San Francisco Parents Call for Algebra 1 to Be Returned to 8th-Grade Curriculum

San Francisco Parents Call for Algebra 1 to Be Returned to 8th-Grade Curriculum
Pedestrians walk by a mural of Abraham Lincoln outside of Abraham Lincoln High School in San Francisco on December 17, 2020. (Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)
Lear Zhou

SAN FRANCISCO—In a letter sent on July 12, Friends of Lowell Foundation, a group of parents, called for the San Francisco Board of Supervisors to place a ballot measure in the 2024 election to make Algebra 1 available again for 8th-graders.

Also on July 12, the California State Board of Education approved a new math framework that did not suit the parents’ wishes.

“It’s a shame that with all these high-tech companies that have a presence here in our city, our school kids in the San Francisco Unified School District (SFUSD) cannot get to calculus, because when they moved Algebra 1 out of the eighth grade and put it into the ninth grade, that pushed everything back as a result,” Rex Ridgeway, PTSA president of Abraham Lincoln High School and the author of the letter, told The Epoch Times.

Mr. Ridgeway recalled that hundreds of parents and residents protested before the school board, trying to stop SFUSD from removing Algebra 1 from the 8th grade in 2014.

“They didn’t even pay attention,” Mr. Ridgeway said. “They were going to do this, whether we liked it or not.”

In the letter, Mr. Ridgeway wrote, “This terrible decision places significant roadblocks and hurdles in the path of our students desiring careers in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM).”

Early data presented by SFUSD showed a one-time drop in Algebra 1 failure rates as well as increased percentages of students, especially Black and Latino students, being enrolled in higher-level math.

However, the course sequence shift didn’t solve the racial inequity in math learning as SFUSD promised. Recent research by Stanford University Graduate School of Education looked at data from before and after SFUSD’s course change and concluded that “large ethnoracial gaps in advanced math course-taking remained.”
While 13.8 percent of Latino and 3.9 percent of African American students completed Algebra 2 by the end of 10th grade under the old course sequence, the numbers have fallen to 6.2 and 1.3 percent respectively under the new course sequence, according to education watchdog Families for San Francisco.

Whether or not a student can finish Algebra 2 in the 10th grade is considered an important metric, since it decides whether the student can take a more advanced mathematics course instead of the SFUSD-specific “compression” course, which combines partial Algebra 2 and partial pre-calculus.

“What has happened is that Asian and Caucasian families have done workarounds; they doubled up in the ninth grade to make sure their kids were not hurt,” Mr. Ridgeway said. “What about the kids who can do math, but the parents don’t have the knowledge nor the resources to do workarounds? Right? Yeah, kids are stuck in this compression course; they’re held back.”

The Stanford research also found that the equity-focused mathematics reform in SFUSD initially caused a 15 percent plunge in participation in Advanced Placement (AP) math, driven by declines in AP Calculus and among Asian/Pacific-Islander students.

“However, growing participation in acceleration options attenuated these reductions,” the research abstract states.

But these acceleration options cost money and require extra effort from students.

Mr. Ridgeway’s granddaughter Josie attended a summer class of algebra before registering in Lincoln High as a 9th grader, so she was able to take Algebra 1 and geometry in the same year. Then Josie finished Algebra 2 in the 10th grade with an A and took a pre-calculus UC Berkeley accredited course, and she was ready to take calculus next year before she graduated.

The two summer classes cost Mr. Ridgeway a little over $1,800.

As an African American, Josie Ridgeway will contribute to the district’s touted success stories.

“I want to be very clear on one fact; that is, based on our data, our current approach to math in SFUSD is not working,” said SFUSD Superintendent Matt Wayne in a mathematics workshop meeting on May 25. “We’re not meeting our goals around math. And particularly, our students, especially black and brown students, are not benefiting from the current way we do math in the district, and we have not meaningfully increased access to higher-level math. And we’ve even limited some students who want to pursue and wish to accelerate in math.”

Right after the Stanford research was published, a group of frustrated San Francisco parents sued SFUSD, demanding that officials put Algebra 1 back into middle schools for students who are ready to take it.

Mr. Ridgeway hopes SFUSD will settle the case by putting Algebra 1 back into the 8th grade. He cited a judge ruling in favor of parents with a similar case in Palo Alto earlier this year.

When talking about the idea of so-called detracking behind the current math policy, Mr. Ridgeway said he isn’t convinced.

“It’s like everybody gets on the track, everybody’s going to run, start at the same starting line, and you’re going to manufacture for everybody to finish at the finish line?” he said. “That’s not real life, and in track and field, the faster runner is going to win.”