SPRINGFIELD — Illinois lawmakers want to see high-schoolers add another year of math, without subtracting from students planning to hit the workforce immediately after graduation.

By Stephanie Fryer

SPRINGFIELD — Illinois lawmakers want to see high-schoolers add another year of math, without subtracting from students planning to hit the workforce immediately after graduation.

State Sen. Mike Frerichs, D-Gifford, introduced Senate Bill 3244 that would require students to take four years of math, instead of the current three, to meet graduation requirements.

However, state Sen. David Luechtefeld, R-Okawville, said at a recent Senate Education Committee hearing that he doesn’t want to see students set up to fail.

“Not every kid can do upper level math and be successful,” said the veteran educator who has more than 30 years of experience. “Employers don’t necessarily want someone who can do calculus. They want someone who can do basic skills of math.”

The business community echoed Luechtefeld’s concerns, saying they want employees who can add and subtract, multiply and divide. Educators said another year of math would create a financial burden for the school districts.

In response, Frerichs said he is working on amending the bill, so that courses, such as drafting and wood shop, could meet the proposed requirement.

“I know some of the people have some concerns. They just want to have greater clarity of what counts,” Frerichs said. “So would a statistics class count for math? In my mind, yes. Would a drafting class that had a high degree of fractions involved would that be something that we need to work on?”

High-schoolers must complete one year-long course in algebra and another year-long course with content that addresses geometry. Local school districts determine the course content. For example, a school may offer Algebra I over a two-year period, according to the graduation requirements set by the Illinois State Board of Education in 2009.

Classes in wood shop and drafting typically require students use basic math to determine measurements and angles of cuts as well as geometry to design objects.

The students “are given 12-foot boards and they have to come up with ways to get the board cut into four pieces. … They use the everyday equations from geometry to figure out the length of the new pieces,” said Emily McCray, a teacher at Hoopeston Area High School in the Hoopeston school district.

“Pretty much, we are teaching math, just in a different way,” she said.

Frerichs said he drafted the bill after factory owners in his district said they saw a decline in the ability of their employees to perform basic math skills.

“I’ve run into this issue with several of my employers. They are having trouble finding qualified candidates who have the math skills to do what would seem to be very basic jobs,” Frerichs said.

Jim Nelson, vice president of the Illinois Manufacturing Association, or IMA, a trade group representing state manufacturers, said anyone in manufacturing jobs from welders to factory line-workers rely heavily on math.

“Today (the work) relies on using vertical measurements and barometers. Workers need to read blueprints in both metric and standard systems. All this requires … math,” Nelson said.

School officials are looking at the costs of a fourth year of math.

“If everyone has to take the class, you are going to have to have more classes. There will be scheduling problems, space problems, and you’re probably going to need more math teachers,” said Ben Schwarm, associate executive director of governmental relations at the Illinois Association of School Boards, a voluntary organization of local school boards that promotes quality education.

Keith Liddell, principal of Carterville High School in the Carterville Community Unit School District Number 5, stressed the financial impact of another year of math.

“Between base salary, and by the time you add in the pension the district is obligated to pay, and don’t forget the insurance — well add those up and you’re looking at roughly $50,000 to add one staff member in our case,” Liddell said.

This past year, the state gave the school districts $4.5 billion in general state aid. Gov. Pat Quinn in his proposed budget wants to keep that funding flat for the upcoming year.

Each year Illinois juniors take the Prairie State Achievement Examination, or PSAE, which measures student achievement in reading, science and math. Results from the 2011 PSAE show that only 51 percent of high school juniors throughout Illinois met or exceeded state standards in math.

“There are students who are not going to go to college who may not have the aptitude to take that fourth, higher level math class and our concern is now you are going to put some of the students in a position where they can’t succeed,” the school board association’s Schwarm said.

The state Senate committee passed the proposal Friday on a 6-4 vote, but the amendments must go back through the committee process.

Join the Conversation


  1. It takes parents!

    It appears some families are taking matters into their own hands.
    Several times I’ve seen a man and 10-13(?) old child at NU where the man was working with the child through ‘Elementary Differential Equations and Boundary Value Problems’ by Boyce and DiPrima.  The student seemed to be enjoying it.
    I don’t know if the man was the father, a tutor, an ETHS teacher or if the student was in the public or a private school or being home schooled. 
    Certainly parents have to be involved with their children’s education—if not by helping themselves, then by getting the resources needed.  This was clearly such a situation.

  2. If the bill _mandates_ that calculus be required

    then I would not support it, because calculus isn't needed for functioning in our society by most people.

    But Sen. Luechtefeld is wrong to assume that any fourth year of math would not be beneficial; he needs to better understand that innumeracy is a substantial public health problem with enormous implications for our society.

    As an educator he must be aware of recent calls by professional organizations for statistics to be increasingly emphasized in math education.  Statistics used by most of us on a daily basis, and a lack of statistical understanding can result in all sorts of consequences.  How about requiring statistics of all HS students?

    And for those who struggle in math, a fourth year of math that emphasizes basic skills (calculating a tip, figuring out interest rates, living within one's means, etc.) could be invaluable. 

    1. Basic Consumer Finance Class for students

      The 4th year math class could include any and all areas that people need to understand to function in our society.

      Personal budgets, cost of renting an apartment, financial aspects of buying a house (mortgages of all types), understanding electric, gas, and water utility bills, cable and cell phone contracts, renting versus buying a car.

      Cost of college and how to finance it. How do you do your taxes.

      What does a school budget look like, or a city budget, state budget, and our country's budget.

      Bank statements, balancing a checkbook, and basic to more complex investments.

      Saving for retirement. Annuities.

      Health care costs, and all types of insurance, health, auto, life, home.

      Lottery probabilities. Casino odds.

      The list goes on and on. A curriculum covering these areas could easily cover half a year at ETHS. That would prepare our youth to understand the issues so they make more prudent decisions, and hopefully when they assume positions of leadership they won't make the same stupid decisions that consumers and elected officials made that got us into the current mess we're trying to get out of…hopefully we get out of…maybe we get out of.

      Students don't need calculus, but they do need a thorough understanding of all the above mentioned issues.


      1. 7th Grade Classes

        These are topics that should be covered and passed in 7th grade.  Even 11th grade should have calculus as a required course.  Senior year should build on that.

        Of course four years of real math, science, history, etc. should be required.

      2. Best of all worlds

        The best of both worlds would be an Applied Stats class. (Applied to personal finance and other real-world situations, that is.)

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