This is my response to an article by Dr. Tom Loveless, Director of the Brown Center on Education Policy entitled "The Misplaced Math Student: Lost in Eighth-Grade Algebra" published in September 2008.
I've read your article regarding misplaced math students lost in eighth grade algebra, and it's difficult to disagree with your citing of the research and data and your conclusions. However, I fail to see how schools, educators, and/or policy-makers can really benefit without real solution/s to a real problem.
Instead of telling us what we already know, "[students] should be taught whole number and fraction arithmetic so that they can then move on to successfully learn advanced mathematics," give us clear methods, strategies, approaches to use to help us, not to identify (we know how to do that), but support these children in elementary school before they get to the tougher maths and simultaneously support them while they are enrolled in Algebra I in eighth grade.
Your only real feasible solution is to require students to attend summer school. Unfortunately, the students you have identified (from poor, minority families who can offer little support to their children) are unlikely to attend summer school, required or not, and the schools that they attend (large, high-poverty, urban public schools) are unlikely to have the finances to offer summer school.
According to Richard DuFour , et al. (Whatever It Takes... 2004), support must be built into the school day in order to reach the students you've identified. This is where we have the most difficult problem ... finding time during the day to reach these students before it's too late. Offer us creative ways to play with and manage time in order to accomplish supporting our students during school hours. This is the only way we're going to reach those 120,000 students to which you refer. I believe that it can be done.
Here at my high school, with a student enrollment of app. 1,600, we see the same type of students struggling in Algebra I and Geometry who are consistently failing our state standardized exams. We have finally realized that our students will never learn what we want them to learn if we don't support them during the day. We're going to a "one lunch" period next year - we currently run 4 lunches - to work in remediation and enrichment during the day. I'm very excited and will be working with a select team of teachers next semester to finalize the details to make sure it has a good start. Wish us luck.
I enjoy reading your articles. I hope to see one related to the above suggestions in the near future. Thank you for your time.