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Schools Dropping Advanced Math in a Fumble for Equity

August 17, 2022

Recently, the local school district officials of San Mateo and Foster City made the bold proposal to drop their accelerated math program. It seems to have come from a place of good intentions. They noticed that within their county schools, Latino students were achieving at a much lower level on average than white and Asian-American students. You would think that anyone who cares enough to be involved in their local school system as an elected official must care about equitable outcomes for their students.

Unfortunately, their approach to equity is extremely flawed.

The existing accelerated math program is a compacted course into which fifth graders can test in order to be on track to complete algebra before they enter high school. Parents with students in the program said that it helped their child rapidly develop, and is generally credited to be a program that is perfect to foster students with talent in math.

The school administrators have proposed that this program should be ended and speculated that grouping students together would improve outcomes based on some studies to that effect, all in the name of equity. However, equity should not look like limiting the potential achievements of fellow students; it should make their best efforts to bring the disadvantaged to a place level with the advantaged.

Even if making this change did slightly benefit the students of the county, is lumping a large group of students together into the same level math class really an improvement to students being taught according to their skill level?

If students are coming into this school system with unequal starting points thanks to individual circumstances influenced by systematic issues, then the teachers should be making an effort to work closely with their students and bring them up to whatever level their intellect and interest dictates. And beyond even that, the idea that the offering of an accelerated course program is a major or even moderate source of the existing inequalities is extremely poor reasoning. If the current system is incapable of fostering individual potential, how will making classes even more impersonal improve student prospects?

At the end of the day, the accelerated study is supposed to foster pre-existing talent in math. It seems extremely unlikely that Latino students in this particular county would be naturally untalented. Rather than the course itself being the problem, it seems that this could be an issue of teachers failing to find that natural talent.

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