It hasn’t been adopted yet but a lengthy draft explaining what could soon become California’s new mathematics framework for public schools is available online. Reason’s Robby Soave reports the focus of the new framework is “equity.” In practice that means doing away with advanced classes for gifted students, at least until they reach high school.
The department is worried that too many students are sorted into different math tracks based on their natural abilities, which leads some to take calculus by their senior year of high school while others don’t make it past basic algebra. The department’s solution is to prohibit any sorting until high school, keeping gifted kids in the same classrooms as their less mathematically inclined peers until at least grade nine.
“The inequity of mathematics tracking in California can be undone through a coordinated approach in grades 6–12,” reads a January 2021 draft of the framework. “In summary, middle-school students are best served in heterogeneous classes.”
One thing I think we’ve all learned from remote learning during the pandemic is that that high performing kids tend to do fine no matter what hurdles your throw at them. Most of the kids who are struggling were more marginal students before the pandemic. So I think there could be an argument that keeping kids together won’t ultimately harm the high performers very much. That said, there’s no doubt that the reasoning behind this particular effort has everything to do with “equity” and social justice concerns. In other words, even if some of the outcomes aren’t terrible the reasoning is.
The entire second chapter of the framework is about connecting math to social justice concepts like bias and racism: “Teachers can support discussions that center mathematical reasoning rather than issues of status and bias by intentionally defining what it means to do and learn mathematics together in ways that include and highlight the languages, identities, and practices of historically marginalized communities.” Teachers should also think creatively about what math even entails: “To encourage truly equitable and engaging mathematics classrooms we need to broaden perceptions of mathematics beyond methods and answers so that students come to view mathematics as a connected, multi-dimensional subject that is about sense making and reasoning, to which they can contribute and belong.”
Most of that (the quotes from the framework) sounds like gobbledygook to me. It seems aimed at dumbing down the entire curriculum in ways that check social justice boxes rather than in ways that improve student performance at math. Even once students reach high school, the new framework recommends standardized courses for grades 9 and 10. Only in grade 11 and 12 would students have a choice of classes where they might be able to differentiate themselves.
Eventually in chapter 9 (Supporting Equitable and Engaging Mathematics Instruction) we return to the social justice concerns at the center of all of this: [emphasis added]
Equity cannot be an afterthought to more traditional mathematics content-centered offerings that do nothing to address the fact that “Black, Latinx, Indigenous, women, and poor students, have experienced long histories of underrepresentation in mathematics and mathematics-related domains” (Martin, 2019; see also Martin, Anderson, & Shah, 2017). Inequities caused by systemic issues means that a “culture of exclusion” persists even in equity-oriented teaching (Louie, 2017). Many of the stories that we use to define mathematics, and to talk about who does or is good at mathematics, are highly racialized and English language-centric, and are experienced that way by students (Lue & Turner, 2020). This means students’ mathematics identities are shaped in part by a culture of societal and institutionalized racism. Professional learning in mathematics can respond to these realities and aim for more than incremental change (which does little to change the framing narratives that drive inequities).
More specifics about how the framework thinks teachers should approach this are spelled out in this document (A Pathway to Equitable Math Instruction) which is linked in the framework itself. Step one is titled “Dismantling Racism in Mathematics Instruction.” Here’s a sample of the content of that document: [emphasis added]
We see white supremacy culture show up in the mathematics classroom even as we carry out our professional responsibilities outlined in the California Standards for the Teaching Profession (CSTP). Using CSTPas a framework, we see white supremacy culture in the mathematics classroom can show up when:
• The focus is on getting the “right” answer.
• Independent practice is valued over teamwork or collaboration.
• “Real-world math” is valued over math in the real world.
• Students are tracked (into courses/pathways and within the classroom).
• Participation structures reinforce dominant ways of being…
These common practices that perpetuate white supremacy culture create and sustain institutional and systemic barriers to equity for Black, Latinx, and Multilingual students. In order to dismantle these barriers, we must identify what it means to be an antiracist math educator.
And it gets worse. This is the advice under the heading “Center Ethnomathematics.”
• Recognize the ways that communities of color engage in mathematics and problem solving in their everyday lives.
• Teach that mathematics can help solve problems affecting students’ communities. Model the use of math as a
solution to their immediate problems, needs, or desires.
• Identify and challenge the ways that math is used to uphold capitalist, imperialist, and racist views.
• Teach the value of math as both an abstract concept and as a useful everyday tool.
• Expose students to examples of people who have used math as resistance. Provide learning opportunities that use
math as resistance.
There’s a lot more but you get the idea. What this framework embraces goes way beyond limiting tracking of math students in Middle School. Some of this stuff, frankly, has very little to do with math and a lot more to do with a particular far-left view of the world that, even in California, is not shared by everyone.