Working Paper

Getting to the Right Algebra

The Equity 2000 Initiative in Milwaukee Public Schools

| Sandra Ham, Erica Walker

Equity 2000 is a standards-based reform initiative aimed at enhancing mathematics education and achievement among students of color, thereby increasing their likelihood of college enrollment and completion. Early lessons on the implementation and outcomes of Equity 2000 have been documented in numerous evaluation reports. For the most part, these reports conclude that in districts where Equity 2000 was piloted, the general math track at the high school level has been virtually eliminated; the number of students who enroll in algebra, geometry, and higher-level mathematics courses has dramatically increased; and districtwide completion rates in Algebra I or higher at the ninth grade have doubled. Descriptive case studies on the early years of Equity 2000 implementation in the pilot districts have been produced as well. Together, these reports provide a full picture of the process and outcomes of Equity 2000 during the initiative’s pilot phase, from 1991 to 1996.

The focus of this paper is to describe what has transpired (both during and since the pilot phase) in one Equity 2000 district — Milwaukee Public Schools (MPS) — to support and sustain a key component of Equity 2000: “Districtwide policy change to end [low-level] tracking and raise academic standards for all students, beginning with the requirement that all students complete algebra by the ninth grade and geometry by the tenth grade, and including the reform of the curriculum to reflect standards set by NCTM [National Council of Teachers of Mathematics] and other discipline-based organizations” (The College Board, 1996, p. 1). In particular, the discussion presented in this paper centers on one central issue of the Equity 2000 initiative in MPS: student completion of Algebra I by the end of ninth grade.