Data analysis more important than algebra

Despite dramatic data generation in just the past few years, students are not getting the kind of instruction they need. That’s because we persist in teaching algebra, trigonometry and calculus (“Modern high school math should be about data science – not Algebra 2,” Los Angeles Times, Oct. 23).  As a result, they are severely shortchanged.

What all students need today is an understanding of how to analyze data.  I understand the importance of traditional math for those who intend to make a career in the field. But I fail to see how these subjects have relevance to solving real-life problems for most students.  Recognizing the need, the Los Angeles Unified School District in 2013 won approval from the University of California to allow data science to substitute for Algebra 2.

I hope school districts in other states will do the same.  There is an urgent need to modernize the math curriculum if we expect students to be prepared for the fast-changing world of data.

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2 Replies to “Data analysis more important than algebra”

  1. Agree that data analysis is a necessary skill for many employees and all citizens. Problem is that it falls somewhere between social studies/civics and math — relevant to both but not entirely within either’s traditional scope. My preference would be to keep math mostly as it is + split social studies/civics into two separate courses — history and civics + teach data analysis as part of civics. If high school students run out of periods during the school day, I’d eliminate foreign language in favor of other more relevant subjects.

    Seems like the traditional high school core academic curriculum — English, Math, Science, Social Studies/Civics, Foreign Language has been around largely unchanged since at least the 1960s (when I was in high school) and probably since the 1950s. Probably lots of opportunity for re-examining that curriculum. My preferences would include reducing literature, increasing writing/analysis, increasing civics, reducing history (particularly pre-1800 history, both US and world), making math beyond geometry and basic algebra required for only those interested in pursuing math/science college majors, making foreign language completely optional, continuing to require biology/chem/physics but making a fourth year of science optional, adding a skills-an-adult-needs-to-have course for everyone.

    The major obstacle to making any revisions to the traditional high school core curriculum is the admissions offices at the competitive colleges which, I fear, will continue to require successful college applicants to have taken the traditional four years of the traditional five core subjects.

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  2. Labor Lawyer: Tradition dies hard in education, which is why I see little hope that matters will change much. But a strong case can be made for making data analysis a substitute for algebra. Most students will never need algebra, but they will need competence in data analysis. I say it’s time to get real.

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