Race /

San Francisco's Racial Equity 'Algebra For All' Program Worsened Disparities

Black and Hispanic students actually performed worse in math after racial equity policies were introduced

In 2015, education officials in San Francisco enacted policies preventing students from taking algebra until the ninth grade in a bid to reduce disparities for “marginalized” students.

San Francisco Unified School District, troubled over high failure rates of some students in eighth grade algebra, sought to place low, average, and high performing students in the same classes with the hope of improving achievement for black and Hispanic students who might then be better prepared for advanced mathematics.

Recent data show that the district’s equity-focused math reform policies not only failed to work, but actually widened the gaps in educational outcomes that existed between white students and their black and Hispanic counterparts.

One study completed by researchers from Stanford University found that “ethnoracial gaps in advanced math course-taking motivated this reform but did not change” following the new policy’s implementation. Researchers also found “the percent of black students enrolling in an AP math course has remained statistically significantly indistinguishable from the pre-policy period while Hispanic student enrollment in advanced math increased by one percentage point.”

The study added that the outcomes leave “questions about how the district’s course-offering and selection processes support equitable learning opportunities.”

Tom Loveless, writing for Education Next, analyzed data and found that after the district’s racial equity policies were imposed, non-white students fared worse than they had before.

“San Francisco Unified School District embarked on a detracking initiative in 2015, followed by an extensive public relations campaign to portray the policy as having successfully narrowed achievement gaps,” Loveless wrote. “The campaign omitted assessment data indicating that the Black-White and Hispanic-White achievement gaps have widened, not narrowed, the exact opposite of the district’s intention and of the story the district was selling to the public.”

Data gleaned from four years of assessment scores showed that black and Hispanic 11th graders in San Francisco score roughly the same or lower as 5th graders who took the same math test, according to Loveless’s report.

“Contrary to the district’s spin, the trend towards greater equity is not headed in the right direction,” he wrote. “Gaps are widening. Perhaps this trend is statewide and not just a SFUSD phenomenon.”

While California officials pursue policies that reorganize school curricula to try and alter outcomes, other studies have shown that parental involvement in their children’s education is integral to that child’s academic success.

Parental involvement has been found to not only improve a student’s grades, but also attendance, persistence, and motivation — regardless of the child’s race or socioeconomic standing.

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