Universal Algebra I policy, access, and inequality: Findings from a national survey


  • Janine T. Remillard University of Pennsylvania http://orcid.org/0000-0002-0865-387X
  • John Y. Baker 21st Century Partnership for STEM Education
  • Michael D. Steele University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee
  • Nina D. Hoe University of Pennsylvania
  • Anne Traynor Purdue University http://orcid.org/0000-0003-2662-9184




Algebra, educational policy, school district, access to education, opportunity


Many in the US view algebra as a gatekeeper to advanced study of mathematics, and increasing enrollment in algebra courses as a strategy to address unequal access to educational opportunity. As a result, universal enrollment policies, which require all students to complete Algebra I by grade 8 or 9, have garnered attention in school districts or states. Based on a view that school districts are the primary implementers of state and national policy in the US, this study surveyed a nationally representative sample of districts to investigate the prevalence of such policies and their relationship to algebra enrollment. Districts reported substantial increases in Algebra I enrollments in eighth grade, although ninth grade remains the most common year students enroll. Only 26% of districts reported having universal enrollment policies; in these districts, linear regression indicated that an association with higher eighth grade Algebra I enrollment was moderated by poverty level (measured by FRL). As a result, universal policies, while decreasing within-district disparities, may increase disparities between districts. These disparities may be explained by maximally maintained inequality (Raftery & Hout, 1993) and effectively maintained inequality theories (Lucas, 2001), which posit that more affluent groups take deliberate action to perpetuate inequalities.


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Author Biographies

Janine T. Remillard, University of Pennsylvania

Janine Remillard is an associate professor of mathematics education in the Graduate School of Education at the University of Pennsylvania. Her research interests include mathematics curriculum development and use, teacher learning in urban classrooms, and locally relevant mathematics instruction.

John Y. Baker, 21st Century Partnership for STEM Education

John Baker is a senior research associate with the 21st Century Partnership for STEM Education. His research centers on secondary mathematics education and policy, with a particular focus on the intersection of formal and informal learning.

Michael D. Steele, University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee

Michael Steele is an associate professor and chair of the Department of Curriculum and Instruction in the School of Education at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. His research focuses on supporting secondary math teachers in developing mathematical knowledge for teaching, integrating content and pedagogy, through teacher preparation and professional development.

Nina D. Hoe, University of Pennsylvania

Nina Hoe is associate director of ImpactED at the Fels Institute of Government at the University of Pennsylvania. Her research focuses on pressing issues in education, city government, community engagement, public health, and research methodology.

Anne Traynor, Purdue University

Anne Traynor is an assistant professor of educational psychology and research methodology at Purdue University.  Her research focuses on educational measurement methods, and assessment policy.




How to Cite

Remillard, J. T., Baker, J. Y., Steele, M. D., Hoe, N. D., & Traynor, A. (2017). Universal Algebra I policy, access, and inequality: Findings from a national survey. Education Policy Analysis Archives, 25, 101. https://doi.org/10.14507/epaa.25.2970