We Voted For ONE Fairfax

Elections unfortunately do not solve problems. What we do after the poll matters. However, we do bring what we value to the ballot box and it is crystal clear that yesterday, we, at Fairfax county, voted for equity, diversity and inclusiveness. The paths to these values are not easy. These values will challenge some of our strongly held preconceived notions. For this reason, it is imperative that we listen to what evidence tells us. The Washington Post states that the Democratic supported candidates winning yesterday pushes the Fairfax County School Board further to the left. This is not about left versus right. The winners of yesterday's school board elections rejected elitism, intolerance and division. Our new school board embraces "education for all". Our new district representative, Ricardy Anderson, for instance, wrote this last night, "...as we work to close the achievement gap that cripples our most vulnerable."

Above copied from the
Washington Post

This is where the challenge begins. How does one close the achievement gap between rich and poor children? How does one close the achievement gap between Asian and Hispanic students, between Black and White children? How does one help the vulnerable in our schools? The first answer should be "to do no harm". Vulnerable children suffer more because we already predetermine their limits. We do this by not providing them access to quality education. We do this by giving an enhanced curriculum only to those we deem promising. We do this by segregating our children as early as second grade according to how proficient we perceive them, regardless of the fact that we do not have good tools to measure and identify talents and the truth that all of us, whether we admit it or not, are biased. At an early age, we already draw trajectories for each child in our elementary schools. We put more faith in how we identify "brilliance" than on our teacher's ability to respond to the needs of every student. We think it would be easier for teachers if their classes were made homogeneous first, when what we are really accomplishing is taking "teaching" out of the  teaching profession.

I spent most of the morning yesterday at Poe Middle School where my son volunteered to help in a bake sale for the school's orchestra. His orchestra teacher, Mary Hobbs, was there. A week ago, the orchestra class my son belongs to held a strings concert and I was remarkably impressed. What their teacher, Mary Hobbs, accomplishes with this diverse group of students illustrates vividly how transformative teaching could be. Hobbs is an excellent teacher and such excellence would neither have been of use or visible, if she were given a homogeneous set of students.

My son and Poe Middle School Orchestra Teacher, Mary Hobbs

Yes, the above is an anecdote so this may just be an isolated case. So we need to tune to research-based evidence. Since basic education takes years, any evidence takes time to collect, but with regard to the advantages of de-tracking students, schools in San Francisco can already provide the answer.

Before 2014, the San Francisco Unified School District (SFUSD), in its attempt to provide quality education for all, was giving the first course in Algebra to all eight-grade students. This turned out to be disastrous if there is already tracking before eight grade. Inequity cannot be addressed in the later years of basic education, making it even more important to focus on equity in both elementary and middle schools. Starting in 2014, SFUSD decided to do something different. The district embraced the following curriculum in mathematics (Notice the absence of tracks in the early years):

Above copied from
Pursuing Equity and Excellence in Mathematics

And the results are now available:

Repeat rates in Algebra I have gone down dramatically.

Above copied from
Pursuing Equity and Excellence in Mathematics

More students are enrolling in advanced math classes in high school.

Above copied from
Pursuing Equity and Excellence in Mathematics

The graphs above show that both excellence and equity can be achieved at the same time without resorting to sorting and labeling our children in their early years.

Providing an enriched curriculum is not based purely on a "gut feeling". It is not based on how I feel about these things. It is not about left versus right. It is based on evidence. We can pursue equity and excellence at the same time. In fact, achieving excellence requires equity. Advanced academic programs should be provided to all. When we sort students, we only do harm.