Herald Journal Columns
May 1, 2006, Herald Journal

Algebra in 8th grade works


Gov. Tim Pawlenty proposed in his State of the State address to have algebra taught in eighth grade instead of high school. Minnesota trails other states in math readiness. An increased focus on math and science would put Minnesotans back on par or ahead of the rest of the globe, he said.

Pawlenty’s proposal could work if more academic rigor is put into elementary school math. When I was in elementary school, no new elementary level math was introduced in eighth grade anyway. Eighth grade math was more catch up on what was missed, or cementing together what was learned K through Grade 7.

However, some educators are saying that Pawlenty’s proposal can’t work in practice, according to the April 13 Pioneer Press.

A middle school teacher from Apple Valley was quoted as saying “math teachers would need longer class periods, smaller class sizes and aides to help kids who are struggling,” (translation: more money from the taxpayers.)

Here’s the part, though, that gave me a flashback: “If this is going to fly, we need parents involved at home,” the Apple Valley teacher said.

A few years ago I was substitute teaching at Sibley East Elementary in Arlington. I and a few other third grade teachers were outside supervising recess. The teachers began to complain how the parents of their students were neglecting to teach their children number facts from 0 to 18, and the multiplication tables.

The teachers agreed that this was the parents’ responsibility, not theirs, and the parents weren’t doing their jobs. I was floored. When did teaching number facts and multiplication tables become the parents’ responsibility? I was stunned into silence. I wondered what the taxpayers of the Sibley East School District thought about the parents’ instructional responsibility?

I remember when I was in the fourth grade, the teacher, not my parents, drilled the multiplication tables into me. We were expected to answer 32 instantly when we were asked what is 4 times 8. We were not allowed to take time to add 8 plus 8 plus 8 plus 8, or say to ourselves, 3 times 8 is 24, so 4 times 8 is the same as 24 plus 8. We were expected to respond immediately with the correct answer.

Fortunately, Dassel Cokato parents can rest easy on this one. I talked to third grade teacher, Mark Dolan, and the principal, Lorene Force, at Cokato Elementary School about who is responsible for teaching number facts and multiplication tables in this district. DC teachers use a curriculum that does not rely on parents doing the teaching.

DC parents can assist, review or monitor whether their children are doing homework, but the actual teaching of math facts and multiplication tables are not their responsibility.

I’m pleased that the Dassel Cokato school district appears ready to add the extra academic rigor needed to have all eighth graders take algebra. Dassel Cokato might even be first in the state.

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