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  • Writer's pictureJoanne Jacobs

Leveling up: How to get 'diverse' kids to advanced math

"Equity" doesn't mean lowering standards in Union district near Tulsa, reports Hechinger's Neal Morton. Most students in accelerated math came from three elementary schools in affluent, mostly white neighborhoods, the district realized 10 years ago. Instead of eliminating the advanced-math track, the "equity" strategy elsewhere, Union broadened the path to challenging math. 

"Elementary schools offer math tutors starting in the third grade, with after-school programs for students struggling in the subject," writes Morton. Students take a fifth-grade placement exam to qualify for the top track, which starts in sixth grade, but they have multiple tries, plus a chance to get in with a teacher's recommendation. Students who qualify are enrolled automatically in the top track in sixth grade. (Parents can opt out.)  Once assigned, they get more support, including in-school tutoring and longer class periods.

The top math track is integrated at Tulsa's Union High. Photo: Shane Bevel/Hechinger Report

Black, Hispanic and multi-racial students now make up about half of enrollment.

The pandemic lowered enrollment in advanced math, and Oklahoma’s low teacher salaries make it hard to hire enough math teachers, writes Morton.

But Union students seem to be rising to the challenge, he writes. Educators hope new programs in aviation and construction will motivate students, offering "more ways to apply higher levels of math in lucrative jobs."

In San Francisco, Cambridge, Massachusetts, Troy, Michigan and elsewhere, school boards have eliminated advanced math in middle school, effectively leveling down in the name of "equity," he writes.

San Francisco's detracking policy sparked a parents' rebellion, reports Alex Lash for The Frisc. The school board is likely to bring back eighth-grade algebra next week, pre-empting a pro-algebra resolution on the March ballot.

The Board of Education removed Algebra 1 from middle schools in 2014, saying it promoted racial tracking and segregation of students. In 2015, 48 percent of eighth grade students met or exceeded the state math standard, but just 13 percent of Black and 21 percent of Latino students did so. In 2023, 40 percent of students overall but only 4 percent of Black and 13 percent of Latino students met or exceeded the standard.

San Francisco schools will need to do a better job of teaching foundational skills in elementary school to prepare students for algebra in eighth grade (or any grade), notes Lash. "A recent outside audit of the district’s math programs consistently found flaws in earlier years, especially seventh grade," he reports.

A video clip on Twitter shows a group of students at Kennesaw State, a moderately selective Georgia university, struggling to answer the question: "What is 15 times 4?" A girl guesses "23." A boy suggests "24." Someone else says "48," and they all agree the answer is 48.

I wonder what their majors are. Exercise science? Teaching?

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