MCPS: Go Back to the Old Math Requirement


Graphic by Alex Silber.

By Ted Rock

For as long as the subject has been taught, math students have asked their teachers the same question: “When will I ever need to use this?”

For early math courses, there’s an easy answer. We use arithmetic every day, and algebra and geometry often apply to science. But as math gets more complex, its relevance decreases. The vast majority of adults aren’t using derivatives in their daily lives.

For this reason, Montgomery County used to allow students to opt out of math past calculus. It wasn’t until 2014 the state mandated that the graduation requirement be that every high schooler must take four years of math, regardless of how far they go.

Maryland should allow students after calculus to be able to opt out of math in favor of an elective or internship.

Forcing students to take math is a waste of time. Instead of participating in a class they’d prefer, many are pushed into courses like statistics or multivariable calculus. This prevents students from branching out and becoming more well-rounded, or being able to pursue their area of interest in depth.

It also wastes time outside of school, as comprehension of advanced math requires lots of time at home. AP Statistics and MV Calculus students, for example, spend 20 to 30 minutes every day on homework, junior Nate Olson said. With competition between homework, extracurriculars, a social life and sleep, forcing students to bear an extra half hour workload isn’t helpful.

The current system is worse for students who are legitimately interested in math, too. In order to accommodate less motivated students, teachers are forced to slow down the pace of advanced classes.

The more sensible model is what we already use for science and social studies. While students interested in those areas can take a fourth year, only three years are required so that students disinterested in the subjects don’t have to invest as much time.

So why did the state change the graduation requirement in the first place? MCPS officials said that students would forget important concepts with a one or two year break, making them unprepared for college math. For this reason, some colleges only accept students who’ve taken four years of math.

But these concepts aren’t necessarily being refreshed in later math courses anyways. It’s true that math builds on itself from one level to the next, but individual concepts are often taught once and then never repeated. For example, the statistics unit of Algebra 2 is completely disregarded for the rest of high school, except for the students who take statistics.

As for colleges only accepting four year math students, it’s not that follow-up math classes can’t be encouraged. Four years of math isn’t a common requirement for college either: according to the College Board, while more competitive colleges prefer a fourth year, they don’t necessarily require it, and those that do only require it for STEM majors.

To be fair, many students who finish calculus before their senior year would likely choose to keep taking math. But for people who were accelerated on the math track early on and don’t wish to pursue math in college or career, the requirement is a burden, not a benefit.

Four years of high school math is needless for many students. It wastes time in and out of school and it slows learning for students legitimately interested in the course. The decision calculus here is simple: let students opt out.

This story was updated Dec. 19 at 11:08 a.m. A previous version of this story incorrectly stated that this change was initiated by the county. This story now accurately states that this change was a result of a Maryland law.