To the Editor:
As the president of the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics, I applaud the de-tracking efforts of San Francisco Unified School District in middle school math, which creates pathways for all students to have access to continued studies in the subject (“In San Francisco, A Bold Effort to De-Track Algebra,” June 13, 2018). The article indicates that students who are traditionally underserved in math are showing improvement in achievement and increased enrollment in advanced studies in the subject without negative impacts on other students.
It’s important to note that SFUSD made considerable investments in supporting teachers in refining their teaching practices and that the district provided math coaches for teachers. The district is also making curricula changes. As the story states, de-tracking requires far more than simply rearranging students into heterogeneous mathematics classrooms.
It requires supporting the mindset that all students are capable of doing rigorous math; it requires supporting educators who teach students with diverse needs and diverse ways of learning; it requires making sure that the curriculum is rigorous; and it requires building classroom communities that support all learners.
NCTM’s recently published book Catalyzing Change in High School Mathematics: Initiating Critical Conversations recommends the elimination of tracking students. Other school districts should look at SFUSD as an example. It is time to identify tracking practices and stop them. Tracking can lead to the distribution of students in high- and low-ability classrooms in ways that are correlated with the racial, ethnic, and socioeconomic inequities found in the broader society.
It’s time to begin the courageous work needed to intentionally and systematically remove tracking’s barriers and the associated instructional practices. Instead, we must move toward creating pathways for success in mathematics for each and every student.
Robert Q. Berry, III
National Council of Teachers of Mathematics
A version of this article appeared in the July 18, 2018 edition of Education Week as Don’t Track Algebra