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$3.1 billion needed for algebra mandate

August 12, 2008 12:00:00 AM PDT
Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, R-California, is getting his wish and eighth-grade students will soon be required to take algebra. Last month he sounded the alarm -- in 2007, California's eighth-graders ranked 44th in the nation in math achievement. However, those charged with implementing the new requirement are raising some questions.A month after Governor Schwarzenegger swayed the California Board of Education to mandate Algebra 1 for all eighth-graders, Jack O'Connell, D-State Superintendent, challenged him to put his money where his mouth is. He says he needs $3.1 billion this year to start gearing up.

"Short of that, you'd be setting our students up for failure -- and that's my concern," said O'Connell.

Even though the Algebra 1 mandate doesn't start for another three years, O'Connell says he needs the money now to recruit 3,300 new full-time math teachers, reduce class sizes and create extra programs to help kids who are struggling.

State statistics show an embarrassingly low number of California eighth-graders have any of those math skills. Of the students who took the state test last year, only 20 percent demonstrated the minimum proficiency in Algebra.

It's worse among students of color. Only 13 percent of Latino students and 10 percent of African-American students scored high enough.

The California Mathematics Council fears three years is too short of time to get everyone up to speed without extra funding.

"One of the leading causes of high school dropout is the pressure of trying to pass Algebra 1. And I think now, if we're going to force all of them to do it in eighth grade, I would expect more kids, maybe, to dropout," said Gretchen Muller from the California Mathematics Council.

But Governor Schwarzenegger, who considers himself a big believer in education, will not say how much more money schools will get to meet the new Algebra 1 requirement. The state is in a fiscal crisis, and in this tough budget year, he's already proposed that schools do without $4 billion in cost-of-living increases for various programs.

"The governor is committed to making sure we have the resources necessary to be able to implement having the highest algebra standards in the world," said Aaron McLear, the governor's press secretary.

O'Connell was never a big fan of the eighth grade Algebra 1 requirement. He's hoping if the governor can't come up with the extra money, Schwarzenegger will rescind it.


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