Detracking in San Francisco

Posted by: Bostonian

Detracking in San Francisco - 11/04/19 03:23 PM

I doubt the author, a Stanford professor, is correct, but can someone knowledgeable about San Francisco public schools comment about the impact of detracking?

Separating ‘gifted’ children hasn’t led to better achievement
by Jo Boaler
Hechinger Report
November 4, 2019

When New York City’s mayor began a move to revamp the program of selective schools last year, a public outcry ensued, and the issue has yet to be resolved.

Objections echoed those in the San Francisco Unified School District, which six years ago began in earnest the elimination of advanced mathematics classes until after 10th grade. Parents created Facebook groups to oppose the changes.

Many believe that children learn more effectively in schools or classes with similar learners, but are they right? It is a question that has long intrigued and divided people. When learners show different achievement levels, should we teach them separately or together? I have spent my career studying this question and, although the logic of separate classes seems strong, evidence leads us in a different direction.

Related: Ending racial inequality in gifted education

For instance, after San Francisco Unified de-tracked math, the proportion of students failing algebra fell from 40 percent to 8 percent and the proportion of students taking advanced classes rose to a third, the highest percentage in district history. Until 10th grade, students take the same mathematics classes. From 11th grade on, students can choose different pathways.

Eight Bay Area school districts found similar results when they de-tracked middle-school mathematics and provided professional development to teachers. In 2014, 63 percent of students were in advanced classes, whereas in 2015 only 12 percent were in advanced classes and everyone else was taking Math 8. The overall achievement of the students significantly increased after de-tracking. The cohort of students in eighth-grade mathematics in 2015 were 15 months ahead of the previous cohort of students who were mainly in advanced classes.

Posted by: philly103

Re: Detracking in San Francisco - 11/04/19 05:45 PM

I'm not from San Francisco but why would you doubt the author of the report but assume that any of us would have better data?

Even if some of us are from San Fran, the best they could offer are anecdotal perspectives unless they're in the educational research space.

Of course, if someone is in the San Francisco educational research space, I agree that their perspective would be quite informative.
Posted by: Thomas Percy

Re: Detracking in San Francisco - 11/04/19 05:54 PM

I would take any thing Jo Boaler said with a grain of salt though. A very controversial figure in math education. I pretty much disagree with her whole math teaching philosophy.
Posted by: Bostonian

Re: Detracking in San Francisco - 11/04/19 06:17 PM

It appears that parents are less positive than administrators are about detracking math.

SF schools’ move to delay algebra shows positive results, district says
Jill Tucker
San Francisco Chronicle
January 9, 2019


The new math policy keeps all students together in math until junior year, when advanced students can then surge ahead by taking a combined Algebra II and precalculus courses and then take calculus during their senior year.

This eliminates the tracking of students into classes based on a higher or lower level of academic ability, which often separates white, Asian and wealthy students from their black, Latino and poor peers.

Most other districts offer an accelerated math course in middle school, combining eighth grade math with Algebra I.

Many parents have balked at the new sequence, saying it punishes students who are ready for more rigorous math concepts while making it harder to reach calculus. Previously, students could take Algebra I in middle school, and then progress through geometry, Algebra II, precalculus and then Advanced Placement calculus in high school.

While more students are taking precalculus now, the enrollment in Advanced Placement calculus courses has declined by nearly 13 percent over the past two years. Enrollment in AP Statistics, which requires only Algebra II as a prerequisite, has surged nearly 50 percent.

“It sends a message to San Francisco families that the district is not interested in students who want to excel,” said parent Rebecca Murray, who has three children in the district in eighth, seventh and second grades, adding she believes the district can offer an accelerated course in middle school and still see the increase in advanced math enrollment for all students. “It doesn’t have to be either/or.”

Parent Maya Keshavan said the new policy has resulted in families bypassing the policy by enrolling their students in expensive online Algebra I courses during middle school or intensive geometry classes during the summer months to ensure they can reach calculus without cramming Algebra II and precalculus into one year.

“This is all dependent on if the parents know what they’re doing or not,” she said. “I’m worried about the kids who are ready and don’t have the resources that other kids do.”

District officials defended the policy, however, saying that universities are increasingly downplaying the idea that students need to take calculus in high school.

“For so long, people have held up this idea that AP Calculus is the gold standard (for college admission),” Lizzy Hull Barnes said, a district math supervisor, adding Stanford and UC Berkeley are among the universities downplaying the need for calculus. “Faster is not better.”

Many university admission offices, including the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, say a rigorous high school transcript that includes calculus improves the odds of getting in.

“We haven’t seen the effect on college acceptance yet,” Keshavan said. “We’re setting our kids up to be competing against the rest of the kids in California with one hand tied beyond their back.”
Posted by: aeh

Re: Detracking in San Francisco - 11/04/19 06:20 PM

I don't know that any of us have better data, nor do I know that her data are actually bad, but it is true that there has been controversy regarding not only her research conclusions, but the quality of her data.
Posted by: aeh

Re: Detracking in San Francisco - 11/04/19 06:35 PM

It's worth noting, though that the percentages of students in "advanced" classes pre-intervention was clearly excessive, if those classes were truly above grade level. Statistically, it is highly unlikely that in a district as large as SFUSD (even if skewed somewhat by tech workers) 2/3 of its students are in the top quartile or higher nationally in math. So it seems apparent that something was indeed off about the placement process, which would explain the high failure rate in algebra I. They were allowing students unprepared for the material to enroll in algebra I. It doesn't necessarily follow, of course, that the solution is to get rid of the levels altogether. The paragraph on middle schools actually suggests that they didn't truly detrack; they appear to have instituted more rigorous selection criteria for placement, with the result that a much more reasonable 12% of grade eight students ended up in advanced math.
Posted by: indigo

Re: Detracking in San Francisco - 11/05/19 12:04 AM

A controversy since 2007...
12 years in the making, and counting...