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  • Writer's pictureJoanne Jacobs

Equity! Equity! What about the math?

There's a lot of talk about "equity" in the latest draft of California's proposed math framework. In addition to a guarantee of "participation in quality mathematics classes and success in them," equity is defined as "access to tangible resources, student identity development in mathematics; and attention to relations of power.”

Students will see themselves as mathematicians: That's the "identity" part. They will not take timed tests of the multiplication tables or study algebra before ninth grade. They may never study advanced algebra. But they will have "big ideas" about math and solve real-world problems. Also: Equity!

Will they learn math? Many have their doubts.

The latest draft of the 1,000-page framework came out just before the holiday weekend. Comments are due at noon today. The state board of education may approve it next week.

Brian Conrad, a Stanford math professor and director of undergraduate studies published a devastating critique of the last draft of the framework, charging that it "seriously misrepresented" research to back up its assertions. The document "contains false or misleading descriptions of many citations from the literature in neuroscience, acceleration, de-tracking, assessments, and more," Conrad wrote. "Sometimes the original papers arrive at conclusions opposite those claimed."

Some of those citations have been removed from the new draft. Go here for Conrad's comments.

Jo Boaler, a Stanford education professor, helped draft the framework. She is a leading advocate of the math "revolution" and very controversial, writes Stephanie M. Lee in the Chronicle of Higher Education. Boaler "has at times misinterpreted studies and made bold assertions with scant evidence, experts say, empowering skeptics who fear that her proposals would water down math and actually undermine her goal of a more equitable education system."

Lee writes about the challenges to Boaler's research in her story.

The framework is not binding on schools, but it "is expected to shape instruction not only in the Golden State — which flounders in math, despite being home to Silicon Valley — but also the rest of the country, which struggles with it, too," writes Lee.

"People who have done a lot of work promoting diversity and equity in math" are among the fiercest critics of the framework, wrote Rivka Galchen in the Sep. 8, 2022 New Yorker. It will widen gaps, said Adrian Mims, whose Calculus Project works at get more students of color to succeed in advanced math. In the name of equity, the framework encourages districts to create a lower-level "data science" track that will leave students unprepared for STEM careers -- including data science, critics say.

These "fuzzy" math ideas date back more than 100 years, writes Greg Ashman on Filling the Pail. "Guide on the side" is referenced in 1924. There's no research to support their effectiveness. "If the principles of educational progressivism worked, we would know by now."

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