8th-Grade Algebra Requirement in California Gets Sidelined

A judge says the state board of education acted without public input.

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In Washington, everyone applauds a governor who wants to raise academic standards for all students. Back in his or her home state, a governor who proposes to do just that can get sued. Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger learned this lesson not long ago when his plan to require algebra testing for all eighth graders angered the state's school superintendent and some education groups. Two organizations representing school board members and administrators filed a lawsuit to overturn the requirement, and now a judge has temporarily put the brakes on the governor's plan, the Associated Press reports. The judge in the case said the state education board that adopted the algebra mandate acted outside its authority and without public input.

In September, when local school officials sued the state, they raised concerns that the mandate was underfunded and could lead to more students dropping out. They said it would take roughly $3 billion to carry out the work of getting all eighth graders ready for an algebra test in 2011-12, when the requirement would take effect. That money would cover the cost of hiring 3,000 teachers and training an additional 1,000 teachers. Since then, the state's budget deficit has worsened, and many school districts are being forced to consider severe midyear cuts. State School Superintendent Jack O'Connell called the algebra mandate "a recipe for disaster."

The California Board of Education told the AP it plans to appeal the judge's ruling. Regardless of the outcome, the case highlights the trouble with trying to raise academic expectations, especially in a recession. (Three leading education groups recently called on federal and state education officials to adopt common academic standards—another expensive proposition.) Also, algebra for all students may sound like a noble goal, but there are serious concerns. Read about them here.

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