Sometimes all the attention to inaction overwhelms news of very important actions. With all the clamor over last week’s non-progress on the state budget, you may have missed an important decision by the State Board of Education supporting high standards for student proficiency.

For years, the state has had a two-track system for proficiency in 8th grade math – one for Algebra 1 and one for General Math, which tests 6th and 7th grade math standards. Governor Schwarzenegger and education reformers, including business, civil rights groups, and higher education, advocated a single standard of Algebra 1, phased in over three years, to set high expectations, eliminate an invidious two-track system, and ensure students were on track to have skills they need to thrive in the 21st century workforce.

Reactionaries in the education establishment opposed this reform, claiming schools were not up to the challenge, or even that some children were “developmentally unready” to learn Algebra 1. Fortunately, the Board rejected these cynical arguments, refusing to accept that some classes of students are incapable of learning, and that some schools are unready to meet one of their core tasks – bringing 8th graders to grade-level proficiency.

Clearly, more focus is needed in the earlier grades to support struggling students and to provide them with the foundational pre-algebra skills. But the goal of competency in Algebra for 8th graders is certainly achievable. According to Jim Lanich of California Business for Education Excellence, existing Algebra 1 standards have “set in motion a huge increase in the number, and diversity, of students taking Algebra in the 8th grade.”

Fortunately, the State Board, encouraged by the Governor, chose to embrace that success, not run away from it.