Is Algebra Necessary? Revealing Real-World Applications


In response to political scientist Andrew Hacker’s New York Times (NYT) op-ed essay “Is Algebra Necessary?,” NYT‘s Learning Network blog identifies at least nine real-world applications—drawing source material from the pages of the Times—that require algebraic reasoning.

For example, calculate different models for pricing home mortgages, and use NYT‘s Real Estate section’s built-in calculator to check your work. Students could also use formulas to calculate potential electoral votes or redo recipes from the pages of the paper, determining ingredient amounts based on N number of guests.

After reading last week’s most-clicked ASCD SmartBrief story, what do you think—is algebra necessary?


  1. Algebra is necessary. I think the developers of the new Common Core math standards could have very well been thinking of Algebra when they created the 8 Standards of Mathematical Practice…

    •Standard 1: Make sense of problems and persevere in solving them
    •Standard 2: Reason abstractly and quantitatively
    •Standard 3: Construct viable arguments and critique the reasoning of others
    •Standard 4: Model with mathematics
    •Standard 5: Use appropriate tools strategically
    •Standard 6: Attend to precision
    •Standard 7: Look for and make use of structure
    •Standard 8: Look for and express regularity in repeated reasoning

    These practices give a step by step guide for solving math problems but could also be used for real life problems. Algebra provides students with a rehearsal of these practices before they have to perform them in the cruel world of life. They may not use every formula or equation they learn in real life but they will learn problem solving skills that can carry them through many of life’s unexpected issues and pitfalls.

    • If you look at the bare basics of Algebra it is just finding unknown variables through different strategies to make your reasoning equal. If requires thinking and reasoning while looking for patterns in numbers. Algebra for earlier grades is just plugging in a number or using guess and check to deteremine what variables may be. An employee setting up an endcap at your local grocer or the trucker evening out his load must use these skills to perform their jobs effectively.

  2. I am astonished at this writer! As a math teacher I teach far more than algorithms all day. I do believe the state of mind of this author is why our students are the way they are today. There is constantly some sort of excuse as to why Algebra is not necessary. (My personal favorite I hear from the parents is “I never understood math when I was in school so I don’t expect my son/daughter too”).
    The truth is I teach far more in my algebra class than just algorithms. We discuss probability of events, analyze graphs for statistics, make and design graphs, calculate percents, add/subtract/multiply/divide rational numbers, analyze similar figures to determine heights of large buildings, trees, poles, and so on. My curriculum as an Algebra teacher is rich with real life applications. Algebra is absolutely necessary. We as teachers need to start a movement to show students where the math we teach is applied to help them understand where they will need it.

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