San Francisco public schools don’t teach Algebra I or Geometry to even the brightest, most math-loving eighth graders writes Ben Christopher on Priceonomics. Why? he asks.
The new mathematical course sequence “ensures that all students enter high school with the same mathematical foundation,” say SFUSD officials. No child gets ahead.
Common Core recommends that only the strongest math students take algebra in middle school. Nearly all districts let some middle schoolers take algebra. But not San Francisco.
California’s old math standards called for all eighth-graders to take algebra. Some districts placed nearly all or most students in algebra, while others only let well-prepared students take algebra.
Early algebra was linked to a significant decrease in average math scores within a given district, a University of North Carolina study found.
However, individual students almost always are “better off in a more challenging class,” says researcher Thurston Domina. The problem is that schools changed the curriculum and staffing to push all or most kids into algebra.
“Now, when you . . . put a lot of kids in algebra, you change the peer environment, you have teachers who have never taught algebra teaching algebra, and you’ve got this problem in the classroom where you’ve got to figure out whether you’re going to teach algebra at all, because a bunch of the students don’t know fractions.”
SFUSD isn’t dumbing down math, STEM director Jim Ryan tells Christopher. Common Core’s Math 8 includes algebra topics such as linear equations, roots, exponents, and an introduction to functions.
Likewise, the course called “Algebra I” that students will now take in their first year of high school introduces a number of the concepts we all associate with introductory algebra (quadratic equations, say), but also delves deeper into modeling with functions and quantitative analysis.
Advanced students will be encouraged to “delve deeper” rather than accelerate, says Ryan.
However, those who want to get to AP Calculus in 12th grade will have to catch up in summer school or take a “compressed” course that combines Algebra 2/trig with pre-calculus.
Gifted classes almost always are “disproportionately white and Asian and relatively affluent,” writes Christopher. But it’s hard to teach “one-size-fits-all” math “without boring the math nerds to tears.”