SF: No child gets ahead in math

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.” 

Short of teachers, SF says ‘no’ to TFA

Kamaria Carnes (right) of Teach for America high-fives Anderson Aguilar after he finished an oral exam during her eighth-grade English language arts class at Everett Middle School in the Mission District. Photo: Connor Radnovich, The Chronicle
Teach for America corps member Kamaria Carnes, who teaches eighth-grade English at a San Francisco middle school, high-fives Anderson Aguilar after he finished an oral exam. Photo: Connor Radnovich, San Francisco Chronicle

Under pressure from the teachers’ union, the San Francisco School Board voted to suspend Teach for America’s contract for the coming school year, writes Tracy Dell’Angela on Education Post.

Who will teach instead?

The 15 San Francisco classrooms that would have been staffed by TFA corps members — yep, only 15 — are now going to be filled by either long-term subs or untrained college grads with emergency certification,”

San Francisco has a dire teaching shortage—district administrators predicted the district will not be able to fill its 500 vacancies by August and many of these will be in areas that TFA specializes in recruiting—special education, bilingual classrooms and STEM.

Superintendent Richard Carranza wanted to renew the TFA contract, but couldn’t get board support.

“Some board members didn’t even try to pretend their pushback was in the best interest of children,” writes Dell’Angela. “Board member Jill Wynns’ opposition was based on Teach For America’s ‘financial connections to supporters of charter schools and market-based education reform’.”

Only 17 percent of TFA corps members are teaching in district schools after 17 years, say opponents. But turnover is high for all new teachers: San Francisco is a very expensive city.

TFA teachers are more likely to stay on the job than other new teachers in San Francisco, Beatrice Viramontes, the organization’s senior managing director in San Francisco, told the Chronicle. “Overall, 90 percent of the group’s teachers come back after their first year of teaching, compared with 56 percent of those who are new to the teaching profession in general. In addition, most of the program’s teachers stay for a third year after their two-year commitment ends, said both the organization and the district.”

Tracking is linked to higher AP scores

Tracking in eighth grade — usually in math — correlates with higher scores on AP tests at the end of high school, concludes the 2016 Brown Center Report on American Education.

In eighth grade, the tracking question currently boils down to whether high achieving students who are ready for a formal algebra course will get one—or whether all students will take the same general math course.

States with larger percentages of tracked eighth graders produce larger percentages of high-scoring AP test takers, the study found. “The heightened AP performance held across racial subgroups—white, black, and Hispanic.”

There was no relationship between tracking and and the number of students taking AP tests — just to the number who earned a 3, 4 or 5.

Another section looks at how Common Core State Standards (CCSS) are changing instruction in math and reading.

Teachers are teaching more nonfiction in fourth and eighth grade, NAEP data show.

In addition, “data and geometry are receding in importance in fourth grade math, and course enrollments in eighth grade math are shifting away from advanced courses toward a single, general math course,” the report notes.

Eighth graders study algebra at San Francisco's Presidio Middle School in 2011. Photo: Lenny Gonzalez, MindShift

Eighth graders study algebra at San Francisco’s Presidio Middle School in 2011. Photo: Lenny Gonzalez, MindShift

That suggests fewer achievers will start on the path to passing AP Calculus.

San Francisco Unified middle schools no longer teach algebra, as part of the shift to Common Core standards, reported Ana Tintocalis for KQED last year.

For years, all eighth graders took algebra and many failed, said Lizzy Hull Barnes.  Now no one will take algebra till ninth grade.

This “is a social justice issue for SFUSD,” writes Tintocalis. “District officials say the controversial practice of tracking students — or separating them based on talent and ability — is simply wrong.”

Diversity vs. democracy in middle school

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Principal Lena Van Haren chats with former students Kayla Rash (left) and Honesty Williams outside Everett Middle School. Photo: Connor Radnovich, San Francisco Chronicle

San Francisco’s Everett Middle School is two-thirds Latino and black, but students voted for white, Asian and mixed-race students for four top student council posts in an Oct. 9 election. Upset that the results weren’t sufficiently “diverse,” Principal Lena Van Haren withheld the results for more than a week, reports the San Francisco Chronicle.

Under pressure from parents and the district administration, she released the winners’ names — along with plans to expand the 10-member student council and appoint Latinos and blacks to the new slots.

“It’s not OK for a school that is really, really diverse to have the student representatives majority white,” Van Haren told the Chronicle.

“Their good intention got in the way of their common sense,” said parent Todd David. “It’s really, really disturbing to me that withholding the results somehow equals social justice or equity.”

Adding positions for “children of a particular race would likely violate the Equal Protection Clause and federal civil rights law,” writes Eugene Volokh, a UCLA law professor.  It also “violates the California Constitution’s categorical ban on ‘discriminat[ing] against, or grant[ing] preferential treatment to, any individual or group on the basis of race … in the operation of … public education’.”

And it’s creepy for an adult to interfere in a student council election.

Libraries add ‘coder time’ to story time

Librarian Brooke Sheets uses colored cups to teach algorithms and debugging to girls at Los Angeles’ Central Library. Photo: Alex Schaffert-Callaghan, KPCC

To play a drawing game called Phenomenal Turtle, nine-year-old Perla Hernandez had to “break down big complex problems into small sequential steps,” writes Alex Schaffert-Callaghan on KPCC. She was one of a dozen children who came to a Los Angeles’ library for “coder time.”

 Children can program a turtle to create designs in Phenomenal Turtle

Children can program a turtle to create designs in Phenomenal Turtle

Librarian Joanna Fabicon “would love coding to be as ubiquitous in libraries as story time.” She works with an afterschool program to reach children at eight LAUSD elementary schools.

Girls feel comfortable coming to the library, said Brooke Sheets, a children’s librarian at the central branch. “More than half the kids in Hernandez’s class were girls, a ratio most computer science programs can only dream of,” writes Schaffert-Callaghan.

At the end of the lesson Hernandez showed her game to the group. “The kids watched as a small green turtle moved quickly across the screen, filling it with a rainbow of intricate pop-art patterns, earning a big round of applause.”

Within 10 years, all New York City schools will offer computer science, pledges Mayor Bill de Blasio.

Chicago plans to require a year of computer science for high school graduates by 2018, reports the New York Times. (Really! How many can add fractions?) “The San Francisco Board of Education voted in June to offer it from prekindergarten through high school, and to make it mandatory through eighth grade.”

SF plans computer science for all


Volunteer Aimee Menne helps teach computer science at San Francisco’s Mission High. Photo: Andra Cernavskis

San Francisco’s public schools plan to expose every child to computer science from pre-kindergarten through 12th grade, writes Andra Cernavskis on the Hechinger Report. What does that mean? The district is trying to figure that out.

“We are not trying to produce an army of software engineers,” said Bryan Twarek, SFUSD’s computer science coordinator. “We want to open all doors to this industry, and right now those doors aren’t open to everyone.”

In fact, only 10 of San Francisco’s 18 high schools offer any kind of computer science class, with just 5 percent of all high school students enrolled in classes at any level, from introductory to Advanced Placement. Most of the students in that 5 percent are white or Asian males. Of the few hundred students who took the Advanced Placement exam in computer science in 2014, only 22 percent were female, and only 3 percent identified as African American, Latino, or Native American.

For the younger grades, educators want to design a program that isn’t just about bringing gadgets and technology into the classroom, writes Cernavskis. Computer programming is a form of problem solving, said Julie Flapan, the executive director of Alliance for California Computing Education for Students and Schools (ACCESS).

Parents don’t choose diversity

Parent choice is making San Francisco schools more segregated, reports the San Francisco Chronicle.

Mural at San Francisco's Cleveland Elementary School.

Mural at San Francisco’s Cleveland Elementary School.

One third of the city’s public schools are “racially isolated,” which means 60+ percent of students are of the same racial or ethnic group.

Overall, 41 percent of the city’s public school students are Asian-American, 27 percent are Latino, 13 percent are white, 10 percent black and the rest “other.” About 30 percent of the city’s young people attend private or parochial schools.

Here’s a non-surprise:

Diversity and integration are rarely cited as top factors in choosing a public school. Instead, district surveys of parents show the safety of a school’s neighborhood, the quality of its staff and its reputation are paramount.

Clarendon, the high-achieving school in the story is about one third Asian, one third white and the rest Latino, black and mixed. It offers a Japanese bilingual program for some students; the rest learn Italian.

At the low-achieving school, Cleveland, 82 percent of students come from low-income and working-class Latino families. Parents choose the school because it’s close to home. It offers a Spanish bilingual program.

Cleveland receives $360,000 more than Clarendon from the state each year — $1,000 per student — because its students are so poor and so many of them don’t speak English. The idea is to direct more resources to the neediest schools, but Clarendon more than offsets that through avid parent fundraising and donations from the Japanese and Italian consulates.

(Cleveland Principal March)Sanchez uses the extra state money for basic support, including separate Spanish and English literacy coaches, a technology teacher, tablet computers and laptops.

After being trained by a nonprofit to be an activist, mother Ana Hodgson is “done with public schools,” reports the Chronicle. She got her son into a summer program for low-income achievers that helped him get a scholarship at a private middle school.

Los Angeles requires ethnic studies

Ethnic studies will be a graduation requirement in Los Angeles Unified by 2019, reports KPCC.

District officials estimate the new requirement will cost $3.9 million.

Several ethnic studies courses, such as Chicano Literature, African American History and Asian Studies, are offered at 19 district high schools. Only 700 students out of 152,000 high school students districtwide take an ethnic studies course, according to Ethnic Studies Now. Ninety percent of Los Angeles Unified students are non-white.

“There is a saying: ‘The real story of the hunter will be told when the lion and the buffalo get to write,'” said LAUSD board member George McKenna, co-sponsor of the resolution who represents South Los Angeles.

San Francisco should require ethnic studies, says Sandra Fewer, the school board president. “Yes, it will mean that something else will have to go,” she told the San Francisco Chronicle. Her first priority is expanding the course to all high schools.

In David Ko’s ethnic studies class at Washington High School, students learn to “talk about their experiences in a way that is less about the individual and more of the cultural norms or systems of oppression,” reports the Chronicle. Many of the students “were placed in the class because there wasn’t room in their elective of choice.”

It appears that few students are choosing ethnic studies over other electives, such as music, art, drama, journalism or an AP course. Why not let them decide?

The best of colleges, the worst of colleges

Washington Monthly‘s 2013 college rankings include the best community colleges as judged by a student engagement survey and completion rates. In addition, the Monthly analyzes why some of the worst community colleges are in the otherwise thriving San Francisco Bay Area.

Inside a ‘low-performing’ school

Everything You’ve Heard About Failing Schools Is Wrong, writes Kristina Rizga in Mother Jones after spending 18 months “embedded” at San Francisco’s Mission High. Rizga followed a Salvadoran girl who’d joined her mother in the U.S. after the rape, torture and murder of her beloved aunt.

At a San Francisco middle school, Maria learned almost no English in a special class for immigrants and then in a mainstream class.

At Mission High, the struggling school she’d chosen against the advice of her friends and relatives, Maria earned high grades in math and some days caught herself speaking English even with her Spanish-speaking teachers. By 11th grade, she wrote long papers on complex topics like desegregation and the war in Iraq. She became addicted to winning debates in class, despite her shyness and heavy accent. In her junior year, she became the go-to translator and advocate for her mother, her aunts, and for other Latino kids at school. In March, Maria and her teachers were celebrating acceptance letters to five colleges and two prestigious scholarships, including one from Dave Eggers’ writing center, 826 Valencia.

But Maria, who’s still learning English vocabulary, scores poorly on state exams.  Despite a rising graduation and college-going rate, Mission High scores among the lowest-performing 5 percent of schools in the country.

The article — go ahead, read the whole thing — reminded me of The New Kids, a book on a small New York City high school for recent immigrants. The school pushes all students –who come from Tibet, Africa, Haiti, China, you name it — to college.  But they’re way, way behind in reading, writing and math. Some have missed years of schooling. Or they just haven’t had enough time to learn English. Can they really make it in college without the mentoring their high school provides? If the problem is just weak English skills, the super-motivated probably can. But what makes sense for the rest?