The question of whether all eighth grade students should take algebra or not is at the center of a debate as middle schools and junior highs overhaul their curriculum in order to prepare for the academic load in high school.

Some educators claim that schools should worry more about students adjusting to adolescence and less about preparing them for the academic load in high school. Gerald W. Bracey, an educational psychologist and former educator, claims that more successful students take algebra early because the course matched their academic skills, but algebra did not make them good students. He also claims that forcing all students to take algebra risks turning kids off math, discouraging them from school altogether. Backing up his argument, the educator, cited a study indicating Milwaukee’s algebra requirement has raised its dropout rate.

Some school districts and at least one large state, California, have said they want every student completing algebra — a gateway to higher math and science — by the end of eighth grade. But a Washington Post survey of 134 Washington area middle and junior high schools found that efforts to get eighth-graders into algebra are proceeding at very different paces.

The fact that efforts are proceeding faster in more affluent schools districts is what caused the debate in the first place.