Students at Brooklyn Middle School Given Insensitive Problem

On Thursday, July 9th, summer school rising 7th grade students at Achievement First (AF) Endeavor school in Brooklyn were given a math problem that many parents found offensive. 

The question read, “In 1787, if an enslaved African was considered 3/5th of a person for representation in Congress, how many enslaved Africans would have been equivalent to 6 white Americans?”

The problem in question. Photo courtesy of Tameka Baptiste.

The summer school curriculum, AF says, is provided by the National Summer School Initiative (NSSI). NSSI said in an email sent out to parents that the question was not part of their original curriculum, but was changed from a question about groceries by a mentor teacher. 

“NSSI deeply believes in creating an anti-racist organization, and as we support schools, an anti-racist curriculum is critical. Previously, we did not vet changes made by mentor teachers to the curriculum. Going forward, we are going to do a review of the curriculum for the rest of the summer for its cultural relevance and anti-racist content,” the email stated. 

The leader of summer programs for Achievement First Justin Tesser said that the school deeply regrets that their 7th graders received the word problem. 

“AF did not create the word problem, and it was not a part of the NSSI curriculum. The problem was created by a mentor teacher – not affiliated with Achievement First–who modified the original problem about groceries to teach about the history and inhumanity of the three-fifths compromise.  We agree with our parents that this never should have happened, and we are taking steps to ensure this never happens again,” Tresser said. 

NSSI says that they stand by the mentor teacher, who is a Black woman, and her intentions, but say that it still was not an appropriate problem to be included as those intentions hadn’t had a chance to be explained. 

NSSI deeply believes in creating an anti-racist organization, and as we support schools, an anti-racist curriculum is critical. Previously, we did not vet changes made by mentor teachers to the curriculum. Going forward, we are going to do a review of the curriculum for the rest of the summer for its cultural relevance and anti-racist content. We will also put in place a vetting process to review any changes to the core documents before they are shared with partner teachers so that we can better inform and support them.

“We support the mentor teacher in her courage to try to integrate anti-racist teaching in her math classroom, and we appreciate and value the perspectives of the partner teachers who have been working very closely with her. The teacher took a risk in trying to bring cultural relevance to her classroom, and we know that for our schools to lead for racial equity, risks will need to be taken,” they stated. 

Tameka Baptiste, who originally reached out to Bklyner with the concern, says that the question was for a math class. 

“We understand this is American history but this was an assignment for a math class and very inappropriate. Going forward more needs to be done to make sure this type of passive aggressive systemic racism doesn’t continue on for the education of our children,” she wrote. “I am appalled this was allowed to be distributed.”

 

A previous version of this article stated that students were “sent home” with the problem, but students are online for the season. The question was also distributed to numerous schools, not only Achievement First, by the NSSI. 

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Ellie Plass

Ellie Plass

Ellie Plass is a food reporter for Bklyner. You can contact her, or send her tips at ellen@bklyner.com.

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