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Readin, Writin, and Rithmatic:

Can San Francisco Get it Right after Getting it Wrong?

• • • • • • • • • • May 26, 2023 • • • • • • • • • •

There is lots of research that says once you make a decision based on emotions, changing your mind is VERY difficult. That’s the challenge facing the San Francisco School District (SFUSD) as it must address failed literacy and math policies.

Can a school board that was deeply involved in creating failed policies show the leadership required to change course?

Let's agree that the school district's policies were designed to address the chronic underperformance of Black and Hispanic students. I don’t know of anyone who would argue against improving this student performance.


With these facts in front of them, SFUSD has the obligation to acknowledge a failed attempt at equity and start over...right now..”

The district spent years developing and implementing strategies to improve the performance of these students.

  1. Eliminate algebra in the 8th grade.
  2. Double down on existing literacy efforts.

The math experiment was touted as a bold education breakthrough and was copied by many school districts and included in proposed state policies. For the school district, it was an emotional high. It was a pay-off for innovative and original thinking to address a nationwide education challenge. The school board gloried in the recognition of success.

There is only one minor glitch: It didn’t work.

Math study

Eliminating Algebra in the 8th grade backfired…big time. It created inequities for high performing students who were denied access to advanced course work, and it failed to reduce the performance gaps. A Stanford study shows participation in Advanced Placement (AP) math initially fell 15%, driven by declines in AP Calculus and among Asian/Pacific-Islander students. Large ethnic gaps persisted in advanced math course enrollment.

State Test Scores.

Even adjusting for the impact of the pandemic on student performance, San Francisco scores in both statewide math and English literacy tests are abysmal.

According to the 2021-22 State-wide third grade assessments, 82% of Black students did not meet English literacy and math performance standards. In the 11th grade, 71% of Black students did not meet English literacy standards and 90% did not meet math standards.

Below are the San Francisco assessment results over time showing students who are proficient or above.  

Literacy and Math Table

With these facts in front of them, SFUSD has the obligation to acknowledge a failed attempt at equity and start over...right now.

There are many successful approaches available to turn this around. In literacy, discard the old curriculum and incorporate the science of reading. In math, restore algebra in the 8th grade and improve curriculum and professional development in earlier grades.

I’m hoping that facts override emotion and the school board exercises timely leadership.

Carol Kocivar is a children’s advocate and lives in the Westside. Feedback:

May 26,2023

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