Sunday, August 26, 2007

Algebra: The Great Gatekeeper

Why Is Algebra a Big Deal?

Algebra is the "gatekeeper" that lets people into rewarding careers and keeps others out.

By Linda Strean, Managing Editor, GreatSchools

It is frequently called the "gatekeeper" subject. It is used by photographers, architects, upholsterers and just about everyone in a high-tech career. It is simply a civil right, says Robert Moses, a veteran of the civil rights movement.

Basic algebra is the first in a sequence of higher-level math classes that students need to succeed. Because many students fail to get a solid math foundation, an alarming number of them are graduating from high school unprepared for either college or work. Many are taking remedial math in college, which makes getting a degree a longer, costlier process than it is for their more prepared classmates. And it means they're less likely to complete a college-level math course. For middle school students and their parents, the message is clear: It's easier to learn the math now than to try to relearn it later.

What Makes Algebra So Important?

The first year of algebra is the prerequisite for all higher level math: geometry, algebra II, trigonometry and calculus. According to a study by the ACT, students who take algebra I, geometry, algebra II and one additional high-level math course are much more likely to succeed in college math.

Algebra is not just for the college-bound. Students headed straight from high school to the work force will need the same math skills as college freshmen, the ACT found. This ACT study looked at occupations that don't require a college degree but pay wages high enough to support a family of four. Researchers found that math and reading skill levels required to work as an electrician, plumber or upholsterer were comparable to those needed to succeed in college.

Algebra is, in short, the gateway to success in the 21st century.

What's more, your child develops abstract reasoning when he makes the transition from concrete arithmetic to the symbolic language of algebra. That helps him become an abstract thinker, a benefit that will carry over into his study of other subjects.

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