Regarding Rob Coppock’s July 17 Local Opinions commentary, “For educators pushing eighth-grade algebra, an ‘F’ in brain science”:
I have an engineering background, and I spent 20 years in the Air Force before I retired to spend another 20 years teaching eighth-grade algebra and pre-algebra. Mr. Coppock is absolutely correct when he says that most students are not ready for Algebra I in the eighth grade. Students mature at different rates when it comes to abstract mathematical thinking, and pushing students into abstract math too soon is an invitation to failure and a resulting lifelong dislike of math. As a math teacher, I’ve noted in conversations over the years that it seems to be socially acceptable to happily admit one’s deficiencies in math.
Pre-algebra is the shallow end of the math pool, while Algebra I is the deep end. Who would want their kid thrown in the deep end to learn to swim? Mathematics is a process that can be followed to the PhD level if the student hasn’t been left behind by an accelerated curriculum instituted by the unknowing. Part of this push to have every kid in the eighth grade take Algebra I is for the glory of education administrators (though they will never admit it). The higher you go in the educational hierarchy, the less in touch those people seem to be with the reality of teaching. Having all eighth-graders take Algebra I is a stunningly good example of this.
I would love to see the person who makes the decision to teach Algebra I to a randomly selected group of new eighth-graders. I can predict the results, and so can Mr. Coppock.
Donald Morgan, Fairfax Station