When students’ time learning algebra is doubled, both their math and verbal skills improve and their rates of college enrollment increase, reveals a study conducted in part by a Texas A&M University researcher.
Kalena Cortes is an assistant professor at the Bush School of Government and Public Service at Texas A&M, and along with Joshua Goodman, assistant professor of public policy at Harvard University, and Takako Nomi, an assistant professor at Saint Louis University, studied the “double dose algebra” policy at Chicago Public Schools, implemented in 2003. The study, funded by the Institute of Education Sciences, U.S. Department of Education, “Doubling Up: Intensive Math Instruction and Educational Attainment,” will be published in the winter 2013 edition of the Education Next journal.
“Double dose algebra is for students who scored below the national median on the 8th grade math exam,” explains Cortes, who specializes in the economics of education and economic demography. “These were inner city schools that had mostly low-income and minority students. Once in the 9th grade, these students who were struggling would take two different algebra classes, so instead of 45 minutes of algebra each day, they would have 90 minutes.”
Cortes says she and her colleagues followed the long-term effects of the policy on students’ progress through high school and were surprised to find that students who doubled up on algebra showed improvement not only in math, but also in reading and writing. “And we said, why is this?” Cortes recalls. “So we looked at how the classes were being taught. The first algebra class is a typical lecture-style class, but the second class is designed to be more interactive. The teachers would break the students up into groups and have them discuss problems and write on the board. So they were learning math, but they were also learning how to read and write in the context of algebra.”
In addition to improved math and reading performance, Cortes says the students who took double algebra were more likely to graduate from high school and enroll in college. “We tracked students that were just above and just below the double dose threshold,” she explains. “The students were similar in terms of academic skills and other characteristics; the difference was that some students took double dose algebra and some didn’t. We found that the students in double dose were more likely to graduate from high school, score higher on their ACT exam and enroll in a two-year college.”
Cortes says the students who benefitted most from the double dose policy were students that tested poorly in both math and reading. “There was such a high failure rate prior to this policy,” she stresses. “Half the kids were failing 9th grade algebra, so when you see these long-running effects, it’s pretty amazing.”
She adds that next year, she and her colleagues hope to present their findings to the Chicago Public School District. “We will come there with very favorable results in hand showing that these kids are going to college,” she says.