American News Nov 26, 2021 12:29 PM EST

California's new educational guidelines say math is racist

The "color-blind" approach, they write, "allows such systemic inequities to continue."

California's new educational guidelines say math is racist
Libby Emmons Brooklyn, NY

California is set to adopt new math teaching principles that are based in critical race theory. These changes, which include deemphasizing calculus and pulling programs for academically gifted students, will "apply social justice principles to math lessons."

These guidelines do not instruct educators to teach critical race theory, but rather use critical race theory as a guide for the formation of teaching principles. Critical race theory is not being taught to students, but taught to teachers, who are then meant to use it to formulate their own practices.

The goal of the new math framework is "to maintain rigor while also helping remedy California's achievement gaps" for black, Latino, and poor students. the reason for the changes is that California students are falling behind in math.

"We were transforming math education, and change is hard and scary," Rebecca Pariso, a math teacher at Hueneme Elementary School District told the San Francisco Standard. "Especially if you don’t understand why that change needs to occur. But I didn’t expect it to go this far." The inspiration for these new guidelines came from San Francisco educational standards.

In the new guidelines, which will up for consideration prior to their potential adoption in July, reading in Chapter 2, "Teaching for Equity and Engagement," reads that "Cultural relevance is important for learning and also for expanding a collective sense of what mathematical communities look and sound like to reflect California’s diverse history."

It goes on to slam mathematics for, "over the years," having "developed in a way that has excluded many students."

Pariso said "There’s a huge problem with math instruction right now. The way things are set up, it’s not giving everybody a chance to learn math at the highest levels."

"Because of these inequities, teachers need to work consciously to counter racialized or gendered ideas about mathematics achievement," they write.

As regards the claim that "avoiding aspects of race, culture, gender, or other characteristics as they teach mathematics" is actually equitable, the guidelines state that  "the evolution of mathematics in educational settings has resulted in dramatic inequities for students of color, girls, and students from low income homes."

In part, the reason they believe that it inequitable is because those the instruction heretofore received by those students doesn't "appropriately leverages students’ diverse knowledge bases, identities, and experiences for both learning and developing a sense of belonging to mathematics."

The "color-blind" approach, they write, "allows such systemic inequities to continue." As such, the guidance as to how to teach for "equity and engagement" includes examples" to help educators utilize and value students’ identities, assets, and cultural resources to support learning and ensure access to high achievement for all students in California—particularly English learners, who are linguistically and culturally diverse, and those who have been disenfranchised by systemic inequities."

In Chapter 4 of the guidelines, it is revealed that the "Math Language Routines, developed by Understanding Language at the Stanford Center for Assessment, Learning, and Equity," are part of the basis for this new initiative. The Graduate School of Education at Stanford University put together this "framework" with the intention of helping "teachers address the specialized academic language demands in math when planning and delivering lessons, including the demands of reading, writing, speaking, listening, conversing, and representing in math."

They write that "while the framework can and should be used to support all students learning mathematics, it is particularly well-suited to meet the needs of linguistically and culturally diverse students who are simultaneously learning mathematics while acquiring English." However, in California, the guidelines would be applied across the board, regardless of English language proficiency.

In a glossary of primarily mathematical terms, the new guidelines define Equity as "fairness in education rather than sameness." They write that "equity includes four dimensions in mathematics education: (1) Access to tangible resources; (2) Participation in quality mathematics classes and success in them; (3) Student identity development in mathematics; and (4) Attention to relations of power."

As for the relevance of culture in teaching math, "Linguistically and culturally diverse students" are defined as "A heterogeneous group of learners that includes students learning in Dual Language contexts, students who are multilingual, and students who have typically been labeled as English learners. These are students for whom language, culture, and literacy are valuable assets."

The new guidelines also suggest that grading is not an appropriate way to judge math proficiency. "Mastery based grading," they write, "describes a form of grading that focuses on mastery of ideas, rather than points or scores. It communicates the mathematics students are learning, and students receive feedback on the mathematics they have learned or are learning, rather than a score. This helps students view their learning as a process that they can improve on over time, rather than a score or a grade that they often perceive as a measure of their worth."

There has been pushback against the new guidelines, most notably from STEM professionals. A UC Irvine mathematics professor, Svetlana Jitomirskaya, said that the guidelines authors neglected to consult STEM experts who have a better understanding of the progression of math education and how concepts build upon previous lessons.

"The process should have definitely involved STEM faculty from top CA universities with direct knowledge of what is needed for success as STEM majors," she told the San Francisco Standard, "It is absurd this was not done."

Others, the Standard reports, "say the framework would hurt historically marginalized students the most by injecting too many social justice related topics that distract from the math."

Parents, too, have pushed back against the new guidelines' plan to get rid of the concept of natural talent in mathematics and accelerated math programs for those gifted learners. This is a controversy in many major metropolitan cities in the US. New York is among those cities looking to do away with programs for advanced learners.

Parents in California are also not on board. Avery Wang of Palo Alto questioned the plan, saying "Holding back high achievers makes them achieve more? That’s exactly the same philosophy that’s being promoted in the math framework."

As to making math "relatable," parent Michael Malione of Piedmont City said that "They're changing math to make it math appreciation. A part of math is learning things that are not authentic to life."

This doesn't benefit marginalized students, they argue, instead it teaches them something that is not math. If the goal is to help students achieve in math, it is questionable to believe that implementing a curriculum that contains less math, and instead discusses more reasons that it is hard to succeed in math, would actually give students more access to achievement.

The pushback is resulting in further drafts from those seeking to overhaul the curriculum for all learners. The critique has already resulted in the guidelines' authors removing references to "A Pathway to Equitable Math Instruction," which posits that math upholds white supremacy and that numbers are racist.

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