Something's not adding up, according to what the AP calls a "provocative new book" that pleads the case of getting rid of mandatory algebra in US schools. "One out of 5 young Americans does not graduate from high school … one of the worst records in the developed world," says Andrew Hacker, a professor emeritus and author of The Math Myth and Other STEM Delusions. "Why? The chief academic reason is they failed ninth-grade algebra." Hacker's main argument: Very few jobs and other real-world activities rely on algebraic skills and other high-level math, so kids should be learning more statistics and common-sense math, including "basic numerical skills [such as] decimals, ratios, and estimating," per a New York Times article he wrote on the subject in 2012. "Will algebra help you understand the federal budget?" he notes to the AP. And some students are jumping right on the Hacker bandwagon, echoing the age-old argument of "when are we ever going to need this stuff?"
"When it came to x and y and graphing, that's when I started dropping, and it made me feel low," says an 18-year-old college freshman, noting he used to be good at math until algebra entered the picture. There's resistance to Hacker's platform, though, including from educators (especially those behind Common Core standards) who insist algebra helps students wrap their heads around formulas and relationships—a valuable skill for many jobs. "Algebra is the tool for consolidating your knowledge of arithmetic," a math professor says, with another adding that schools have no way of knowing which kids might need algebra and which won't. But, as Hacker contends in his Times piece, there's "no reason to force [students] to grasp vectorial angles and discontinuous functions" and make everyone pull the "huge boulder" that is math without really examining "what all this pain achieves." (Meanwhile, parents have to go back to school to learn their kids' math.)