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Two Sides to Every Equation: Different Takes on the Algebra Ruling

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“You know, we don’t do a lot of algebra in our office. But it really does affect your critical thinking. And the language creeps in all the time. People are always saying things like, ‘You’re only looking at one side of the equation.’”

In the days after the California Board of Education’s vote to require every eighth grader to be tested in algebra, the Sacramento Bee profiled several individuals who use algebra in their everyday life and asked how it affected them.

According to Johnnie Powell, a forecaster with the National Weather Service, it was algebra that opened the door to a career he enjoys every day. “When I read the story, I had to think about it,” Powell said. “I know it’s going to be difficult for some students. But then I realized it will only help them in the future. That’s what happened to me.”

Structural engineer Kit Miyamoto agreed. “I use algebra every day, every day,” said Miyamoto. “It’s the basics of mathematics and it gives you logical sense.”

Unlike Powell and Miyamoto, Les Bowman, a redevelopment manager for the city of West Sacramento, does not use algebra every day, but he still understands its importance. “You know, we don’t do a lot of algebra in our office,” he said. “But it really does affect your critical thinking. And the language creeps in all the time. People are always saying things like, ‘You’re only looking at one side of the equation.’”

But for every person like Powell or Miyamoto are people like Lucila Zetino, a summer school student at Monroe High in North Hills. Zetino was part of an early push to get all students into algebra in eighth grade, but she failed the algebra then and has every time since. Now eighteen, she is attending classes after her senior year, determined to pass the course and earn her high school diploma. She tells the Los Angeles Times that she started struggling with math in seventh grade. In eighth grade algebra, Zetino’s teacher quit and was replaced by a long line of substitutes. “I don’t think I was prepared. I think they just, like, pushed me into algebra. . . . Math was like a different language I never understood. I felt hopeless.”

“Is algebra useless? Not to these folks” is available at http://www.sacbee.com/101/story/1075680.html.

“California mandates testing every eighth-grader in algebra—ready or not” is available at http://www.latimes.com/news/education/la-me-algebra10-2008jul10,0,4202416.story.

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