Last September I taught an extremely bright ninth grade algebra class. They knew most of the basics, such as order of operations, signed numbers and equation solving so I concentrated on giving them plenty of enrichment, while still teaching the basics to the few kids that needed the review. I remember coming to the lesson on solving literal equations, such as ax + b = c (solve for x). I was shocked when I saw the majority of the class didn't know anything about only combining like terms and tried to add all the variables together. It was only when I took a real close look at the curriculum that I realized the lesson on combining monomials (like terms) came in the following semester. These poor kids were learning the math completely out of sequence. For anyone not knowing much about math a good analogy would be putting on your shoes and then putting on your socks.
If the powers that be are really serious about improving the quality of math eduation in this country then they must revert to the old algebra, geometry and trigonometry that was taught before 1980. Only a good foundation in the basics will insure success!