Many parents are likely aware of a concerning trend in middle school education – the elimination of advanced math classes (“Cambridge schools are divided over middle school Algebra,” Boston Globe). This, school districts say, is an effort to address systemic academic achievement gaps, which have been exacerbated by pandemic-related learning losses.
While the goal to achieve equity in education is admirable, a more effective way to achieve it is through placement of each student in the math class that fits them, regardless of age or grade, starting in elementary school.
Does this sound impossible? It’s not. In fact, schools everywhere could achieve this in two affordable logistical steps.
First, at the start of the school year, find out what each student already knows and what is next for them to learn. This can be accomplished through affordable online and/or pencil/paper tools to assess kids for math readiness.
Second, schools can ensure that every child is at the right level of math throughout elementary school by enacting an ability-based math block. In this approach, a school holds math classes at the same time across multiple grades, enabling kids to go to the class that best fits them. This is precisely how Acera structures its math curriculum, and it results in students who are motivated to learn and take on new challenges.
If students have these opportunities from an early age, teachers can expand mathematically enriching topics – like probability, logic and statistics – for everyone, and add options for advanced math in high school. Offering more math options, rather than eliminating them, is the way to achieve fairness and spark student curiosity and engagement.
And who knows? The student who wonders about negative exponents when they are seven may well be the person who can help us substantively with climate change when they are 37!
What can parents do to support advanced math curriculum in public schools?
- Find out how your school district – school committee members, superintendents, principals, and math curriculum coordinators – approaches math education. Find out when your town’s school committee meetings will take place and stay up to date with their agendas.
- Start a discussion in your local community’s parenting group on social media. This can be a great way to galvanize support for advanced math and ability-based math blocks.
- Put it in writing! Send an opinion piece or letter to the editor to your hometown newspaper.
We need all students to be able to be their best selves at school, and to have a program for learning which fits them. This is possible and affordable in public education, and is at the heart of what equity is about. I founded Acera school to be an innovative hub proving that this works; now, almost 15 years later, our outreach division, Acera Education Innovation (AceraEI), is bringing these models into public school districts across Greater Boston. You can learn more about this effort at aceraei.org.
Courtney Dickinson is Founder & Head of School at Acera: The Massachusetts School of Science, Creativity and Leadership