In today’s era of technological innovation, students need to gain knowledge and skills in order to solve difficult problems, gather and evaluate evidence, make sense of information they study, and be prepared for the careers and challenges of the 21st century and beyond. Students can develop and strengthen these skills by studying science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) subjects, including computer science (CS).  STEM education is embedded in the U.S. Department of Education’s (the Department) mission. Learn more about the focus on STEM education.
Mathematics has been called the “language” of STEM because students need a strong mathematics foundation to succeed in STEM fields and to make sense of STEM-related topics in their daily lives.  This story focuses on Algebra I within K-12 education because it is seen as a gatekeeper course: Students normally need to complete Algebra I in order to take higher level mathematics and science courses. Taking the course earlier in their academic careers allows students sufficient time to take the more advanced courses that are often prerequisites for postsecondary STEM majors. However, we see in this data story that only 24 percent of all 8th graders are enrolled in Algebra I. See what the research says about why this matters.
This data story explores both access to and enrollment in Algebra I in K-12 public schools using the 2015–16 Civil Rights Data Collection (CRDC).  The data story looks at the types of schools that offer Algebra I classes and further explores the students who actually enroll in these classes, particularly in 8th grade. The Department is encouraging both access to and enrollment in STEM courses. Both aspects are important because, as we will see through the story, even where access to Algebra I classes are available students do not necessarily enroll in them.
When students take Algebra I matters, but many students do not have early access.
Despite the benefits of early access to Algebra I, we see that only 59 percent of schools that serve 8th graders offer Algebra I. A typical math course sequence would start with Algebra I and continue with Geometry, Algebra II, Pre-Calculus, and Calculus. Students who do not have access to Algebra I until high school are unlikely to have the opportunity to take any Calculus courses before they graduate.
Only 59 percent of schools offer Algebra I in 8th grade. Access to Algebra I in high school grades is more common, but still not universal.
Since high-level mathematics and high-level science courses are frequently taken together, students who have the opportunity to take more advanced math courses are also more likely to take advanced science courses. When schools don’t offer Algebra I to 8th graders, it can reduce the amount of all STEM courses - not just math courses - they can take before graduation.
Access to Algebra I in 8th grade is uneven across the country.
Schools that offer Algebra I in 8th grade provide their students with an opportunity to reach more advanced math and science courses in high school. However, there is a wide variation in students’ access to Algebra I in 8th grade based on where the school is located and the type of school that a student attends. Given the importance of early access to Algebra I, the remainder of this story focuses only on 8th grade students and the schools that serve them.