A national “open letter” signed by 1,470 math and science teachers and professors as of Dec. 19 protests the gutting of math education under the guise of fighting racism. The letter states, “We write to express our alarm over recent trends in K-12 mathematics education in the United States,” particularly the new California Mathematics Framework under consideration there. This program offers what it calls a “justice-oriented perspective” for math.
“We all also share the urgent concern that the benefits of a robust mathematical education,” they write, “should be shared more widely between students of all backgrounds, regardless of race, gender, and economic status.”
“While the US K-12 system has much to improve,” the letter states, “the current trends will instead take us further back.” The signatories include Nobel laureates in physics and chemistry, 25 members of the National Academy of Sciences and four winners of the Fields Medal in math.
The 800-page California program is largely based on materials created by think tanks and other groups funded by the liberal Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. One of those groups is TeachingWorks, run by Deborah Lowenberg Ball, a math professor and former dean of the University of Michigan School of Education. Math is a “harbor for whiteness,” she wrote in a recent podcast, “dominated by whiteness and racism.”
At the heart of programs like the one in California, the letter says, is the “aim to reduce achievement gaps by limiting the availability of advanced mathematical courses to middle schoolers and beginning high schoolers.” In other words, if kids are having problems with higher math, eliminate it. That’ll take care of the problem.
“City parents have revolted in several Department of Education schools where administrators discontinued accelerated math options” in New York City, the Dec. 8 New York Post reported, including at Lab Middle School for Collaborative Studies in Manhattan and the Robert Wagner Middle School on the Upper East Side.
In their open letter, the scientists also warn against teaching “trendy but shallow courses over foundational skills,” including prioritizing “data science” over calculus and algebra.
Proposals like this “are merely ‘kicking the can’ to college,” the scientists say, and “may lead to de facto privatization of advanced mathematics K-12 education and disproportionately harm students with fewer resources.”
Programs like the California Mathematics Framework have already had bad results. For seven years the San Francisco Unified School District has experimented with similar “reforms.” The number of minority students reaching Algebra II by the 10th grade declined and there was a 13% overall decline in student enrollment in calculus.
The U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights reported in 2014 that already “a quarter of our public high schools with the highest percentages of black and Latino students do not have any Algebra II courses.”
Due to the upheaval over the newly proposed curriculum, California’s state education board has postponed any decision on the mathematics framework until next May.