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A Double Dose of Algebra


"In 2008, president-elect Barack Obama declared that preparing the nation for the '21st-century economy' required making 'math and science education a national priority.' Encouraging more students to take advanced classes seems laudable, but concerns have arisen about the ability of many students to complete such course work successfully. Students in urban high schools are of particular concern. Populated predominantly by low-income and minority students, these schools struggle with two related problems. First, many students do not earn passing grades in early courses that are thought to be prerequisites for more-advanced subjects. Second, students are at high risk of failing to earn their high school diplomas at all. One increasingly popular approach to improving students' math skills is 'algebra for all,' which encourages more students to take algebra and at earlier ages. The best study of this approach, using evidence from Charlotte, North Carolina, shows that pushing students into course work for which they are ill prepared actually harms their subsequent academic achievement. A potentially promising alternative, and one the authors focus on here, is 'double-dose' algebra, in which struggling students are given twice as much instructional time as they would normally receive."