A good deed to raise academic standards that will not go unpunished

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Last month the California State Board of Education voted almost unanimously to soon require that all 8th grade students must take the state's algebra test. It seems that nearly half of all California students weren't taking the test until they reached high school, when it had to be taken in order to graduate.

Experts who are normally phlegmatic amid complaints about academic standards don?t mince words about the myriad problems associated with this well-intentioned move. Tom Loveless, of the Brookings Institution, called the new requirement "absolutely far-fetched." Francis "Skip" Fennell, former president of the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics, who says that he is "all about raising standards," stated that he "wouldn't want to legislate that every 8th grader take a course in Algebra 1."

We're with Loveless and Fennell. Kids need to learn more math, but California's elementary and middle school math instruction doesn't seem up to the challenge of even current requirements, with math remediation rates continuing to escalate at California's community colleges (including 80 percent of college-bound minority students), and fewer students demonstrating proficiency on the state's algebra test in 2007 than did so in 2003 when it first because a graduation requirement.

Reminiscent of its 1996 class size fiasco, the number of middle school algebra teachers needed to handle the influx of 8th graders would have to double from the current 3,300 to 6,600. Even assuming that some high school math teachers could be coaxed to move to middle school, the prospects that already-struggling students will be taught algebra in 8th grade by top teaching talent seems very small. One small consolation: the students in the inaugural 2011 classes probably didn't get caught in the small class size debacle, since by the time they arrived at kindergarten, most class size reductions had been rolled back.