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  • Writer's pictureJoanne Jacobs

One track for math: Is equity unfair?

Nobody takes algebra in eighth grade in San Francisco’s district schools any more, reports Ed Week‘s Stephen Sawchuk. In the name of equity, district leaders decided four years ago to place all students in “math courses of equal rigor through geometry.”

That means no “honors” classes. No gifted track. No weighted GPAs until later in high school. No 8th grade Algebra 1.

In detracked classes, “groups of students work through a series of ambitious math tasks,” he writes. Achievement levels vary widely. “Sometimes the groups fall into ‘tutorial mode,’ with one student doing most of the cognitive work on her own and then conveying her answers to the others.”

Compared to the previous cohort, fewer detracked students in all ethnic and racial groups are receiving D’s and F’s in algebra, data show. “About a third more students are ready for calculus, and that pool is more diverse than it’s ever been,” writes Sawchuk.

However, black students continue to lag in state test scores and enrollment in calculus.

To enable achievers to prepare for AP Calculus in 12th grade, “the district permits students to accelerate after completing Algebra 1 in 9th grade — most notably through a compressed class combining Algebra 2 and precalculus,” writes Sawchuk.

In addition, he writes, “ambitious parents . . . shell out thousands of dollars for students to take non-district algebra classes over the summer in the hopes of getting their children into geometry early.”

A few miles south, Silicon Valley’s math-centric parents don’t understand why they can’t understand Common Core math, reports Karen D’Souza in the San Jose Mercury News.

“The idea is to promote critical thinking,” says Arun Ramanathan, a former teacher who now runs Pivot Learning, an Oakland-based nonprofit providing training and support to California schools. “It’s not as straightforward as it used to be. The idea is to have a conversation about how to solve the problem.” But even Ramanathan, who has a doctorate from Harvard and a background in teaching, admits to struggling with his daughter’s seventh grade assignments.

D’Souza also talked to Lindsay Schroedter, who said she works with her eight-year-old son Aidan on third-grade math homework for 90 minutes to two hours on most school nights. “Then her husband, Jeff, an engineer, solves the questions and reverse engineers Common Core answers so they can show their work.”

Aidan “can get the answer but he doesn’t get the diagrams and the sequencing,” says his mother. “It drives us crazy.”

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