Recently [some] Lowell families have been at it again trying to push SFUSD Board Members to reinstate tracking in our district. For lack of a better name, and because there has been a real lack of transparency behind this groups members/motives, I’ve decided to call this group CARE/SFUSD_parentwatch.)
This is a complex issue, no doubt. And with all the issues in play: GATE, tracking, math sequencing, educational access, racial discrimination… etc. it has been quite a HOT topic on parent email groups and in PTA meetings around the district. There are many valid questions families have about changes to gifted programming and math instruction. Unfortunately, there is also a lot of misinformation and coded racism flying around as well. (Click here to read official answers to parent questions about GATE, honors AP and advanced math.)
In this first of several posts, I attempt to frame the questions and issues behind this discussion. Feel free to email me at ali @ sfpsmom.com if you have a topic you’d like to see.
CARE/SFUSD_parentwatch proponents (read: some Lowell families and staff) who originally marketed their proposal as “two-track accelerated Algebra” have repackaged their plan using the words “optional pathways” and “choice” to advocate for a reinstatement of tracking in SFUSD. There is over 30+ years of overwhelming research showing tracking is harmful to students tracked into “low-performing” classes. Worse yet, tracking by perceived ability has unquestionably racial implications.
Under the SFUSD’s previous system, students were tracked from 6th grade into either “honors” or “regular” classes.
The picture above demonstrates how FEW Black and Brown students have been enrolled in the district’s PREVIOUS two-track GATE/honors system (which CARE/SFUSD_parentwatch is currently advocating.) This chart shows student enrollment in 8th grade accelerated math (Algebra 1) vs. non-accelerated math (General Math), prior to the new 8th grade “Algebra 1 for All” policy.
Broken down by ethnicity, roughly 50% of Asian, White, and Other students were placed in Algebra 1, while only 20% of African American and Latino students where placed in the Algebra 1 track.
Student placement in 8th grade classes was determined by previous enrollment in middle school honors classes (6th and 7th grade), which in turn was determined by teacher and parent recommendation, and scores on standardized tests. These “merit”-based ways of determining access to educational programs are rife with problems and have many racially-discriminatory outcomes, which is clearly evident in student enrollment math courses like those shown above.
CARE/SFUSD_parentwatch is currently proposing a NEW plan of “pathways” to intensive and non-intensive “options”. The truth is, none of this is new. None of this is OPTIONAL. At the bottom of the proposal,CARE/SFUSD_parentwatch proponents state entrance in “intensive” classes would be based on: 1) adequate grades in prior classes; 2) teacher recommendation; 3) student/family choice, and; 4) online math achievement. (This last one is not clear, but one would assume it would be based on an online test?)
Arguing in support of tracking is akin to denying the realities of global warming. The reason SFUSD is making changes to it’s math sequence and GATE programs is because our district can no longer deny the social stigma and other harmful effects of tracking, especially on our most vulnerable students.
All students deserve to have challenging curriculum in diverse classrooms that support and recognize the unique talents and skills they bring. Well differentiated, mixed-ability (heterogeneous) classrooms are the solution to both providing challenge and support to all students without social stigma and other harms of tracking. In order to make this happen, families should work to monitor, advocate and support quality differentiation in all classrooms.
- SFUSD must stay the course and eliminate separate and unequal paths to college and career (No honors–no tracking!)
- REAL support for teachers in differentiation for GATE and high-performing students (these two groups are not always the same.) This can include: instructional support, professional learning opportunities and teacher coaching, and enrichment programs. (e.g. lunchtime/after-school clubs, technology resources, etc.)
- Clear systems of communication and parent leadership opportunities for GATE program implementation, including: program expectations, assessment and MOST IMPORTANT (!) a clear system of accountability when differentiation isn’t working or when students are having problems.
What questions do you have about tracking or the proposed CARE/SFUSD_parentwatch plan? Write me in the comments below.
- Black Families Voice Support for the SFUSD Math Sequence!
- Common Core Math is Changing with Way we all Think about Math
- How Does Good Differentiated Instruction in Middle School Math Look?
- Why We Can’t Talk About Honors Programs without Talking About Race
- Algebra: Tracking or Not… Communication and Accountability Could Use Some Improvement
Ali Collins is an educator, community organizer and mom. She lives with her husband and twin girls in San Francisco, CA.
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