Who Actually Needs Algebra II In Texas And Does It Matter?

A bill that would change high school graduation requirements is working its way through the Texas Legislature. One of the most controversial changes involves algebra. It would no longer be required for a basic high school diploma.

Algebra II is pretty basic for anyone in science technology engineering or math.

In fact Jeff Morgan — the math department chair at the University of Houston — says for them it’s like learning the alphabet.

“You can’t read if you don’t know the alphabet. No one is going to medical school, no one’s going to be engineer, no one’s a chemist, a biologist, a mathematician, a statistician, a physicist, any of those things, if they don’t know algebra II.”

So if you want to go to college and major in science — or anything else like English — you’ll still have to take algebra II in high school. But if you’re planning to stop at high school, the proposal means you don’t have to take algebra II.

Morgan says that’s a hard decision to make so early on.

“I don’t know exactly who needs algebra II. And this is crux of the problem. If everyone had a crystal ball, then in first grade we’d say, 'Ok look, you’re going college track and you’re not going college track because I already know everything about you.' But we don’t know and that’s why we teach the course.”

Betsy Anderson is a veteran algebra and math teacher at Bellaire High School. You might be surprised. But she welcomes taking algebra two off the list of graduation requirements.

“We are preparing students to be good citizens and I think algebra two is not necessary. You don’t have to do an exponential function in order to be a good citizen and a nice parent and a worker in our society today.”

Rep. Jimmie Don Aycock — a Republican from Killeen — is the main sponsor of House Bill 5. He says the change is about jobs ...

 ... Jobs like oil derrick operators and home health aides. Those are two of the fastest growing occupations in Texas, according to the state’s Workforce Commission. Neither one requires a four-year degree.

“The algebra II question. I just don’t believe everybody needs algebra II guys, I know there are people in this room that disagree with that. But I don’t think it should be the determining factor in a student’s future.”

Raymund Paredes, the Texas Higher Education Commissioner, says that’s shortsighted.

“It’s a simplistic argument to simply say, ‘Well, this young person is not going into a math-related field or not going into a science-related field. It’s not just a question of job skills, it’s a matter of critical thinking skills and to a larger extent, it’s a question of being an informed, productive, thoughtful citizen.”

He says algebra II makes you think faster and solve problems quicker.

And he says employers complain that younger workers don’t have enough critical thinking skills.

From the KUHF Education Desk, I’m Laura Isensee.

Bio photo of Laura Isensee

Laura Isensee

Education Reporter

Laura Isensee covers education for KUHF, including K-12 and higher education.

Previously, she was a staff reporter at The Miami Herald and regularly contributed to WLRN, the local NPR affiliate and Miami Herald news partner...