LANSING- Sometimes, the best way to learn mathematics is to bring the equations to life, says J. Mark Parsons, superintendent of Manton Consolidated Schools.
Instead of toiling away on dozens of algebraic functions, students would be better served studying the intricacies of diesel fuel technology or learning how to manage a ledger, Parsons said.
“Through technical education courses, students will learn everyday applications for the data,” Parsons said. “They’ll get practical applications. This is very important for our students.”
More high school students could take advantage of this hands-on style of learning if the House and Senate come together on a bill giving pupils an option to take a tech education class instead of algebra II to fulfill graduation requirements.
The House version of the bill also would allow a financial literacy course to replace algebra II, while the Senate draft deems electronics, construction, renewable energy and engineering classes with “embedded mathematical content” as worthy substitutes.
Rep. Joel Sheltrown, D-West Branch, is the chief sponsor of the House bill, while Sen. Wayne Kuipers, R-Holland, is pushing the Senate version.
Sheltrown knows firsthand that not all students are wired for success in math, especially algebra II.
One of his sons struggled to pass algebra II in high school and eventually became a corrections officer, while another went on to earn a Ph.D. in math.
Current state graduation guidelines adopted in 2006 as part of the Michigan Merit Curriculum mandate students take four credits of math, including geometry and algebra I and II.
Students would be able replace up to three of those credits with tech education courses or a financial literacy course if the House gets its way.
The current requirement could produce a bevy of disgruntled students who get white-collar jobs, but don’t enjoy their careers, Sheltrown said.
“I don’t want to go to someone who hates his job,” Sheltrown said. In America,“we put more value on what you do and not how well you do it. You have to recognize that everyone has different skill sets.”
Michigan is one of only five states that require four math credits for graduation, while the national average is 2.76, said Derrick Fries, assistant professor of special education at Eastern Michigan University.
Fries, who is conducting a study on the impact of the Michigan Merit Curriculum, said “railroading” students into algebra II when many are struggling to pass algebra I will influence them to drop out.
During Fries’ research, he has found that nearly 30 percent of high school students in Oakland and Macomb counties fail algebra I
He estimates that 38,000 students will drop out by 2011 — doubling the current rate — if the curriculum isn’t modified.
From a national standpoint, Michigan’s 70 percent graduation rate is good enough only for 30th place.
“It has to fall in the zone of relevance,” Fries said of math requirements. “White collar workers only use their algebra II skills 7 percent of the time per year.”
Todd Bruggema, principal of Cadillac Senior High School, said forcing students to take algebra II won’t necessarily help them if they have no desire to pursue a math-related career in college.
“I think there need to be alternatives,” Bruggema said. “Not every student needs algebra II to be successful. They need to design a curriculum or course that teaches problem-solving skills.”