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Algebra 1 effectively eliminated from Harvard-area middle schools because too many white and Asian students were taking it: Report
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Algebra 1 effectively eliminated from Harvard-area middle schools because too many white and Asian students were taking it: Report

A school district in Massachusetts has been slowly phasing algebra 1 out of its middle-school curriculum because the advanced math classes were predominantly taken by white and Asian students. Now, some area parents are considering placing their child in a private school or a homeschooling program to ensure that they are adequately prepared for high school mathematics.

Since 2017, Cambridge Public Schools has been slowly moving away from placing middle school students into "grade-level" or "accelerated" math classes since the "grade-level" courses were filled with black and Hispanic students, while the "accelerated" courses had mostly white and Asian students. District officials claim that the changes are designed to create better equity.

"Over time you end up with lower-level math courses filled with black and Latino children, and high-level math classes with white and Asian children," said Manuel Fernandez, then-principal of Cambridge Street Upper School, in 2019. "Students internalize it — they believe the smart kids are the white kids. Our staff said we cannot continue to divide our students this way."

"We have a huge focus on addressing both the academic achievement gaps and the opportunity gaps in our community," added Schools Superintendent Victoria Greer. "One thing the district is not interested in doing is perpetuating those gaps."

Though Algebra 1 has not officially been removed from the district's eighth-grade curriculum, the new eighth-grade math course taken by all students, regardless of ability, has just three of the seven units that were previously taught in algebra 1 courses. And while incoming high-school students can take a free summer program that will allow them to place out of algebra 1, those who do not take the summer program must either double-up on math courses during high school or lose the chance to take advanced math classes, such as calculus, in their junior or senior year. A recent email from the district informed parents that middle-school math teachers will not "be recommending that any scholars place out of algebra 1" in high school.

This policy has angered many parents, some of whom are affiliated with Harvard University, which is located in Cambridge. "The students who are able to jump into a higher level math class are students from better-resourced backgrounds," claimed Jacob Barandes, a Harvard physicist whose child attends Cambridge schools. "They’re shortchanging a significant number of students, overwhelmingly students from less-resourced backgrounds, which is deeply inequitable."

Another area father, Martin Udengaard, has already pulled his son out of CPS on account of the algebra issue. Now, he has to decide whether he wants to place his son in a private school or to homeschool him.

Superintendent Greer said that the middle-school math curriculum is still under consideration and will likely be expanded in the future, though she did not explain "what that would look like," the Boston Globe reported.

As of Monday afternoon, the website for the district math department claimed that its main focus is "equity." Its stated mission is to "create equitable mathematics communities that engage all students in making sense of challenging mathematics, provide all students with access to challenging curriculum and empower students to participate meaningfully in mathematics discourse." The only time the word "algebra" appears on the CPS website for eighth-grade math is to promote its free, pre-high school summer program.

In an email to TheBlaze, Sujata Wycoff, the CPS director of communications, claimed that many of the reports regarding the district's middle-school math curriculum lack context. For one thing, Wycoff's email said, schools have had to limit advanced curricula recently and instead provide more remedial instruction after the government shutdown a few years ago, which caused many students to fall behind. The email also claimed that CPS students do not need to "place out of Algebra 1" in order to take calculus in high school someday.

"Cambridge Public Schools is deeply committed to providing a high-quality, rigorous learning experience for all of our students, while also placing a strong focus on addressing the academic achievement and opportunity gaps in our community," the CPS statement read.

"We are in the process of developing an equitable plan with great thought and intentionality that establishes a level of mathematics literacy required for full participation and access to opportunities. Three of the seven units covered in Algebra I will be added to the 8th grade curriculum next year. We look forward to sharing details of this expansion in the near future."

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Cortney Weil

Cortney Weil

Sr. Editor, News

Cortney Weil is a senior editor for Blaze News.
@cortneyweil →