No doubt you’ve heard of the rampant learning loss throughout our country. But San Francisco educators took a novel approach to combat the issue in their district well before the pandemic in 2014: remove a class to avoid failure. 

The San Francisco Examiner recently reported that the San Francisco Unified School District (SFUSD) “denied access to Algebra 1 for all eighth graders, regardless of their preparation and motivation, justifying this with the word ‘equity.’” And not only did SFUSD remove this opportunity for students, but they also claimed it was a good thing: 

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.

Instead of being able to take a fundamental course at a reasonable stage in their education, students are either forced to take multiple math classes to catch up (which really should be taken sequentially and not simultaneously) or spend money to take summer or online courses to make up the deficit. 

By setting students up for failure in this way, SFUSD actually hurts equality, all in the name of equity. Students without the time or extra resources lose access to foundational math instruction and many may simply give up on higher math courses, taking away the option of a multitude of future professions, including ALL STEM majors. 

Unfortunately, SFUSD is not alone in denying its 8th graders the opportunity to take Algebra 1. According to the U.S. Department of Education, only 59% of schools offer Algebra 1 in 8th grade and only 24% of all 8th graders are enrolled in Algebra 1. And they further highlight that access to Algebra 1 in high school grades, while more common, is still not universal either. This is a problem as one study found that “Early access to algebra has an effect beyond simple increased knowledge measures and, in fact, may ‘socialize’ a student into taking more mathematics, regulating access both to advanced coursework and increased achievement in high school.”

In San Francisco, parents have fought for their children’s education and opportunities, attending community meetings and circulating petitions to reverse the change. There was so much opposition that the school district decided to launch a PR campaign for the policy, highlighting the “equity” goal of the change. 

Families for San Francisco, a parent advocacy group, has pushed back against the claims made by the SFUSD. Using district data acquired from the California Public Records Act, they highlight that “the falling repeat rate occurred after the district changed the rules for passing the course, eliminating a requirement that students pass a state-designed end of course exam in Algebra I before gaining placement in Geometry.” 

The problems that school districts, students, parents, and policymakers face are not solely due to the covid pandemic. Schools have failed students for far too long and the pandemic, while exacerbating the issue with remote learning, served to highlight an already-broken system. 

Instead of pouring more money into public schools that refuse to meet the academic needs of their students, we need to find ways to support families and children, giving them the opportunity to choose what is best for them through educational freedom and flexible options.