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

Janine T. Remillard, John Y. Baker, Michael D. Steele, Nina D. Hoe, Anne Traynor


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.


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

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DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.14507/epaa.25.2970

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