Oakland’s big algebra push

Talk about a complex problem. My brain hurt just writing about it. Well I did, finally. You can find the story about the district’s algebra experiment in today’s Tribune.

image by Sean Donnelly/Oakland Tribune

Katy Murphy

Education reporter for the Oakland Tribune. Contact me at kmurphy@bayareanewsgroup.com.

  • Maria Ku


    When you list in the article “Percentage of eighth-graders enrolled in Algebra I last year”, do you include in that percentage those kids who have completed Algebra I in 7th grade and are doing Geometry in 8th? If not, this would seem to be distorting the results – the more kids took Algebra I in 7th grade grade (and are not taking it in 8th) the lower the % of 8th-graders “taking” Algebra. In other words, while those kids in questions are “even more” advanced, they count as “being behind” in such statistics.

  • Nextset

    Katy: Great Story. I especially liked the stats on Piedmont to use in comparing the other schools. And the comment about the aptitude test warning that only 25% of the students checks are likely to succeed in Algebra 1.

    So now Oakland thinks they can force all students to take Algebra 1 in 8th grade?

    Well, I suppose if you want to make sure the kids consider themselves failures and drop out of school fast this ought to do it.

    It’s wrong to deliberately enroll students in classes they have no expectation of passing. It is an example of OUSD/Educrats putting their political games and personal profits ahead of the welfare of the students. This could have been a pilot program with a smaller number of randomly selected students. There are other ways to experiment without harming so many people.

    I suppose the parents involved have no opinion and no say in what happens to their kid?

    We all know what is going to happen. When the black kids fail OUSD will tell them directly or indirectly that they are bad, they are failures (and their families also). Or maybe OUSD will just blame the teachers again.

    I do believe the black students can do more than OUSD has been getting out of them in math and verbal. I do not think OUSD can leapfrog the childish levels in math/verbal and go right to college prep. Trying to do so is code for not trying to improve anything.

    This is trying to have a child run before walking. It’s not actually intended to work. It is a show program to fool people into thinking that the school is trying to educate the chillun.

    Algebra I should be assigned to students with some expectation of being able to handle it. Those who can’t master the lower math should be retained in survey math classes. Experimental classes should be offered to work with the dull students to see what breakthroughs can be found. Mass promotion to college prep is just mass flunking and is no different than social promotion.

  • Katy Murphy

    Maria: You’re right, the list does not include geometry students.

    You’ll find a note to that effect below the chart:

    “Note: A small percentage of students in some districts took geometry, a more advanced course, as eighth-graders.”

  • J. Peters

    If we want OUSD students to go to a 4 year college, they will have to compete with all students from other school districts that do pass algebra. As much as OUSD may be setting some up for failure by requiring algebra, it will be allowing others to succeed. How do minority students know whether they can master algebra, unless they try it. I don’t think it does anyone any favors to allow students to think that they are successful by not challenging them. If low performing students spent an equivalent amount of time doing homework as high achieveing students, it would amaze them how really smart they are. There are many high school graduates that have to take remedial classes in community colleges and 4 year schools. When I taught college students, I was shocked at the low level math skills of some Oakland students. Many could not do simple math problems.

  • Oak261

    J. Peters: Algebra for all is a plan to punish students who aren’t prepared to handle the material. Are you implying that the old system denied some student the opportunity “to compete with all students from other school districts?” How exactly did that happen? The accelerated math track has been there for everyone to participate, including 7th and 8th grade algebra. So who is helped with this misguided, and almost mean-spirited, new policy?

  • Nextset

    J. Peters: You are living in a fantasy world. What subject did you teach in college?

    I would love for all the little chillun to have algebra as well as all the other UC entrance requirements (chemistry, physics, biology, foreign languages). Forcibly enrolling those which to reasonable expectation to pass these subjects is wrong on several levels. It is done to harm the kids involved and to prove something to someone. It is a malicious act.

    Low IQ students are not going to ever magically handle subjects requiring abstract thinking and fast processing. You know that if you are educated yourself. So what is going on with this new policy? What is really being proved to who?

    Have you seen the math & verbal scores at OUSD? Whatever gets actually done in these classes isn’t going to be algebra. And what will happen to the students in the classes that were suitable for Algebra? The classrooms will not exactly be conducive to normal study. I predict only the most advanced students will get anything done. The teachers will have to teach to the lowest common denominator.

    If you sabatoge teh algebra classes altogether by loading them up with students who can’t handle the subject matter and don’t want to be there you give yet another reason for the bright students to leave the district.

    Which is what the plan is, perhaps.

    This is a dumb as “universal health care”. Brought to you by the same kind of people.

  • Nextset

    Typos: 2nd para line 3 “with no reasonable expectation”

    Night, all…

  • Debora

    Oak261: you claim that Geometry and the accelerated track math has always been there for 7th and 8th grade students to participate – at Edna Brewer, if you were advanced and wanted to take Geometry it was not offered during a regular school day, you had to extend the school day and take it after school.

    Many, if not all flat land middle schools do not have Geometry during the day. (If this has changed please let me know). When Geometry is offered it is not an easy option for school scheduling and with very few school exceptions, middle schools in Oakland discourage 7th graders from Algebra and almost none will allow competent 6th graders to take Algebra even those who have consistently shown exceptional math ability since very early elementary school.

  • oak261

    Montera MS offers geometry. Pretty sure that others do too (Brewer, Bret Harte, for example). The largest ethnic group in these schools is african american / black.

  • J. Peters

    I taught pharmacy technician and vocational nursing students. These professions don’t use algebra per se, it is the thought process and problem solving that algebra teaches that is important. It is scary when students who want to be health professionals cannot make conversions into milliliters or grams, cannot see that a certain dosage can’t possibly be right without a calculator or computer. When I shop, I see cashiers that can’t figure out discounts or make change without a computer. Yes, putting academically weak students in algebra can be a tragedy. But taking away any chance to succeed in a profession from our smart flatland students is a bigger loss. I’m not just talking about college – many professions like electricians, carpenters, computer technicians, car mechanics require higher math skills than aritmetic. I think that 7 and 8th grade is way too early to give up on a kid.

  • oak261

    J. Peters: Who is giving up? All high schools offer algebra. All middle schools offer algebra. You write as if someone is being denied an opportunity. That is not supported by the facts.

  • Nextset

    Algebra and Geometry should be available on demand, not just to 10th graders or whatever. But: enrollment in such classes should be on the condition that the student has an acceptable performance in standard testing or in prerequisite classes.

    Having said that I think forcing advanced math classes on people who can’t count, handle percentages, etc or even read and write and who don’t want to be there is just wrong. Anyone who would create such a system means ill to the students and that includes the capable students who algebra classes will be trashed by the importation of hopeless students.

  • Debora

    Oak261: Yes, each of the schools you mentioned do have geometry – HOWEVER – not all of the schools offer it during the regular school day. Many Latin American families count on their older children for child care for younger children. For these families staying after regular school hours for geometry is not an option.