STEM professors protest San Francisco school district’s math curriculum

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Theo Wyss-Flamm/Senior Staff
Various professors alleged the San Francisco Unified School District's eighth grade math curriculum inadequately prepares students for postsecondary education in STEM.

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Professors from UC Berkeley, Harvard, UCLA and Stanford protested San Francisco Unified School District’s, or SFUSD, math curriculum.

The professors wrote a letter alleging that SFUSD’s Common Core eighth grade curriculum and compression courses, which combine Algebra II and precalculus, make SFUSD students less prepared for postsecondary STEM education and disproportionately affect under-resourced students.

“Time and again we’ve heard from minority and first-generation engineers and scientists that they wouldn’t be where they are if they didn’t have the opportunity to take (Algebra I) in 8th grade,” the letter reads. “The Common Core 8th grade curriculum is not comparable content-wise to an Algebra I course.”

The letter added that compression courses, as employed for all students, are “antithetical to responsible preparation.” In addition, the professors said the compression of Algebra II and precalculus into a single course can not be the recommended path for the majority of students.

According to Laurance Lem Lee, a San Francisco resident, eighth grade Algebra I was removed as a recommended option in 2014 and that the district created compression courses – where students take either two classes at the same time or a summer class – for those who aim to go into STEM.

Lee also said on Monday, SFUSD had a meeting and that a presentation showed data pointing to a “great” curriculum in terms of equity. However, Lee said some other data was diminished which showed less than optimal data. For instance, Lee said while Hispanic students taking AP classes are getting good grades, the total number of Hispanic students taking those classes have “dropped tremendously.”

“I went to San Francisco public schools … the opportunities were really amazing and have provided me such a strong basis to have a career,” Lee said. “To have that opportunity not be available for subsequent students really breaks my heart.”

Maya Keshavan, an electrical engineer in San Francisco, expressed agreement towards the letter. Keshavan added that her daughter was not able to take Algebra I during the eighth grade due to the curriculum, and that she had to pay $700 for an Algebra I course so that her daughter could take Calculus BC in 12th grade.

Keshavan expressed concern that the compression course does not prepare students for calculus in college.

SFUSD Mathematics and Computer Science Supervisor Lizzy Hull Barnes said the district agrees with providing more opportunities for students to take higher level math courses. Barnes added that the philosophy of providing access and rigor – which the professors in the letter advocate for – is aligned with Common Core.

“I would love to have this be an opportunity for K-12 educators to work more closely with university professors,” Barnes said. “This feels like an opportunity to have a conversation.”

Victor Corona and Amber X. Chen contributed to this report.

Contact Victor Corona and Amber X. Chen at [email protected].