In order for California's new eighth-grade Algebra I requirement to work, the state superintendent of public instruction says, the state needs to spend nearly $3 billion each year for smaller math classes, additional class time, more school counseling services, teacher recruitment and training, and expanded after-school and summer programs.
State Superintendent Jack O'Connell said he was aware that he was making the costly proposal amid talks of sweeping statewide budget cuts. But if the money isn't available, he said, the state Board of Education should reconsider its decision to require all middle school students to be tested in Algebra I by the end of eighth grade.
"We cannot afford to put together a quick approach or a program on the cheap," O'Connell said during a Tuesday news conference.
Educators here agree with O'Connell's request.
"We are working on getting all students to proficiency, but saying all kids are going to pass Algebra I, well, that is a big order," said Jim Fitzpatrick, superintendent for Castro Valley schools. "It is not a reality at this time without any additional resources."
Last month, at Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's behest, the state Board of Education voted to eliminate the eighth-grade general math exam — the standardized test taken by pre-algebra students — in three years. In doing so, the board effectively required schools to enroll all students in algebra by the eighth-grade, regardless of whether their teachers think they are prepared.
Some touted the move as a way to address educational inequity and improve mathematical rigor. Others, such as O'Connell, criticized it as simplistic and potentially detrimental.
A spokeswoman for Schwarzenegger wouldn't comment specifically on O'Connell's price estimate for the algebra plan.
"Once they've determined the best way to implement this testing system, he will ensure it has the support it needs," spokeswoman Camille Anderson said.
Only about half of the state's eighth-grade students took Algebra I in 2006-07, and less than 25 percent tested at a proficient level on the exam.
Educators have taken note of that alarming statistic and have begun working on improving student performance prior to the state board's decision.
In San Leandro, the district recently began implementing a "phase-in" plan to get all of its eighth-graders in Algebra I by 2010.
The district has been able to acquire grants in the past year to help fund its plan, which includes adequate algebra standards training for teachers, Superintendent Christine Lim said.
"For me, it raises the bar," Lim said. "I do not think we are setting students up for failure. The requirement establishes an expectation that kids can take algebra in the eighth grade and be successful."
Meanwhile, the changes will be nothing new to the Hayward school district, which began placing all of its eighth-graders in Algebra I three years ago to align its standards with state expectations.
The state considers Algebra I to be an eighth-grade-level course, officials said, and last month's decision by the state board makes Algebra I a requirement for all school districts in the state.
Still, educators maintain that more resources will be needed to implement the state's goal successfully.
Without the resources to make the shift, O'Connell said, the students and schools "will be in a real world of hurt."
Some educators said the added pressure to have students master Algebra I before high school may become a problem for kids.
"It would be nice to get all students as prepared as possible, but my concern is the pitfalls with students who are very far from ready to take algebra," said Dan Fruzzetti, a math teacher at Tennyson High School in Hayward.
"Those students may end up entirely turned off, which is basically shooting ourselves in the foot."
Source: California Algebra I Success Initiative, California Department of Education