Assessment & Grading

Algebra: Tracking or Not… Communication and Accountability Could Use Some Improvement

SFUSD Board of Education Commissioner Rachel Norton just posted a guest post by Matt Brauer, a parent of two girls who attend SFUSD schools addressing some of the questions parents are raising about SFUSD’s new Math Sequence. (If you’d like to know more, read this and this.)

The article describes Brauer’s concerns as a parent with the implementation of the district’s new Common Core aligned math sequence:

Some time ago I wrote a letter to Board of Education member Rachel Norton. I was concerned that my daughters were expressing boredom with math, and worrying that the in-class experiences they were having would diminish their joy of learning the subject. I was especially annoyed at some of the district rhetoric about differentiated instruction and an end to tracking. Also, I told her that while I’m a fan of what the CCSS is trying to accomplish, it was not clear to me that the curriculum necessitated heterogeneous classrooms, and that I felt like the district was using the curriculum change as an excuse to pursue other agendas. Finally, I wrote that the district has been notorious for talking a good game but not following through with the resources needed to implement the plan. (Differentiation is hard, and it’s not clear how much buy-in there is from the teachers, or if they have the training and prep time to do it well.)

Read more here…

Algebra Tracking: What we SHOULD be Talking About

His post is well thought out regarding math some of the questions and challenges our district faces regarding both implementation of the new Common Core standards, as well as the difficulty many teachers are experiencing in differentiating for our students. More importantly, it and brings up some underlying issues in our district that deserve our attention:

  1. How can the district improve its communication with families about district decisions? We can’t support implementation of new systems if we don’t understand them.
  2. What happens when parents and students aren’t satisfied with implementation of new systems? I’m perfectly happy with the differentiation going on in my girls classroom. My girls’ teacher is great. Apparently this is not happening in all classrooms. What happens when differentiation is not working?

Aside from complaining to the teacher and principal, there is currently no clear system for addressing problems in our schools. I have had similar issues in dealing with inadequate instruction in my one of my daughter’s art and music classes provided by VAPA (Visual and Performing Arts). I have been working WITH the principal for over two months now, and yet it feels like many of my concerns are still not addressed. And I KNOW the system. I can’t imagine how frustrating it is for non-educator families to navigate our system. We could go a long way to improving “customer service” throughout our system.

I believe a lot of the impetus for this algebra discussion is due to the fact that the district is not doing as well as it could to work with parents as problems arise. For example, currently we don’t have a very clear system for capturing parent feedback (both positive and negative). I know we have a district complaint system. Unfortunately, MANY parents do not. In addition, it is unclear what happens to complaints once they are made. There is also no clear way to view parent complaints in a collective way. If only one parent complains about something, it’s an individual problem which may or may not get addressed. But if lots and lots of parents are complaining about a similar problem, then it’s and indicator of a systems issue that needs to be addressed. Finally, there is no reporting mechanism to hold the district accountable for resolving parent complaints. It is clearly not appropriate for the public to know every in and out of every parent complaint. That said, if 100 parents are complaining about facilities problems at the their school, it seems there should be some sort of public accountability for resolving them.

Algebra Tracking: Possible Solutions

What about creating a 311 for parents? This could be similar to the city 311 system, where families could complain or ask questions directly to the district (instead of trying to figure out our current confusingly bureaucratic system.) Currently, we have a parent complaint system via the Office of Family Voice, but as far as I know, complaints are not being tracked. Even if they are, they are not publicly reported. If we had a more robust system, the district could track where it’s getting the most complaints and address problems more effectively. Is there one school that is getting more complaints? Maybe it’s a site leadership issue. Are lots of middle school families complaining about math? Maybe it’s a teacher training or support issue.

Algebra Tracking: Take Action

Whether you support a the current math sequence or another plan, it’s clear our district could do better when it comes to LISTENING and RESPONDING to families when there are problems… especially where system-wide issues are concerned. Even if the district choses to implement a two-track system, it doesn’t guarantee every child will get the best teacher or kids will never be bored in math again.

With no clear plan for addressing parent concerns/complaints, we have still not addressed the primary problem: clear TWO-WAY communication systems between district/schools and families and clear systems of accountability for effective implementation of district programs.

What you do you think about Algebra tracking? Does any of this make sense to you?

“Algebra Tracking or Not… Communication and Accountability Could Use Some Improvement” Related reads: My Recommendations for an Effective SFUSD GATE RedesignWhy We Can’t Talk About Honors Programs without Talking About Race

5 thoughts on “Algebra: Tracking or Not… Communication and Accountability Could Use Some Improvement

  1. Hi Ms. Collins!

    My name is James Wen. I am an SSC rep at Lowell HS. I recently found your website and have enjoyed reading your prior posts.

    I would like to link you to two articles from our newspaper about how the new CCSS Math program would hurt our high school, especially our science programs.

    I would also like to link you a student petition that I wrote along with my fellow SSC members against the math plan.

    I just hope to add a different perspective to the conversation. Many students in my community are outraged that the board approved this plan. I also hope you do not see this post as attacking your opinions or an aggressive post. (I know that comments can come off in a way not intended by the poster 😉 )


    1. Hi James, I appreciate your post and as a former HS debater and HS debate coach love a great dialogue. I will look into the articles you shared. Overall, I agree that we need to up the level of “rigor” in our schools. We also need to continue to support students who are struggling to meet basic requirements. I support BOTH of these ideas and do not think it’s at odds with heterogeneous classrooms until the upper grades (11 and 12) where students normally sort into various interests and abilities. As a former 9th and 10th grade teacher, I want to ensure that kids that take a little bit longer to get academically focused (and there are MANY!) don’t get tracked OUT of opportunities that will have life-long impacts.

      Thanks so much for chiming in… and please keep the conversation going. These types of dialogues challenge all of us to step outside our predetermined beliefs and re-examine them and I think that’s a good thing. Ultimately, I hope this allows us to create solutions that are “larger than the sum of their parts” and that meet the needs of all our kids, wherever they are on the learning spectrum. 🙂

      1. Hi!

        Totally Agree!! We need to make sure rigor and standards go up for everyone. I was a little concerned that SFUSD picked the 2 into 1 option instead of a 3 into 2 option for acceleration. 3 into 2 is stated in the Common Core standards from the state and I believe most Bay Area USDs have picked this path. I think 3 into 2 will allow more people to accelerate if they want to because, from a student’s perspective, 3 into 2 seems less rushed than 2 into 1. The 2 into 1 option I think only serves the students who are EXTREMELY gifted in math and may therefore widen the achievement gap even more.

        What I also didn’t like about the plan was that it was so strict and didn’t leave any room for schools to adapt it to their own communities. Also the original plan allowed for only people who “transfer into” SFUSD to place out ie only private school kids. I am still very worried that, even being allowed to test out, SFUSD kids may be disadvantaged compared to private school kids who learn Alg 1 and sometimes Geometry by 8th grade. I’m also worried how this will affect SFUSD enrollment numbers. I have heard many parents who want to take their kids out of public school for private schools just because of this.

        Either way I think that the Board needs to work on communication. Then again, communication is a two way street so maybe parents/students need to be more vigilant too!

  2. Hi. After a number of years working with the SFUSD “complaint system” for our ES and MS an underlying theme becomes clear. I call it “blame the family.”. The district refuses responsibility in every case and say the kids are to blame. It’s never the school. They treat facts as opinions and attempt to reduce families to mere complainers. SF

    1. I wish I could disagree, but I’ve had this experience many times as well. This frustration is often compounded by site staff (e.g. teachers and principals) who may be fearful of themselves being blamed by district leaders for inciting “trouble-making” parents. For me, this issue has cropped up (or not) based on the department I’m dealing with. Unfortunately, for many families (and even educators!) it’s often hard to see where true responsibility lies in creating and resolving problems.

      One of SFUSD’s 3 Goals is “Accountability – Keep district promises to students and families and enlist everyone in the community to join in doing so.” Our district has made great strides in adopting innovative practices and policies, which should be commended. Nonetheless, all this work is useless, if policies never get implemented.

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