The *New York Times* published a story today on the nation’s algebra wars – the debates still raging about whether middle school students should be allowed to take Algebra 1. At present, the hottest battlefield for this war is California, where the newly adopted California Mathematics Framework recommends that students not be allowed to take Algebra 1 in middle school. But even in California, the tide may now be turning in favor of middle school algebra. According to the *Times* article, the San Francisco public school district will resume offering Algebra 1 in 8th grade this fall after refusing for several years to allow middle school students to take Algebra 1. The change was made in response to pressure from parents.

Here in Florida, Algebra 1 is alive and well in most middle schools. *Education Week* reported that as of 2021, 36% of American students were taking Algebra 1 in middle school. But in Florida, that number is significantly higher. This past fall, of the state’s 218,529 public school 8th grade students, 45.7% were taking Algebra 1, Geometry or even higher-level math classes (according to statistics posted by the Florida Department of Education).

Of course, the probability that an 8th grade student in one of Florida’s public middle schools is taking Algebra 1 or a higher-level math course depends strongly on the student’s personal circumstances. Florida classifies 49.5% of its public-school 8th graders as economically disadvantaged. Of the economically disadvantaged 8th graders, only 36.1% were taking Algebra 1 or a higher math course. The corresponding rate for 8th graders who were not classified as economically disadvantaged was a whopping 55.1%.

The reason I most often see cited for taking Algebra 1 in middle school (and the reason we made sure our own kids did) was to make sure students have the opportunity take a calculus class in high school. But while Florida’s middle school Algebra 1 rate is significantly higher than the national rate, the rate at which Florida’s public high school students take calculus is quite a bit lower than the national rate. The US Department of Education’s just-issued civil rights data collection release for the 2020-21 school year reports that 5% of students in the nation’s public high schools were taking calculus that year. But in Florida this past fall, only 2.7% of the students in the state’s public high schools were taking calculus. And before you ask, yes that does include dual enrollment (but relatively few students dual enroll in calculus).

So Florida is all in on middle school algebra. But high school calculus? Not so much. The statistics to which I have access don’t provide the reasons that students drop out of the accelerated math pipeline before reaching a high school calculus class.

While I’m mentioning the new national civil rights data collection release, I’ll note that the report says that in 2020-21, 11% of students in America’s public high schools took physics. In the fall of 2023, only 4.1% of students in Florida’s public high schools were taking physics.

Florida’s pipeline to bachelor’s degree-level STEM careers is anemic despite the large enrollment of the state’s public middle school students in Algebra 1 and higher-level math courses. The parents of Florida’s middle school students haven’t had to wage war to ensure access to middle school algebra classes, but those same parents could use a nudge (or more) when it comes to the courses their students should be taking in high school to prepare for college STEM majors.