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SD48 says Workplace Math class not off the table

Course still offered in Squamish, but district remains concerned vulnerable students overrepresented
N-Workplace Math 28.09 WIKIMEDIA COMMONS
After a teacher sounded the alarm over the possible cancellation of a workplace math class, officials from School District 48 said the course would be offered at Howe Sound Secondary, pictured, next year.

Officials with School District 48 (SD48) say an applied workplace math class will continue being offered, after a letter from a concerned math teacher sounded alarms over its possible cancellation.

“I think what’s really important to clarify is that what was being referred to [in the letter] was a draft operational policy and the purpose of that policy is to try and create, when we’re thinking about organizing for student learning, schedules for students that remove barriers to options once a student graduates,” explained Chris Nicholson, assistant superintendent for the district.

In a letter last month that went out to Sea to Sky media, Pique included, Howe Sound Secondary math teacher David Gregr said the district was in the process of adopting a policy that would prohibit schools from offering so-called “streamed” courses, including the Workplace Mathematics 10 class, recommended for students with lower than a C average in Math 9 and designed to expose them to practical, everyday math. Instead, students would have had to enrol in Foundations of Mathematics and Pre-Calculus 10, recommended for students with a C or higher in Math 9, that includes more advanced topics such as algebra and measurement.

“These workplace classes traditionally have a higher percentage of at-risk students because it serves the need to provide a supportive environment while breaking down math anxiety and stigma,” Gregr wrote. “If the intent of the decision to remove Workplace 10 is to improve student success, to be inclusive of all learning abilities and to provide viable post-secondary options, then I believe that those making the decision may be confused as to what this course offers our most vulnerable students.”

Reiterating that the operational policy is still in draft form, Nicholson confirmed that both Workplace Math 10 and Workplace Math 11 would continue to be offered. Having said that, Howe Sound Secondary is the only high school in the district to offer the courses for the upcoming school year, as principals have the final say on which electives are offered.

“Please note that historically, [Whistler Secondary School] does not always offer Workplace Math 10 & 11. [Pemberton Secondary School] generally does, but not always,” Nicholson wrote in a follow-up email. “These schools will continue to work individually with students who wish to take Workplace Math courses.”

The debate around Workplace Math is part of a larger conversation at the district level that has been ongoing since at least 2012, Nicholson explained, as school administrators look to “dismantle racism, and other forms of discrimination based on family status, gender, socio-economic status, etc., that are often represented by traditional forms of streaming.” Because STEM courses at B.C. research universities, as well as certain trade schools, like BCIT’s electrician program, do not accept Workplace Math as a pre-requisite, Nicholson said the district is considering how to reduce pigeonholing vulnerable students into a certain stream that would limit their post-secondary options.

“Now are there post-secondary opportunities for kids with Workplace [Math]? Absolutely. We’ve never denied that, but again, why not try to equip kids with as many choices as possible so they can decide for themselves?” he said.

Nicholson pointed to district data that showed an overrepresentation of Indigenous students in Workplace Math, for instance. In the 2018-19 school year, kids of Indigenous descent represented just over 10 per cent of the district’s students, but made up nearly 30 per cent of those enrolled in Workplace Math 10.

“Really, math is the last barrier,” Nicholson said, highlighting that Grade 10 math is the first time district students separate themselves based on perceived ability and performance, something the district is trying to move away from. “We’re really committed to doing our best to remove that last barrier, and it’s not just for kids who are First Nations, it’s for kids who have struggled in math. At the end of the day, why did they struggle? Who told them math was hard? That’s what we’ve done as a society, so it’s our job to try and fix that, and we believe we can.”

The district said any students interested in Workplace Math who don’t have the option to enrol next year would get individual support from their teachers while taking Foundations of Math and Pre-Calculus 10. Math at the Grade 10 and 11 levels is required for graduation.