'Algebra for none' fails in San Francisco
The goal was equity. The result: Meh.
Frustrated by high failure rates in eighth-grade algebra, San Francisco Unified decided in 2015 to delay algebra till ninth grade and place low, average and high achievers in the same classes. The goal was to improve achievement for black and Hispanic students, preparing more for advanced math.
That didn't happen, concludes a study by a team of Stanford professors. "Large ethnoracial gaps in advanced math course-taking . . . did not change." Black students aren't more likely to enroll in AP math; Hispanic enrollment increased by 1 percentage point. Overall, there was no change in the number of students receiving credit for advanced math classes, or the number taking math in 12th grade.
A proposed new California math framework encourages other districts to copy San Francisco's math reforms, for which the district claimed success, writes Sarah Schwartz in Education Week.
Math reformer Jo Boaler, a Stanford education professor and advocate of the new framework, co-authored a commentary, How one city got math right, in the Hechinger Report.
Test data from 2015 to 2019 shows that racial "achievement gaps have widened," wrote Tom Loveless last year. The district "is headed in the wrong direction on equity." Black and Hispanic 11th-graders in San Francisco earned "appalling" scores on the state math test, "about the same as or lower than the typical fifth-grader" in the state.
The district had bragged that algebra failure rates had dropped. Families for San Francisco, a parent group, analyzed the data: Failure rates dropped after the district dropped the end-of-course exam.
"Algebra for none" made it harder for achievers to succeed without helping low achievers, writes Fordham's Jeanette Luna. Families face a "nightmare of workarounds" to get their high-achieving children on track for advanced math, write Rex Ridgeway and David Margulies in a San Francisco Examiner commentary.
"Families with resources turn to fee-required online algebra 1 courses in eighth grade, outside the public school system, or enroll their kids in private schools," they write. Those who can't afford it must take a compression class that combines advanced algebra and pre-calculus or take a year of double math to get on track for AP Calculus.
The district "will take credit for my granddaughter’s mathematical success as proof their policies work," one of the authors writes. "In reality, this took two of her summers and nearly $2,000." A group of parents have filed a lawsuit against San Francisco Unified charging the math policy violates state law by denying access to advanced math to disadvantaged students, reports Allyson Aleksey in the San Francisco Examiner.
SFUSD “kids with privilege can advance in mathematics, and those without privilege cannot advance," said lead petitioner Annesa Flentje. "Ironically, SFUSD made these changes in the name of equity, but putting in barriers to accessing (advanced courses) is not equitable. . . . those with privilege are opting into private school.”
On Feb. 6, Judge Carrie Zepeda ruled in favor of Palo Alto parents who brought a similar lawsuit.