Does Algebra Get in the Way of Student Success?

Hear that change jingling in my pocket? Good. I have two little questions for you.
I have a quarter, a dime and a nickel. How much money DO I have?
I have three coins. How much money COULD I have?
The first question is a basic arithmetic problem with one and only one right answer. You might find it on a multiple-choice test.
The second is an open-ended question with a number of different possible correct answers. It would lend itself to a wide-ranging debate over the details: Are these all American coins? Are any of them counterfeit? Do you have any bills?
Frankly, it’s a lot more interesting than the first.
Andrew Hacker is professor emeritus of political science at Queens College, City University of New York, and the author of several more-or-less contrarian books about education, some of them bestsellers.
His latest is called The Math Myth: And Other STEM Delusions. It poses many nagging, open-ended questions like the second example above, without a lot of neat, tied-up-with-a-bow answers like No. 1.
Hacker’s central argument is that advanced mathematics requirements, like algebra, trigonometry and calculus, are “a harsh and senseless hurdle” keeping far too many Americans from completing their educations and leading productive lives.
He also maintains that there is no proof for a STEM shortage or a skills gap; and that we should pursue “numeracy” in education rather than mathematics knowledge. And, furthermore, that we should teach numeracy in an …