## Mandating Mediocrity?

*A*or

*B*) decreased (“Positive Attitudes” 1993). The kinds of supplemental teacher and student support available within the Equity 2000 project will be beyond the reach of most school districts. There is little reason to be optimistic about the benefits of mandated traditional algebra instruction in districts lacking such support.

The problem rests with the content and teaching methods used in traditional algebra courses. Lynn Steen, a prominent mathematician and spokesperson for mathematics education reform, has observed that the traditional algebra course is often worthless: For most students, the current school approach to algebra is an unmitigated disaster.... First-year algebra in its present form is not essential for a quality mathematics education. This is not to say, however, that algebra is not essential (1992, p. 10). And in its official position statement, “Algebra for Everyone... More Than a Change in Enrollment Patterns,” the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics recently asserted that ... first-year algebra in its present form is not the algebra for everyone. In fact, it is not the algebra for most high school graduates today (“Board Approves Statement on Algebra” 1994). Echoing similar concerns, Donald Chambers, former mathematics supervisor in Wisconsin, recently wrote, “Algebra for all is the right goal at the right time. We just need to get the right algebra” (1994, p. 85).

## Algebra in the Wasteland

*Curriculum and Evaluation Standards*(1989) are being ignored in this area—even though they recommend exactly such a broad, integrated curriculum for the middle grades.

## Toward a New Curriculum

In keeping with a broad consensus among mathematics educators, the curriculum must be revised to teach appropriate algebraic ideas, and greater access to algebraic competence must be provided to all students. Likewise, it is generally agreed that teachers must improve instructional strategies. As Seeley (1993) has suggested: Simply changing the courses in which students are enrolled does not change the fact that most teachers have never been taught how to teach in a way that engages a diverse student population in a variety of interesting and important learning activities structured to develop the inherent critical thinking and problem-solving abilities of all students (p. 43). Unfortunately, there is a conflict between the need to move forward immediately and the need for careful development of new approaches over the longer term.