The Learning About New Demands in Schools: Considering Algebra Policy Environments (LANDSCAPE) Project was designed with the goal to learn from school districts about their policies, practices, and perceptions regarding students’ learning of Algebra I.

Across the U.S., much attention has been given to increasing the mathematical attainment of all students. The mathematical topic at the center of much of these efforts is algebra, a topic widely viewed in the U.S. as a gatekeeper to future academic success (Achieve, 2008b; Moses & Cobb, 2001; NGA, CCSSO, & Achieve, 2008). Many initiatives have promoted the universal enrollment of all students in Algebra 1 (or its equivalent) at or before grade 9, earlier than has been the case traditionally. We refer to these approaches as universal algebra policies. The purpose of this research study is to investigate and report on how school districts are responding to the pressures for universal early algebra.

This research involved a mixed method design with two separate but related research components. In order to understand the broad landscape of how pressures to offer universal algebra are interpreted and responded to, we sampled both broadly (Component 1: The Universal Early Algebra Landscape) and intensively (Component 2: Case Studies of Opportunities to Learn Algebra). Component 1 involved a national survey of 993 district mathematics leaders, or those responsible for district-wide decision-making related to Algebra I.  This data collection was aimed at uncovering trends in how early algebra pressures are perceived and acted upon. Component 2 probed further particular landmarks within this algebra landscape, with 12 case studies of selected districts in four states. The two components of the study, together, allow us to make broad generalizations related to universal early algebra in the US as well as provide nuanced, deeper understandings of these efforts and their related challenges in the context of specific cases.

The challenges of universal early algebra need an informed, effective response. We believe that the best response rests not only on understanding the demands within which the call for early algebra is rooted, but also on a) empirical evidence regarding the ways in which the policies related to universal early algebra are being interpreted and responded to by districts, schools and teachers and b) the effects of these policy interpretations and responses on students’ opportunities to learn algebra. This study provides the first national data set designed to examine current district-level policies, practices, and perceptions related to Algebra I.

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