In the past few days, the issue of tracking (separating students into different classes based on some measure of ability or aptitude which almost entirely replicates the inequities of our society in terms of class and race) and GATE (Gifted and Talented Education) has been the hot topic among SFUSD’s guardians of social justice and the savvy, crunchy, funky, techie, gentrifying, intellectual parent crowd. The ensuing debate has been difficult and edifying for all of us at the middle school and high school level. A group of parents, a few of them my friends, went to this week’s Board Meeting to propose pathways (and clear accountability) to get more kids the challenging curriculum they need. The parents feel that the district has taken away 8th grade Algebra, thus creating difficulties for students to reach Calculus and STEM classes in high school, while replacing it with differentiated learning that seems more theoretical than achievable in the city’s heterogeneous classrooms.
While 8th grade Algebra is the biggest “track needing” class that parents (and some teachers) point to, parents are also bemoaning the lack of more challenging options in other “differentiated in name only” classes as well.
My post on “Tracking“, written as an email for a group of parent friends three years ago, has been reposted several times in the past few days and has reached Board Member Rachel Norton, who has now posted a comment on it.
I have reread my original “post” and I am still in agreement with everything it says (and wonder how I ever had the time to write like that!). One piece I would add is the necessity of small class sizes. There is a huge difference in what I was able to do with my students in my Spanish for Native Speaker class last semester with only 20 students compared to what I can do in my classes of 31-35 this year (which have a high number of traumatized SIFE – Students with Interrupted Formal Education). In general, class size is not an insignificant issue in education. In Oklahoma City in the 80’s I remember my classes being around 25 students – once in a while there was a larger class (30 students – gasp!) and it felt overwhelming to me as a student. There are a few superhero teachers who can manage and teach to all levels in large classes well, but I am not one of them, particularly when teaching my beginning level Spanish (and Native Speaker) courses. But my advanced level courses suffer too because I frankly can’t reach all of my students and give them the consistent and weighty feedback that they deserve.
SF Public School Mom (and Teacher) blogger Alison Collins has a great write up about “Tracking” with a lot of info and a chart showing the inequities of representation by different racial groups under SFUSD’s previously tracked pathways.
It’s an important topic, worth talking about when we think about concrete steps we can take to remediate our racist and colonialist past that haunts our dehumanizing categorical systems of today. It is a conversation I long to have with teachers and parents and administrators at the school where I teach as well.
“The standard progressive approach of the moment is to mix color-conscious moral invective with color-blind public policy.”