You're really playing to the lowest common denominator.

    July 31, 2012 at 10:50 pm |
    • eyeroll

      To be fair, people who don't think Algebra is important can probably only get through about a page.

      July 31, 2012 at 11:14 pm |
  50. myuntidydesk

    No... algebra is not necessary for most people. It held me up in high school, held me up in my 4 year college and caused me to change my degree and switch to a two year college, which isn't exactly my dream, but it is all I can manage because no many how many tutors I have or how hard I try, I just DO NOT get algebra.

    July 31, 2012 at 10:50 pm |
    • Good in Math

      Algebra is the most basic of all maths.

      One side of the equation must equal the other. You can do anything you want to the equation, as long as you do it to both sides.

      Add 5, subtract 7, multiply by 2, divide by 3. If number on the left started out as the number on the right of the equals sign, doing all those things will mean the answer is the same on both sides. Solve for X doing orders of operation.

      If you cant get that, then you shouldn't have been in your major.

      Accounting, Engineering, pharmaceuticals, and thousands of other jobs just ain't for you.

      July 31, 2012 at 11:16 pm |
    • Bill

      Untidy is right. Algebra is unnecessary. I failed out of algebra, and I still got a great job. Now if you'll excuse me, I need to get back to work.

      Welcome to Costco. I love you. Welcome to Costco. I love you. Welcome to Costco. I love you...

      July 31, 2012 at 11:18 pm |
    • Doug

      Algebra is not that tough. Maybe if you put in a little hard work, you could figure it out.

      July 31, 2012 at 11:20 pm |
    • andres

      And look where you are. True some just don't get it but you do provide an excellent example of why it is important for teachers to TEACH algebra, for students to LEARN algebra, and for parents to DEMAND that both the teacher TEACH and the student LEARN algebra.

      July 31, 2012 at 11:29 pm |
  51. Jeffision

    I'm a successful serial entrepreneur, have two master's degrees, a veteran penny pincher at the grocery store, and an above average IQ. I currently own a business that grosses over a million a year and do all my own bookkeeping and accounting. I failed algebra twice and negotiated with my high school so that I was able to take an advanced English and an advanced History class in order to graduate. All people aren't alike...our education system needs to move beyond the factory formula and begin looking at students as individuals with their own talents and interests. Let algebra be an option, not a requirement. To those kids reading this who have a very hard time with algebra, talk to your student counselor and try to make other arrangements. Don't let them make you feel less than anyone else just because algebra doesn't work for you. You _do not_ need algebra to be a success. Follow YOUR dream.

    July 31, 2012 at 10:49 pm |
  52. allenwoll

    The goal of learning algebra is NOT to merely or even necessarily to learn algebra itself.

    The goal is to begin to learn HOW TO THINK ! ! !

    If you do NOT understand this, study algebra and PAY ATTENTION ! ! !

    Hacker is a fool ! ! !

    July 31, 2012 at 10:48 pm |
    • Jargo


      July 31, 2012 at 11:00 pm |
  53. Chip

    I think we can teach algebraic concepts more than we do in lower grades. It seems that many students who have done well in math hit a wall when it comes to algebra, not just the ones who have struggled all along. As a teacher of pre-algebra dealing with parents who want their child to be at the top level in math this presents problems when these previous high-achievers start to struggle. It requires abstract skills that many are not ready for at age 12. I'm not sure what the answer is, but I know there's more to, and merit to, this idea than some here would like to admit.

    July 31, 2012 at 10:48 pm |
  54. Joey Merlino

    Teach FOOTBALL instead. The world needs imbeciles too.

    July 31, 2012 at 10:46 pm |
    • BeadlesAz

      Too funny. Thanks for the laugh.

      July 31, 2012 at 11:48 pm |
  55. Liz

    As much as I disliked math most of my youth it is a necessary subject. The biggest problem is teachers just teach right out of a book without actually understanding themselves in many cases the actual applications where the subject is relevant. Combining real world uses with the math the students learn is far more beneficial then doing away with the subject. I know when I changed colleges and the math classes were taught in a way that was relevant to my career path as a computer programmer it actually started to click. Schools traditionally just teach it out of a book with some crap word problems about trains. In this day and age they need to get more visual and more indepth to how important the math is.

    July 31, 2012 at 10:44 pm |
  56. JJA

    "Professor" (note the use of quotation marks), Hacker, is slow on the uptake and should not be associated with education in any format. Someone one asked Einstein (you may have heard of him), "If you could be proficient in just one area, what would it be?" His answer? Mathematics. His reason? The mental discipline and critical thinking skills it provides impact all aspects of life. I'm sorry to hear that the disadvantaged (read minority), students cannot handle math, but the solution is not to do away with it – unless you are planning for a lifetime career at McDonald's. All of the other major countries in the World – Russia, China, India, etc., etc., train their students with more math courses by high school, than most American students will see in a lifetime. Ya, great solution, prof – do away with math, ya, brilliant.......

    July 31, 2012 at 10:41 pm |
    • Zargoth

      Thank you, sir- very well put...

      July 31, 2012 at 10:43 pm |
  57. Zargoth

    OK- so much for this moron.

    No algebra? Are yo kiddin gme?

    Expecting less is NOT the answer!

    July 31, 2012 at 10:41 pm |
    • Zargoth


      (need to slow down & check when I get so excited typing...)

      But it just really made my head spin...

      July 31, 2012 at 10:42 pm |
  58. Larry

    Here's a novel thought – Maybe we should review how algebra is taught? How children are prepared? The same argument could be applied to physics or to English literature.

    July 31, 2012 at 10:35 pm |
    • kredford9373

      Larry, that is an excellent comment. As an 80 yrs.old white woman, with the last 55+ years in accountinbg and still working, I can testify that I took some 45+ yrs. in math at SMU, Dallas, Texas and Texas A & M University. In my early years at the Oceanography Department as a clerical employee I was able to use all that I learned from my math courses. Then, I switched to public corporations and partnerships. Over and Over again, I found the formulas from algebra useful in finding solutions to the problems I needed to solve; sometimes using math and sometimes using reasoning and common sense. Those math courses that I took have made a tremendous difference to me. I was educated and schooled in the Public School System in Tulsa, Oklahoma and lived in a residential known to be very low income. I truly believe you get what you put into it over and over again. Thanks for your post.

      July 31, 2012 at 10:52 pm |
  59. Leftcoastrocky

    The problem is that in elementary school few teachers have the background and love of math to pass on to their students, and the poor math background follows the kids through high school.

    Yes, algebra should be taught and required.

    Elementary schools need floating math teachers to spend an hour a day with each class.

    July 31, 2012 at 10:32 pm |
    • WestPoint

      I see what you mean, absolutely. My father has taught 5th and 4th grade mathematics for MANY years, and ALWAYS incorporates algebra into his lessons. He teaches them on an 8th grade level, and these are regular kids, not gifted. His former students always tell him how he made math easy for them, and they consistently get higher standardized test scores too. I had bad elementary math teachers, so Algebra was....not a fun experience. Eventually I aced math, through long and hard work, but the students who had my dad had it easy. Basically, elementary NEEDS those concepts, NOT starting in middle or high school. Leftcoastrocky, you are 100% right.

      July 31, 2012 at 10:45 pm |
  60. jimzcarz

    Yeah lets just throw all their critical thinking abilities right out the window.

    July 31, 2012 at 10:30 pm |
  61. Patti

    I have never been a paranoid person...but does anyone else think there is an agenda to make sure our students won't be able to succeed? There is already a never-ending list of frustrations in the world of education, but an outright plan to stop teaching students Algebra...is that an answer? Uh, no. Can we please try addressing math with more rigor in elementary school? I know elementary teachers that confess that they can't use much time on math anymore...that a huge portion of their lessons are language arts based due to pressure at their work site. This must be reversed and corrected before we start talking about taking Algebra off the list. We need to go back to giving students a fair chance to be prepared for higher levels of mathematics.

    July 31, 2012 at 10:12 pm |
  62. DJD137NC

    Our kids only need Algebra if we want them to be qualified for better paying math and science jobs in the future.

    Let's not lower the bar because with avoidance because learning Algebra is challenging for students – let's learn how to teach a difficult subject better.

    Algebra not only has practical uses in everyday life as well as in many of the better paying professions, but learning it
    also teaches important critical analysis and problem solving skills. Armed with those skills, our kids will be able to identify really stupid ideas such as the one this professor is endorsing and reject them before making fools of themselves on national television and the web.

    July 31, 2012 at 9:08 pm |
  63. Mike

    This is the most IRRESPONSIBLE idea EVER in the History of Education, Algebra is not a check the block, spec and dump rite of passage it is as fundamental a reading,, it builds basic analytical problem solving skill that supports critical thinking,, it's not that you need it to do you on-line bill pay,, but you need it to objectively interact within a complex society.. I've also hear of some crack pot districts (baltimore city) that have stopped teaching cursive not that is a little more black and white of a skill issue but it would harckon back to the time when the illiterate would make their mark instead of signing their legal name (which was then use to swindle people out of property and goods) which tends to disproporiantely effect minorities, imigrants and the POOR. WOW one giant step backwards for underprivledged education,, And I thought i was rough on teacher's unions, and the current education system,, this guy I hope isn't incharge of anything but sweeping the floors at a school,, no he's not even qualified for That

    July 31, 2012 at 6:23 pm |
    • Prettygal

      I agree. American education is already dumbed down to the lowest denominator..... how much lower can you go???
      Indian schools are light years beyond...... I am not joking....

      July 31, 2012 at 8:39 pm |
  64. Mary

    The NYT article shocked myself and my husband. It absolutely read as if the primary reason to stop teaching algebra was to let more students graduate, i.e., remove requirements and lower the bar so that a high school degree will be even less valuable in the marketplace.

    As many commenters have noted, algebra is, in the very least, a mental exercise and analytical grounding from which everyone can benefit. The widening gap between the rich and poor over the decades is partially driven by the increasing complexity of the job market. If we teach even fewer skills to our youth, the stratification will only worsen.

    What needs to be removed is the mental block that students have to algebra. While living in NYC, I tutored a young woman who was a gifted writer. She had failed algebra a couple of times and it was nearly impossible to tutor her b/c she wouldn't try. She just kept guessing at the solution, and I believe she had no real desire to master the subject or faith that she could. It is very sad that she got to that point after already taking 2 years of algebra in high school. Removing algebra, however, is not the solution.

    July 31, 2012 at 4:06 pm |
  65. Ligeia

    Teach Finance, budgeting, saving. Get rid of algebra.

    July 31, 2012 at 2:17 pm |
    • Doshi

      All 3 of those can be loosely classified as "Applied Algebra". Algebra is a basic bedrock of mathematics, almost as basic as arithmetic.

      Let's think of this another way. What does Algebra teach? it teaches us how to find the missing piece in a logic puzzle. How is that not one of the most important aspects of life?

      July 31, 2012 at 5:54 pm |
    • sefs

      If I save X each week and there are 52 weeks in the year how much can I save in one year?? savings = 52X....That is algebra.....

      July 31, 2012 at 11:33 pm |
  66. Cynthia

    I think the real problem is the number of kids that we pass on through out school that aren't actually ready for the next grade or the next level of a subject. Algebra is a nightmare for students who never really understood multiplication, division, and fractions. But that doesn't mean that we should cut Algebra. It means that we need to look at earlier math classes as early as grade school. My brother struggled with math right up until high school. My parents pulled him out of school because they public school system wanted to pass him on in elementary school when he really wasn't ready. The teacher even fudged his grades to make it look like he was doing better than he was. He would have been screwed if my parents hadn't been attentive.

    In regards to cutting algebra from college curriculum, this is even more ridiculous. Even if you are not pursuing a technical degree, if you are in college to pursue a career you should be smart enough to handle algebra.

    July 31, 2012 at 12:44 pm |

    Society must wake up to the fact that todays youth are much more broad minded, much more focused and connected to worldly awareness, because of the constent upgrading and availabilty of new technology, such as the internet and its satellite exsposure, etc... Therefore, our youth interests and awareness of scopability are well beyond the present educational system that is in the same structured principle of learning as it was 50 years ago! It is time for the educational Department to change their structure of learning, and in its changing it must understand that you can not keep our youth interested in education if you demand each of them to be in a constant mental entanglement in unimaginable, unusable. upgraded mathematical programs. The time has come for the educational Department to give the youth a more updated, more interesting,outlook on what is offered to them. To create exciting surroundings and opportunities in order to help childern stay interested in education, so they do not stray away into the troubled streets because of the lack of interest and hope!

    July 31, 2012 at 12:29 pm |
  68. OnceDisadvantaged

    I'm sorry but this is just plain stupid! The analytical part of the brain needs mathematics, and more importantly algebra and even calculus for exercise and improvement. Being a mathematical person, i'd say we should get rid of english lit, and upper level grammar. This to me seems useless. But, being an analytical person I can see the uses for both. What is scary here is that this guy is making a blanket generalization that disadvantaged populations should not be taught these skills. I came from that disadvantaged group (poor and minority) and I say BULL!! What these groups need more than ever are skills in upper levels of math and science. These upper levels of education will be the ONLY thing that pulls them out of their current situation. PERIOD! How sad for this guy to endorse dumming down of his own people. Perhaps he should go into the ghettos and make an effort to teach and maybe even inspire these kids to love math and sciences. I am at my current position in life because there were two teachers in my youth who taught me to love math and science. They inspired me to achieve more than I ever thought I could. This guy has no business teaching anyone.

    July 31, 2012 at 12:15 pm |
  69. Brandon

    I can't believe what I'm reading! Algebra is the only complex math I still use and I use it on an almost daily basis. I use it at work, when I'm shopping, when I'm cooking, etc. I can't believe we woudl think about taking this math away from our youth. What about Geometry? I don't recall the last time I had to know what an ellipse was. What about Trigonometry? Anyone even remember what sine, cosine, and tangent are for??? I know I don't. But everyday I've got to figure out the value of "x". Keep Algebra. Cut the fat elsewhere!

    July 31, 2012 at 11:41 am |
  70. Mark

    I think Algebra is a valuable tool for almost all types of careers ranging from construction to engineering. For example when building a roof of a house, you will need to use the pythagorian theorem to determine the length of the diagnal beams for the roof based on the width and height. In all business they need to determin to break even point to determine if they will stay in business or not. Driving a truck, you need to know how much fuel you will need in order to cover the rount trip distance between you pickup and delivery points.

    Algebra; and even Trig, Calculus and Statistics; have been a very valuable tools in my life. Also, English and foreign language classes are very beneficial once schools actually teaches more grammar and structure and less busy work like creative writing and mind numbing book reports. Replace book reports with research papers. Research skills are also highly valued. Now days, we have incredible tools where you can research from anywhere using the internet.

    July 31, 2012 at 11:35 am |
  71. Leslie David

    Algebra teaches analytical skills. It took me twice as long to master algebra in high school but I'm glad I did it–made it through second year algebra and plane trig on my own as well as passing a college algebra course. I was a Lit major in college who hates math. Why? We moved a lot when I was a kid and I had to play catch up with fundamental skills. When do you use algebra? Next time you go to the grocery store and see a sale, determine whether it really is a bargain or not.

    July 31, 2012 at 11:29 am |
  72. Hannah

    I am a career professional, a homeowner, and manage my own retirement funds. I, too, could never pass an algebra class. The whole thing is another language! If algebra concepts and language were integrated much sooner in the education process, like in second grade, it might work better. Young minds are open and absorbent. By the time kids hit their teens, these concepts are harder to grasp and understand. When I went to college I took Algebra 1 three times, and I also had tutuors. I practically cried with pure frustration because I just couldn't "get" it! I'm not stupid...I graduated 3.9. I have one daughter for whom algebra was a breeze, the other daughter cannot grasp it and detests math because of it. Before she hit algebra, math didn't give her any anxiety. I say take it out as a requirement.

    July 31, 2012 at 11:14 am |
  73. Jorge

    Perhaps we should look into the psychological makeup of teachers who major in math. They seem too right-brained to be good communicators, in my experience. When I was a kid, most of my math teachers led me through exasperating, unenlightened trials where all we accomplished was to frustrate each other. Two math teachers changed my hatred of mathematics, though. Not surprisingly, one of them was a multifacetic gentleman who was also a great musician and science teacher, and an excellent communicator. My hat's off to you, Mr. Rosenberg, wherever you are.

    July 31, 2012 at 10:58 am |
  74. hotpotato

    How sad is it that the new american mantra is if its too hard get rid of it or lower the bar.

    July 31, 2012 at 10:56 am |
    • Heid Theba

      Well said !!

      July 31, 2012 at 11:19 am |
    • BeadlesAz

      Sad but true.

      July 31, 2012 at 11:51 pm |
  75. math

    Mathematics, especially basic algebra, teach and reinforce fundamental logic skills. Something no one can do without. Shortage of people skilled in logic is part of the USAs current problem. Abandoning efforts to teach logic and reason are not a solution.

    July 31, 2012 at 10:12 am |
  76. Livetlearn

    The real issue here may not be the value of algebra in general but its value to the individual. In an ever evolving and changing world of information overload children are still expected to get a well-rounded education. Unfortunatly this hinders many people from excelling in the areas they can do well. I have a son who grasps algebra like he inhales food fast and easy and always looking for more. Surprise, he comes from a long line of gifted engineers. I have a daughter who can spell almost anything, reads almost everything and cannot stand math. To her letters are like music, they sing to her, but when faced with algebraic problems she is stumped. My son should be in deeper math classes but my daughter, why? There's no point in forcing the full two years required in high school on her as she truly will not retain or use most of the information. Sadly education, in trying to give us well-rounded children, has taken away the very individuality that makes America so great..

    July 31, 2012 at 9:47 am |
    • Livetlearn

      Just a note to other parents there is an App called Dragonbox that teaches algebra in a fun game style where the kids don't even realize they're solving equations. It won't help in decoding algebra word problems but it does teach autonomic equation solving.

      July 31, 2012 at 9:55 am |
  77. PaulG

    Of course we should require students to pass algebra before graduating high school. Suggesting that we shouldn't is suggesting that the High School Diploma is more important than the education gained during the course of one's education. Algebra isn't some arcane subject that no one ever uses, its a method of determining the relationships between numbers, and we all deal with numbers as adults. How does one run a household budget without knowing numbers? Determine whether pay is fair? Whether one is being cheated in any financial transaction? More importantly in terms of national policy, how does one successfully understand government policy without understanding the relationships between numbers being presented? One simply cannot engage in our world as an adult without an understanding of algebra. Why would we want to say that someone is educated enough to graduate high school if they can't learn basic relationships between numbers? Seriously, that this is a debate at all is one of the problems with education in this country... we don't actually VALUE education. We value the diploma

    July 31, 2012 at 9:21 am |
  78. Jan

    Well my granddaughter will be a junior and cannot seem to grasp algebra so she failed 3x. Although I was told by the school admin. there is no other way for her to graduate w/o passing this class. She has taken algebra in summer school only to fail. She has also taken tutoring. What is happening is some cases is they are setting up children to fail. I guess OPS got what they wanted.

    July 31, 2012 at 8:52 am |
  79. Hoa Viet

    Professor Hacker erred in saying that algebra should not be taught; he probably meant calculus, which is a crowning achievement of human discovery, and yet has few applications in everyday life for most non-engineers.

    I think his point is valid in general though: favor courses that cover basic useful, if mundane, knowledge first. I agree that students should be fluent in probability and statistics but would expand this list to other areas in DISCRETE mathematics (graph theory, combinatorics, algorithms).

    July 31, 2012 at 3:02 am |
    • jzupanic

      thanks for your comment. You made a very good point as did JKale and Jake Brown.

      July 31, 2012 at 11:29 pm |
  80. bob searcy

    speaking only for myself, when my numbers were replaced with letters in the 4th grade i was done with math. i think algebra is taking something difficult and making it more confusing. all those little chinese kids who are proficient in algebra? well it may help them out in the industrial espionage field i guess..

    July 31, 2012 at 1:44 am |
  81. lweba

    I'm a mathematician and also a teacher. During my teaching carrier I also encountered the problem of students dropping from my math classes due mainly to difficulty in understanding algebra. I tried on my part to find different means of teaching this topic in maths. though I did not succeed 100%, but I atleast was able to retain more of my students in math.
    I therefore implore math teachers to try to use different means to teach the subject starting right from concepts of algebra to equation formation. America if you drop Algebra curriculum in your schools, you will loose your place in the worlds standing at a faster rate than what is happening to you right now!

    July 31, 2012 at 12:20 am |
    • bob searcy

      you will "loose" your place in the worlds standing
      yay algebra, boo spelling and grammar..

      July 31, 2012 at 1:36 am |
  82. JKale

    I use algebra all the time, as well as trig an calculus...but I'm an engineer. Most people struggle through algebra and then forgot it all. They never use it in their daily life as adults, even in situations where it might simplify things a little. There is no point in teaching information if it's not retained in any functional way. What would be far more useful would be to teach mandatory survey courses in mathematics to teach students what algebra, trig, and calculus are, and how it can be used, just so the student has an idea about it, and then give them the option of choosing to actually take algebra, calculus, and trig courses. This would make much better use of everyone's time and money and might actually persuade more students to go into math, science, and technology because their first experience with it will no longer be something they hate, struggle with, and think they are bad at.

    July 30, 2012 at 11:09 pm |
    • jzupanic

      Thanks for your comment. You made a very good point as did Hoa Viet and Jake Brown.

      July 31, 2012 at 11:26 pm |
  83. RuFreaknuts

    Ya gotta be kidding me. You can NOT go to the grocery store without basic algebra!

    July 30, 2012 at 9:08 pm |
    • Chris

      You don't need to pass an algebra class to go shopping. Hyperbole much?

      August 1, 2012 at 12:40 am |
  84. rtkmd

    I've used algebra all my life to solve practical "story problems" of everyday life. I've also used trigonometry for calculations involving both work and a technical problem at home (so in this second case I am undoubtedly an outlier). I would not want to count on a financial advisor or a builder who was unable to understand algebra, though I have probably been underserved by inadequately educated members of these and other fields. I suspect algebra is a gatekeeper for a reason. I'm pretty sure that the majority of non-Americans are capable of learning these basic concepts, so I am opposed to giving up on our children.

    July 30, 2012 at 7:43 pm |
  85. pattic

    Of course we should drop algebra, we should obviously drop anything that prevents kids from graduating. Let's dumb it down to the lowest possible denominator to boost our graduation rates. Never mind that the education is meaningless.

    July 30, 2012 at 7:01 pm |
  86. Sarah Thomas

    We live in a techonology-driven society. We constantly complain about Indian and Asian immigrants "stealing" our high-paying jobs. American students already lack the necessary knowledge in science, technology, engineering and math to compete with this segment of the globe. How can we justify taking these courses out of school? Instead of asking is algebra necessary, we should be asking where this country will go without it. Furthermore, this argument seems to be centered around the notion of how difficult it is to learn. We are again blaming our students for their failure. It's time teachers are held accountable. Mr. Perry said he sat in a job interview with a person who couldn't solve the factoring problem her presented to her. Poor teaching is the culprit. Yes, we can graduate more students with a lower math requirement, but I'd prefer fewer well-eduated graduates to a bunch of mediocre graduates. We've already stripped funding to almost nothing, made art and music almost nonexistent and replaced quality teachers with cheaper, less qualified ones. Haven't we taken enough from our children's education?

    July 30, 2012 at 5:43 pm |
  87. Semantics101

    Math is only as good as to how it can be applied. A person can spend many semesters taking and passing math courses and not understand how to use the equations they are learning.
    Having been an engineering student, understanding how to translate word problems into forumlas and then solve the question was the basic concept.
    What made ot so difficult was many math teachers copy the work out of the book and I never remembered the course material because it wasn't practiced in a way I could use it.

    July 30, 2012 at 5:12 pm |
    • JKale

      I found I learned best when they copied it from the book because I didn't have to worry about writing it down. I could review the book before class, listen in class, and ask questions after class, all the while knowing everything written on the board was in the book.

      July 30, 2012 at 11:10 pm |
  88. dd

    I use algebra to solve for "X" all the time in my job. Thank goodness I went to school a loooooong time ago.

    July 30, 2012 at 4:53 pm |
  89. Orionscat

    It's too hard for some kids, so let's get rid of it? Maybe the problem is that we don't introduce it early enough, along with learning critical thinking skills. Every time I look at the MAPP test, which is supposed to give an assessment of critical thinking skills in college students as well as mathematics and reading/writing for college students, I want to cry – so few measure in the capable regions....and even the numbers of those in the marginal area are pathetic. When the vast majority of college students enter college testing as incapable of critical thinking, someone should be ringing the alarm somewhere....

    July 30, 2012 at 4:32 pm |
  90. moatsad

    I was going to read this but it would have taken too much time away from my gaming

    July 30, 2012 at 3:10 pm |
  91. dbw

    Schools should start teaching algebra, abstract algebra, and geometric algebra starting in kindergarten. That would smarten them up.

    July 30, 2012 at 3:00 pm |
    • Orionscat


      July 30, 2012 at 4:27 pm |
  92. Duane

    This is simply stupid! The "professor" simply wants to promote mediocrity. His thinking is part of the reason why the U.S. is not doing as well in science and engineering as it once did. He dosn't seem to understand the importance of Mathematics (in particular advanced mathematics) to sceince an egineering which are the engines of economic growth. His stupid advice should be ignored

    July 30, 2012 at 2:58 pm |
  93. one time republican

    The mere fact that this notion is being considered is aphaling. This is exactly wwhy we place 25th out of 34 in math. If we had more dedicated teachers, who truly have a passion to teach, rather than big kids who just enjoy their summers off, an education department that keeps lowering the standards everytime someone complains it is too hard. That is why I cringe when I hear our elected officials talk about how bright and brilliant Americans are, when in fact a good majority of them are morons.

    July 30, 2012 at 2:54 pm |
    • TargetDestroyed01

      Copy that "One Time"...I agree, many, if not most Americans are morons. The 69,456,897 who voted for Obama certainly are. Hopefully, that was your "one time" so you were not in that mathematical subset. 🙂

      July 31, 2012 at 10:55 pm |
  94. Papa

    Let the Chinese do our math for us too, we got more interesting things to do

    July 30, 2012 at 2:53 pm |
  95. Caroline

    I was a poor math student (except for plane geometry), but I believe that if algebra were not required, some other training needs to replace it. It's not just for the sake of logic, but additionally for the skill of solving for the unknown. Maybe that is an extension of logic in concept, but it seems to me to be a more concrete skill that studemts need practice in.

    July 30, 2012 at 2:21 pm |
  96. Kootz

    I feel the important part of taking high, or even entry level mathmatics courses is to learn how to think differently. Sure, I may never need to take another derivative or intergal for the rest of my life, but I learned, well, how to learn something that seemed very abstract and foreign. ORLY? makes a good point, Algebra or Calculus are some of the only courses where students are exposed to solving logic puzzles. This ability to critically think and work through complex problems is extremely important in the development of a thoughtful, motivated, and bright students.

    July 30, 2012 at 1:02 pm |
    • Bud

      You may not be able to compute a differential or integral - I can't - but it really helps to know that such computation is not magic. Just as writing is an important skill, even if most of us never author a book.

      July 30, 2012 at 8:00 pm |
  97. ORLY?

    It seems a disturbing trend that people who either do not like or are not good at something want that something to not exist so they don't have to feel bad. Wouldn't it make more sense that if you aren't skilled in an area you'd want SOMEONE who is on the planet? Algebra is also one of the few times a child is exposed to the concept of logic in school, and were it to be eliminated I'm sure well see more incomprehensible articles like the one mentioned as we move towards a culture of feeling.

    July 30, 2012 at 12:19 pm |
    • JKale

      You really just want it to stick around because you've been told it's part of a proper education that people learn such things, and, you probably also want people to suffer a little as you did...after all, it would be unfair if they didn't, right?

      Information is information, what counts is whether or not one has a need to know it, and can learn it in a manner that they can remember it and effectively utilize it. I'm in engineering. My education was rigorous to say the least. I have shelf upon shelf with books on things like signal processing, stability control, device fabrication, logic gate theory, and so on. I have books on physics, statistics, chemistry, calculus, differential equations of all sort of variables, etc etc etc. At one time or another, I have read each of those books, almost cover to cover. But how much of that information do I remember such that I can use it in an effective manner? Honestly, not much. I remember that which continues to be relevant to me, which can probably be summarized in one book if I were to write it myself.

      July 30, 2012 at 11:21 pm |
  98. Greg Erdos

    I agree. And further more very few college students will ever need calculus. Many highly intelligent people lack the wiring in their brains for mathematics. It is an obstacle to highly successfuls careers and a loss to society.

    July 30, 2012 at 12:17 pm |
    • Bud

      Looks like English isn't your strong subject, either.

      July 30, 2012 at 7:55 pm |
  99. Jake Brown

    How many people in that CNN news room can solve x^2-4x = 0 ? I bet not many, if any, and yet I also bet everyone in that newsroom considers themselves successful in their career.

    Kids in school know a scam when they see one. They are not stupid.

    It is hypocritical for anyone who cannot solve the above equation to tell kids they need to know algebra. It's like telling kids not to do drugs while holding a martini and taking two aspirin.

    July 30, 2012 at 11:58 am |
    • rtkmd

      Actually I think the CNN reporters are pretty well educated. I would bet (to take a few examples) Suzanne Malveaux, Soledad O'Brien, Erin Burnett, and Jessica Yellin could do that one in their heads.You did however stump me initially when you threw in the symbol ^. Since we did not use that when I learned algebra in the 1960's, I had to look it up, wondering if I had missed something in a form of "new math." Apparently it can mean many things, but I assume to meant the phrase to mean simply "x squared," which is otherwise challenging to type. Assuming this to be true, I would be stunned if my grown kids are unable to solve that one. They may not use algebra as much as I have in adulthood, but it always made sense to me to maximize one's options. You can learn history as an adult. Math would be tough. Foreign language is perhaps somewhere in between.

      July 30, 2012 at 8:20 pm |
    • Cynthia


      July 31, 2012 at 12:56 pm |
      • John

        also x=0

        July 31, 2012 at 11:38 pm |
    • fakedodgeviperguy

      yes they may not be able to do it...but do they need it?

      can you beat me in a game of street fighter 2 in the arcade? no you can't because you don't need it!

      July 31, 2012 at 4:25 pm |
    • Ezo

      x= 0,4

      July 31, 2012 at 11:40 pm |
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