Want to mandate 8th-grade algebra? It’ll cost $3 billion, O’Connell says

California’s superintendent of public instruction says that in order for Gov. Schwarzenegger’s de facto eighth-grade Algebra I requirement to work, the state will need to pony up $3.1 billion — “with a `b'” — dollars for smaller math classes, additional class time, more school counseling services, and expanded after school and summer programs.

State Superintendent Jack O’Connell said he was aware that he was making the spendy Algebra I Success Initiative proposal during state budget negotiations marked by deep deficits and planned cuts to education, health and social services. He also noted that the $3 billion proposal mostly included ongoing costs, rather than one-time expenses.

“If the governor is unable to come up with this (funding), then he should encourage the state board to reconsider this mandate,” O’Connell said during a teleconference this morning.

If you’ve followed the Algebra Wars, you might recall that the idea of requiring all eighth-grade students to be tested in Algebra I (rather than allowing some kids to take an easier standardized test with pre-algebra concepts) was Schwarzenegger’s idea.

O’Connell didn’t like it one bit — especially the fact that the governor swooped in at the last minute to push his Algebra-only agenda.

O’Connell still says he would have preferred a “broader” discussion about math and technology, rather than focusing so many resources on algebra alone. Maybe this is his best effort to get the mandate lifted. What do you think?

image from Bubblesthepiggy’s site at flickr.com/creativecommons

Katy Murphy

Education reporter for the Oakland Tribune. Contact me at kmurphy@bayareanewsgroup.com.

  • Sue

    I don’t have a very good opinion of O’Connell in general, but I think he’s doing the right thing with bringing costs into the algebra discussion. If the governor and the state board want their algebra mandate to get off the ground, it will have to be paid for, somehow. It’s the governor’s responsibility to get the legislature to fund it, and he needs to know how much to ask for when he goes to them with hat in hand. If O’Connell’s goal is to get the mandate rescinded, the cost seems like the strongest argument he has.

    Either way, he’s right.
    (And it’s really, really hard for me to say that!)

  • Catherine

    Where do we get the money? We don’t have the money or the math teachers we currently need.

    With property values down and homes selling for less money, we will have lower property tax revenues. In areas where people vote on assessment, I don’t see that you have it passed with 25% or more of the homes are bank-owned. I just don’t understand.

  • Katy Murphy

    This doesn’t answer Catherine’s question, but I’ve compiled a breakdown of where the $3.1 billion would be spent under O’Connell’s proposal. Nearly $3 billion of the expenses would be ongoing.

    Additional class time — $1.5 billion
    Smaller class sizes for pre-algebra and algebra — $861 million
    “Boost” classes in elementary and middle school — $175 million
    School counseling services — $40 million
    After-school, summer and other student-support programs — $82 million
    Materials — $149 million
    Teacher training — $149 million
    Teacher recruitment and outreach — $122 million
    Algebra Task Force — $1.5 million

  • Nextset

    Money will not change the fact that most public school students are incapable of doing such work… For example, does LA Unified has only about 4% of it’s students doing Algebra class?

    Forcing the students who do not want, do not need and can’t handle higher math classes into them – even if you printed the money for it – will not change the fact that they can’t function at that level. It’s not a money thing. You cannot “teach” cognitive function.

    And yes, the money, such as there is, needs to be used in vocational ed, in reading and writing – which is apparently no longer taught in the urban schools because the minority students especially the blacks no longer speak standard english but rather a dialect. As in the UK, the lack of standard English keeps these people in their place – in this case (largely) unemployed. That is something that money and education (training) can affect, the ability to speak the language. We need to fix this and we could if the schools cared enough.

    Our priority is language, deportment and work skills for the proletariat, not higher math forced on the proles to make the liberals feel good about themselves. Those with some aptitude and desire can advance in math, not the masses.

    When you want to screw someone, one of the best ways to do so is to set them up for failure while giving the appearance that you are “helping” them. With time and experience people can become very good at doing this to other people. I refuse to believe somebody with the life experiences that Arnold has – and Congress has – “accidently” makes things so much worse for the (could be) working class.

    What they have done is the same as requiring an IQ test at 110 to get a high school diploma. They know exactly what they are doing. It’s wrong to put high school graduation out of reach for IQs of 90. Remember – if all people are created equal cognitively for those who go there, half the US population would then carry cognitive function measurable below IQ of 100. At what point do we want to set the cutoff for high school diplomas? Look at the chart for the US education level attainment – as it is now look at the percentage of adults who carry at least a high school diploma. Now add higher math requirements to that. Very small changes in requirements can produce very profound changes in achievement level. Like DMV adding time cutoffs to it’s written tests…

    I wouldn’t make such changes without having to do so. I think this algebra change is against the interests of the working class and the wanna-be middle class. And I believe public school should be aimed at them and not worry about the college bound. College bound can self serve.

  • John

    “…minority students especially the blacks no longer speak standard English but rather a dialect. As in the UK, the lack of standard English keeps these people in their place – in this case (largely) unemployed….We need to fix this and we could if the schools cared enough.”

    The Oakland Board of Education once cared enough to try and keep Afro American students in their place with:


    As I recall their effort was nationally acclaimed by Jay Leno & David Letterman. Some comedians have NO respect for Linguistic diversity!

  • peter

    As John mentions, the school board’s effort was nationally panned… except in education circles, where anyone who is familiar with the research knows that African American students (and almost all students with access to MTV) speak a dialect that is not strictly Academic English, and that these students need to be specifically taught the intricacies of Academic English. Federal funds are provided for “all” language learners except these students, and Nextset is quite right that training and money can change this very quickly. Schools do care, and many in Oakland have implemented specific strategies to target this need… these schools are generally identifiable by their increasing test scores.