When asked, few students would say that they like math. Abstract concepts and mundane worksheets can make the subject boring. However, a basic understanding of math ensures that students can be successful in whatever career they choose. Therefore it is very concerning that some demographics of students are struggling in such an important subject.
According to data from the Berkeley Unified School District, only 50 percent of African American students in second grade are meeting or exceeding grade standards, compared to 86 percent of their white peers. Additionally, at the high school level, African American students are extremely underrepresented in the Advanced Math track.
This discrepancy cannot be tolerated. A goal of public schooling should be to provide all students with an equal opportunity to succeed, but this data is a sobering view of the reality of our public school system and its failure to serve students equitably.
“We need to recognize that there are students below grade level and provide resources to support them,” said Monique Duncan-Harris, a math teacher and the co-lead of the math department at BHS. So how can the school support students who are struggling?
One of the main problems with the current math program is a lack of resources for struggling students. The resources that do exist are often underutilized. An example of this would be the Learn, Engage, Accelerate, Persist (LEAP) elective. All ninth graders can choose to take a LEAP class in which they receive academic support, including for math. However, LEAP works on an opt-in basis, so many students who need support don’t join. One of the proposed strategies to fix this would be to mandate taking a LEAP class for students failing math.
All of these solutions would certainly help the current situation by supporting underperforming students, lowering the discrepancy between African American students and their white peers.
However, looking at what the school doesn’t do is only part of the equation. Looking at the math resources that the school does provide reveals an over-allocation of resources for students who are more than proficient, like those in the Advanced Math track.
In practice, this class is overwhelmingly white. 52 out of 81 students in Advanced Math 3 are white, and there are no African American students taking Advanced Math 3 this year. The fact that disproportionate amounts of resources are dedicated to this small program harms everyone else by leaving fewer funds behind to finance support for less proficient students.
For these reasons, at least the first year of Advanced Math should be eliminated, ensuring that resources could be focused on one class instead of two. Having only one ninth grade math class could free up more resources to support students below grade level. Additionally, it could help ninth grade math teachers flag students suited to a more advanced track, but who have not applied due to accessibility or other issues. This would also create more diverse math classes that represent Berkeley as a whole.
In order to ensure that BHS truly provides students with an equitable education, more effort must be made to diversify our math classes and uplift Black students.