Why is algebra so important?
Algebra is known as a gatekeeper subject, so when should your child take it?
By GreatSchools Staff
Last fall results from national math exams stirred up a tempest in a standardized test. It turns out math scores rose more quickly before No Child Left Behind was implemented, and fourth-grade math scores haven’t improved since 2007. As reported in the New York Times, the achievement gap remains a chasm between the haves and the have-nots.
What does this mean for your child? While pundits and politicians battle over the big issues, it's up to parents to stay on top of the little ones: their own kids' academic development. Make sure your tween or teen is on track for high school math with this guide to algebra.
Why algebra matters
It is frequently called the gatekeeper subject. It is used by professionals ranging from electricians to architects to computer scientists. It is no less than a civil right, says Robert Moses, founder of the Algebra Project, which advocates for math literacy in public schools.
Basic algebra is the first in a series of higher-level math classes students need to succeed in college and life. Because many students fail to develop a solid math foundation, an alarming number of them graduate from high school unprepared for college or work. Many end up taking remedial math in college, which makes getting a degree a longer, costlier process than it is for their more prepared classmates. And it means they're less likely to complete a college-level math course. For middle-schoolers and their parents, the message is clear: It's easier to learn the math now than to relearn it later.
The first year of algebra is a prerequisite for all higher-level math: geometry, algebra II, trigonometry, and calculus. According to a study (pdf) by the educational nonprofit ACT, students who take algebra I, geometry, algebra II, and one additional high-level math course are much more likely to do well in college math.
Algebra is not just for the college-bound. Even high school graduates headed straight for the work force need the same math skills as college freshmen, the ACT found. This study looked at occupations that don't require a college degree but pay wages high enough to support a family of four. Researchers found that math and reading skills required to work as an electrician, plumber, or upholsterer were comparable to those needed to succeed in college.
Algebra is, in short, the gateway to success in the 21st century. What's more, when students make the transition from concrete arithmetic to the symbolic language of algebra, they develop abstract reasoning skills necessary to excel in math and science.