Blog · Educational Equity

Algebra in 8th Grade Is Good! Algebra in 8th Grade is Bad! Pick One, Mr. Chancellor.

Like Computer Science for All, Algebra For All is a New York City initiative which predates our current school chancellor, Richard Carranza.

According to the official website:

Through Algebra for All, by 2022, every student will have access to algebra in eighth grade, complete algebra no later than ninth grade, and there will be academic supports in place in elementary and middle school to help more students become ready for algebra in eighth grade.

The supposition is that Algebra in 8th grade will lead to Geometry in 9th, Algebra 2 in 10th, Pre-Calculus in 11th, and Calculus in 12th.

Every single press release Mayor Bill de Blasio’s office sends out these days ends with a boilerplate paragraph trumpeting how:

Equity and Excellence for All initiatives are building a pathway to success in college and careers for all students… (this includes) Algebra for All to improve elementary- and middle-school math instruction.

Algebra is presumably seen as a means to achieving the aforementioned Equity and Excellence for All.

As NYC school chancellor, Richard Carranza presumably supports the Algebra For All initiative. He’s the one in charge of implementing it!

And yet, when he was Chancellor of the San Francisco school system, Carranza was just as adamant that the way to achieve Equity and Excellence for All was to… get rid of Algebra for all 8th graders.

A Bay Area parent writes:

In defense of the controversial policy, Carranza claimed that his initiative raised test scores for minority and low income students, while the scores of middle-class students held steady.

But, as I wrote last November:

Of course, the top students’ scores didn’t go down! They were being tested on material they’d already mastered! That’s like boasting that middle schoolers totally killed reading that “Cat in the Hat” passage!

Not to mention that, like the mother who tweeted above, and like so many of the parents whose kids attend “good” NYC schools, there is always private tutoring for those privileged souls who don’t have to depend exclusively on the whims of the public school school system.

Oh, and the NAACP also named San Francisco the worst county in California for Black students and requested that a state of emergency be declared. But who’s counting?

Those who read me regularly know I’m all about letting all kids progress through all subjects at their own pace. Students should be able to take Algebra whenever they’re ready. (Those who read my son, on the other hand, know he doesn’t believe Algebra 2 should be a requirement for graduation; not only am I aware that all families don’t agree on what makes a “good” school, it’s happening in my own house!)

Of course, those who read me (or my husband) regularly also know that my much greater concern is about how students — especially poor or of color — are currently nowhere near ready to take Algebra in 8th grade. Or 9th. Or 12th. Or enter even a community college without needing remediation.

I’ve made no secret of my disagreement with Chancellor Carranza on SHSAT schools, Gifted & Talented programs, and his choice of vendor for the perennially malfunctioning Parent Portal. Plus, you think I’d be used to his hypocrisy by now. (He’s hardly alone in that respect.)

But the flip-flopping on Algebra in 8th grade (he was for it before he was against it – or vice-versa) bothers me in a whole new way.

What does it mean when someone who has made Equity and Excellence the centerpiece of his education agenda — ahead of curriculum, teacher quality, academic standards, etc. –says that the way to achieve it is the exact opposite of what he espoused only a few years earlier?

There are three possibilities here:

  1. Chancellor Carranza has genuinely changed his mind on the subject after seeing the results of his San Francisco experiment. If that’s the case, he is to be commended. Admitting your mistakes is hard for everyone. It would be nice if he did so publicly, but maybe that’s still in the works.
  2. Chancellor Carranza has not changed his mind, but, like any political hack, he’s taking his marching orders from above and parroting the party line. This is more worrisome, because it’s extremely easy to imagine him saying, “Yes, Bill, of course, Bill, anything you say, Bill, Algebra is definitely the key to equity and excellence.” And then not doing a single thing about it, on principle.
  3. Chancellor Carranza doesn’t care one way or the other. Like Hamilton sang about two early candidates for President, “Jefferson has beliefs, Burr has none.” Carranza would be Burr, in this case, always checking where the wind of public opinion is blowing. He’ll do and say anything he needs to in order to consolidate his power base. “Talk less, smile more.” And do nothing of substance.

Maybe tweet a picture of yourself in a mariachi outfit.

Will Richard Carranza be able to deliver Algebra for All? Does he even intend to? Let us know what you think!

What do you think?

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