San Francisco supervisors to vote on algebra ballot measure

Some San Francisco leaders want more middle school students to be able to take algebra.

Ten years ago, San Francisco's school board voted to eliminate 8th-grade algebra.

San Francisco supervisors Joel Engardio and Asha Safai will propose a ballot measure that would give voters a say on whether to bring it back.

The SFUSD School board's decision a decade ago was based on the concern that putting some kids on a track for advanced-level math too early would leave students from underrepresented groups behind.

The theory at the time: by waiting until high school to offer the course for everyone, it would allow students who struggled with math to catch-up.

A study from Stanford University later found that approach didn't work. District-wide tests from 2022 show a steady five-year decline in math scores among SFUSD students.

Only 4 percent of Black 8th graders met math proficiency standards last year; 0 percent of Pacific Islander students did.

"What they've done over the last decade has been a failed experiment, bringing no value to families and students in the name of equity," said Safai. 

In the past several years, parents and other education groups have lobbied to bring 8th-grade algebra back to SFUSD classrooms.

The push prompted San Francisco supervisors to respond with their ballot measure in support of the idea. It would give all San Francisco voters a chance to weigh in on whether SFUSD should reinstate 8th-grade algebra.

"I think if students are ready for it, they should have it," Jodi Barkin said. 

"Kids can do it, and they should. We shouldn't lower the expectations for everyone," Andrew Blachman of San Franciso said. 

The proposed ballot measure wouldn't require the district to reinstate 8th-grade algebra but instead strongly encourages it.

 "We are hearing positive signs that they [SFUSD] want to bring it back. We're hoping this motivates them and makes it happen faster," Safai said. 

Meredith Dodson, with the nonprofit education advocacy group, SF Parent Action says the district should bring 8th-grade algebra back but go beyond that.

"How we're supporting our students so they'll be able to access 8th-grade algebra and be ready for it," Dodson said. "For example, we have no math remediation program if a kid falls behind in first grade, third grade, sixth grade. There is no plan to help those kids catch up to grade level, so that's one of our big pushes."

The plan for today: four of the supervisors will introduce and sign-off on introducing the ballot measure at the Board of Supervisors meeting Tuesday afternoon. 

If approved, it would go on the ballot for San Francisco city-wide elections in March.

Safai said if SFUSD changes its policy before then, and commits to bringing back 8th grade algebra, supervisors could remove it from the ballot.