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In 2014, the city of San Francisco decided to try to improve equity in math education by barring kids from taking algebra in 8th grade.

Noah Smith:

The results were highly disappointing — Black and Latino kids’ math skills did not improve, and the achievement gap widened, thanks to richer White and Asian families hiring private tutors to teach their kids algebra.

This incident — whose results are sad but entirely predictable — highlights how some Americans think we can increase equity in math education by simply teaching less math. But this doesn’t make the world more equal — rich kids have the private resources to learn on their own, while poor kids need the state to teach them. Paring back the role of the state is rarely a recipe for equity. 

But there’s probably a wider consequence of this type of shenanigan as well. At a time when America is desperately trying to re-shore strategic industries like semiconductors, we need a broad workforce with basic numeracyeven more than usual. The more we refuse to teach our kids math — not the well-prepared upper crust, but the broad middle of the distribution — the more we’ll be dependent on immigration to run the fabs. And while immigration is great, I don’t have infinite confidence in our government’s willingness to open the gates. We need to train our own people too.

Which means we need to get more serious about broad-based math education. A couple years ago, I wrote a post about why the fights over meritocracy vs. equity ignore the larger imperative of broad-based numeracy and technical competence. Here is that post, which I think is more relevant than ever.

San Francisco Middle Schools No Longer Teaching ‘Algebra

Ana Tintocalis:

Van Zandt admits he has high expectations for his children. He also has high expectations for San Francisco Unified, which is why he and many parents like him were outraged when they learned Algebra 1 will no longer be taught in middle school under Common Core, the state’s new academic standards.

Instead, all students will have to wait until their freshman year in high school to take the class.

Valentina says delaying Algebra 1 is going to hurt gifted students because some classes are “too easy” or “aren’t very challenging” for high-achieving students.

The shift to now require Algebra 1 in high school may seem like a subtle change, but it hits on a deep-rooted debate over when advanced math should be introduced, and to which students.

Some say Algebra 1 at a young age causes students to flounder.

The nonbinding measure calls for teaching Algebra 1 to eighth graders, a worthwhile pursuit to enhance public education and to potentially staunch declining district enrollment

San Francisco Chronicle:

Whether to offer Algebra I to eighth graders has been a point of contention for years within the San Francisco school district.

In 2014, the Board of Education voted to not offer Algebra I until high school to delay the tracking of students into different academic levels and to boost the enrollment of Black, Latino and low-income students in higher-level math classes. Despite these good intentions, however, the change has had little to no impact on improving pass rates, proficiency or enrollment in higher math classes by underrepresented students, according to a Stanford University study.

Many parents have been clamoring for the district to reinstate eighth-grade algebra because it allows students to take calculus by the time they are seniors without having to double up on math classes or go outside the district. Parents with the means can send their kids to private classes for algebra, giving them a leg up on families who can’t afford such a luxury.

San Francisco Supervisors Fly to Japan To Learn About Math

Josh Koehn

Two San Francisco supervisors will miss key meetings this week to attend a taxpayer-funded junket in Japan to learn how an institute in the country teaches math. 

The details of that word salad of a sentence might seem a bit mystifying for those who realize:

Adding a bit more complexity to the situation, the absences of Supervisors Hillary Ronen and Myrna Melgar from this week’s Board of Supervisors meeting could create hiccups in getting measures on the March 2024 ballot, especially if the return leg of their 5,180-mile trip runs long. Recent history shows it wouldn’t be the first time a supervisor was overly optimistic about returning home in time for an important meeting.

SFUSD’s delay of algebra 1 has created a nightmare of workarounds

Rex Ridgeway

All parents want opportunities for their children to excel academically. However, reaching the top in math at San Francisco Unified School District, is like climbing a cactus tree. It’s going to hurt.

At SFUSD, a math curriculum limiting student advancement currently exists; especially hindering socio-economically disadvantaged students from advancing in math. This is counter to what parents expect from a school district.

In 2014, SFUSD denied access to algebra 1 for all eighth graders, regardless of their preparation and motivation, justifying this with the word “equity.” SFUSD subsequently claimed success, but inquiring community members were denied access to supporting data. Obtaining data through public records requests, the district’s success claims were exposed to be grossly misrepresented.

SFUSD claimed algebra 1 repeat rates were reduced, but this occurred by removing a post-course test requirement. SFUSD claimed an increased enrollment in advanced classes, but this occurred by calling a class “advanced” that was not. A lack of transparency, and manipulating data to justify policies, demonstrates how SFUSD operates.

The benefits of eighth-grade algebra 1 are clearly explained in an open letter signed by nearly 1,800 science, technology, engineering and math professionals. This course initiates a five-year pathway to STEM readiness culminating in AP calculus in 12th grade.

San Francisco parents pay to put kids on path to calculus

Joanne Jacobs:

San Francisco hoped to close achievement gaps by adopting a new, detracked math curriculum that delays algebra till 9th grade, writes Joe Hong on CalMatters. Results are mixed, at best.

California’s proposed new math frameworkrecommends all districts follow San Francisco’s policies, citing the reforms as a success story, writes Hong. It’s complicated.

Fewer students are failing algebra — but the district dropped an end-of-course exam, making it easier to pass.

More students are taking AP statistics in 12th grade, but fewer qualify for AP calculus.

Joselyn Marroquin, a freshman at Lincoln High, is taking algebra and geometry in the same year, so she can take calculus in 12th grade. Her grandfather, who wants her to go to UCLA, paid $850 for her to take algebra in summer school, so she could handle the double load. Many families can’t afford that.

“It has led to even worse inequities and driven them underground,” said Elizabeth Statmore, a math teacher at the district’s Lowell High, the city’s top performing public high school. “People with means started finding other ways to get ahead.”

“Some schools offer a summer geometry course for which low-income students get priority enrollment,” writes Hong. “At other schools, students can take a one-year class that combines Algebra 2 and Precalculus.”

New course: Computational Linear Algebra

Rachel Thomas:

I am thrilled to release’s newest free course, Computational Linear Algebra, including an online textbook and a series of videos, and covering applications (using Python) such as how to identify the foreground in a surveillance video, how to categorize documents, the algorithm powering Google’s search, how to reconstruct an image from a CT scan, and more.

Jeremy and I developed this material for a numerical linear algebra course we taught in the University of San Francisco’s Masters of Analytics program, and it is the first ever numerical linear algebra course, to our knowledge, to be completely centered around practical applications and to use cutting edge algorithms and tools, including PyTorch, Numba, and randomized SVD. It also covers foundational numerical linear algebra concepts such as floating point arithmetic, machine epsilon, singular value decomposition, eigen decomposition, and QR decomposition.

English, Algebra, Phys Ed … and Biotech

G. Pascal Zachary:

MORE than a decade ago, after George Cachianes, a former researcher at Genentech, decided to become a teacher, he started a biotechnology course at Lincoln High School in San Francisco. He saw the class as way of marrying basic biotechnology principles with modern lab practices — and insights into how business harvests biotech innovations for profit.
If you’re interested in seeing the future of biotechnology education, you might want to visit one of George Cachianes’s classrooms. “Students are motivated by understanding the relationships between research, creativity and making money,” he says.
Lincoln has five biotech classes, each with about 30 students. Four other public high schools in San Francisco offer the course, drawing on Mr. Cachianes’s syllabus. Mr. Cachianes, who still teaches at Lincoln, divides his classes into teams of five students; each team “adopts” an actual biotech company.
The students write annual reports, correspond with company officials and learn about products in the pipeline. Students also learn the latest lab techniques. They cut DNA. And recombine it. They transfer jellyfish genes into bacteria. They purify proteins. They even sequence their own cheek-cell DNA.

“Our policy against tracking in mathematics aims to interrupt the racialized outcomes”


Subject: [EXTERNAL] Feedback from the SFUSD Math Department to the Math Framework

To the California Department of Education:

We are writing to offer comment on the CA Mathematics Framework. As the Mathematics Department of the San Francisco Unified School District, we appreciate the number of times that the draft Framework makes note of our district’s policy leadership and pedagogical stance.

In chapter 1, lines 471 – 476, the Framework says, “Educators in the San Francisco Unified
School District found similar benefits when they delayed any students taking advanced classes in
mathematics until after tenth grade and moved the algebra course from eighth to ninth grade. After
making this change the proportion of students [who had to retake] algebra fell from 40 percent to eight
percent, and the proportion of students taking advanced classes rose to a third of the students, more
than any other number in the history of the district (Boaler et al, 2018).” And again, in chapter 8, lines
203 – 206, the Framework says “An NCTM case study of the San Francisco Unified School District’s move
away from middle-school acceleration and high-school tracking demonstrates that such an approach can result in increased numbers of students continuing in higher-level mathematics courses (Barnes & Torres, 2019).”

We are indeed very proud of these outcomes. Aligned with our social justice mission, our policy against tracking in mathematics aims to interrupt the racialized outcomes associated with tracking and fixed beliefs about what it means to be “smart at
math.” We applaud that the Framework takes a strong stance against tracking,alongside recommendations for deep mathematical sense making grounded in Universal Design for Learning. More and more districts nationwide are taking up the complex and powerful work towards equitable policies in mathematics; a Math Framework that supports this work will serve the students of California, and
demonstrate national leadership.


The San Francisco Unified School District Mathematics Department

Math & Progress

Eliminating 8th grade algebra in the name of equity.

Harrison Bergeron

Connected Math

Discovery Math

Singapore Math

California’s New Old Math

Wall Street Journal:

In San Francisco Monday morning, there’s going to be a demonstration on the steps of City Hall. That may not be surprising, given the protests breaking out all over the country. But the topic is, believe it or not, algebra.

A grassroots alliance of parents, teachers and concerned citizens known as the SF Guardians is gathering to support a ballot measure launched by Supervisor Joel Engardio. The initiative aims to restore eighth-grade algebra in the city’s public schools. Monday’s Rally for Algebra comes on the heels of a victory at the state level.

This victory was the State Board of Education’s new version of the California Mathematics Framework. The key change is that the board dropped what a Berkeley professor called “the last remaining text advocating against 8th grade Algebra I.” This was a line recommending that all students take the same math courses from kindergarten through eighth grade.

The San Francisco Unified School District stopped offering eighth-grade algebra in 2014 in the name of—what else?—equity. The theory was that by making every student study the same curriculum, the minority achievement gap would close.

California’s Math Misadventure Is About to Go National

Brian Conrad:

When I decided to read every word of California’s 1,000-page proposal to transform math education in public schools, I learned that even speculative and unproved ideas can end up as official instructional policy. In 2021, the state released a draft of the California Mathematics Framework, whose authors were promising to open up new pathways into science and tech careers for students who might otherwise be left behind. At the time, news reports highlighted features of the CMF that struck me as dubious. That draft explicitly promoted the San Francisco Unified School District’s policy of banishing Algebra I from middle school—a policy grounded in the belief that teaching the subject only in high school would give all students the same opportunities for future success. The document also made a broad presumption that tweaking the content and timing of the math curriculum, rather than more effective teaching of the existing one, was the best way to fix achievement gaps among demographic groups. Unfortunately, the sheer size of the sprawling document discouraged serious public scrutiny.

I am a professional mathematician, a graduate of the public schools of a middle-class community in New York, and the son of a high-school math teacher. I have been the director of undergraduate studies in math at Stanford University for a decade. When California released a revised draft of the math framework last year, I decided someone should read the whole thing, so I dove in. Sometimes, as I pored over the CMF, I could scarcely believe what I was reading. The document cited research that hadn’t been peer-reviewed; justified sweeping generalizations by referencing small, tightly focused studies or even unrelated research; and described some papers as reaching nearly the opposite conclusions from what they actually say.

The new California Mathematics Framework promises to minimize racial inequity at the expense of mathematical excellence—and the promise of the Golden State.

Julia Steinberg:

“California is America, only sooner” was an optimistic phrase once used to describe my home state. The Golden State promised a spirit of freedom, innovation, and experimentation that would spread across the nation. And at the heart of the state’s flourishing was a four-letter word: math.

Math made California prosper.

It’s most obvious in top universities like Stanford, CalTech, Berkeley, and UCLA. Those schools funneled great minds into California STEM enterprises like Silicon Valley, NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, and aeronautical engineering. Both the Central Valley and Hollywood—America’s main providers of food and fodder, respectively—rely upon engineering to mechanize production and optimize output. 

All of this has made California’s GDP $3.6 trillion—making it the fifth largest economy in the world as of last year.

But now “California is America, only sooner” is a warning, and not just because of the exodus of people and jobs and the decay of our major cities, but because of the state’s abandonment of math—which is to say its abandonment of excellence and, in a way, reality itself. 

Perhaps you’ve read the headlines about kooky San Francisco discarding algebra in the name of anti-racism. Now imagine that worldview adopted by the entire state.

Separating ‘gifted’ children hasn’t led to better achievement

Jo Boaler:

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.

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.

Related: 2006: “They’re all Rich White Kids, and they’ll do just fine, NOT!”.

Digital books engage students during test drive

Jill Tucker:

The drudgery of solving for X flew out the door of a Presidio Middle School classroom Friday as the giddy students traded in their back-breaking algebra textbooks for an iPad touch screen filled with integers and equations that came to life with the flick of a finger.
The San Francisco eighth-graders are among 400 California middle school students participating in a pilot study funded by textbook publisher Houghton Mifflin Harcourt on the use of digital textbooks. The results will help determine whether the high-tech version educates schoolchildren as well or better than its wood-pulp predecessors.
While it’s not hard to imagine classrooms full of such devices in the not-so-distant future, the novelty was not lost on many of the adults in the classroom Friday.
Remember this day, district officials told the students.

SVLG, Intel Join to Help Bay Area Teachers with Math Education

Jessie Mangaliman:

If mathematics is like a foreign language, then those who teach the subject ought to be fluent.
That is the goal of an intensive pilot program by the Silicon Valley Leadership Group and Intel that aims to improve the math skills of students in underperforming Bay Area elementary and middle schools.
Helping students means helping their teachers first – and that includes some veteran educators.
Take Marivic Walch of Bishop Elementary School in Sunnyvale, who has been teaching for seven years and describes herself as a “math queen.”
“I had many aha moments,” she said.
Modeled after a successful program in Vermont, the 80-hour pilot course taught 38 Bay Area teachers in the past four months how to improve their skills from basic math all the way to algebra. The program is set to expand in 2008, more than doubling its scope, training 100 teachers in 20 schools in San Jose, Gilroy, Redwood City, Foster City, Newark and San Francisco.
“The idea is to turn this into a fluency training in the language of math,” said Mark Pettinger, external affairs manager for Intel. “This is meant for teachers who are good teachers.”