California’s new “inclusive” math curriculum promises “equity” in math. Its goal is to provide “equitable education” by “making sure all students receive the attention, respect, and resources they need to achieve their potential.”
But the state’s math curriculum is full of inefficient practices, poor standards, and an absolute revulsion for the pursuit of truth.
The curriculum serves as a guide to the rest of the state for how to teach math. The California State Board of Education developed it for the specific purpose of attracting “black, Latinx, and Multilingual” people to math, in which they are “historically underrepresented.”
But the state school board goes about this in the entirely wrong way.
First, the curriculum asks teachers to reconsider “preconceived biases” about math, particularly the idea of “one right answer” to math problems. The curriculum looks derisively at the idea that “a student can work on a question such as 18 x 5 in a textbook question, or in response to a teacher question, with the expectation that one answer is the goal.”
It suggests instead a “number talk,” where “teachers ask the class of students to work out the answer to 18 x 5 … then ask the class for the different answers that students may have found, and write them on the board,” and then ask students to defend their answers.
The problem is that in most math questions at the grade school level, there is only one correct answer; in this case, the answer is 90.
“Number talks” seem like a terribly time-inefficient way of teaching math if students are going up to the blackboard to defend answers that are ultimately wrong and would lead only to confusion and further difficulty in learning. Struggling students would be subject to a slow and indulgent math curriculum, further falling behind more advanced peers.
But it is in the weeds of this curriculum where the insidious purposes lurk.
The curriculum proposes to eliminate ability sorting, which is sorting students by their ability in math. Positing that students who have been granted a “giftedness” label that leads to “fragility” over losing that status, guidance for the curriculum suggests that to heal “racial divisions,” educators should reconsider ability sorting.
This means that a high-achieving student who would be challenged in a calculus class in high school would be forced to move back to precalculus or algebra II.
Math teacher Mike Malione, a member of the Piedmont Advanced Learners Coalition in Piedmont, California, writes: “Both algebra in eighth grade and calculus in 12th grade would be slated to go” under the new curriculum.
The so-called inclusive curriculum seems to function primarily for one purpose: to eliminate the ladders of achievement. By killing programs for gifted students and removing incentives such as grades to arrive at the right answer, the curriculum provides no incentive to do well in class. It is the kind of a “go along to get along” instruction that has failed minority students for too long.
In New York City’s public school system (which is 82% minority), such “go along” instruction has been tried for over 20 years after identity politics-infused rhetoric dismantled a substantial number of the city’s public programs for gifted students.
Now, with no accountability or incentive to perform, New York City’s black and Latino students couldn’t be more lost in the world of math. In fact, 80% to 94% of students in NYC’s public middle schools passed their math classes even though only 2% to 15% of them passed their math exams.
In some middle schools, teachers have lost the will to teach, seeing frustratingly dispiriting results as children “play hooky, skip course work, flunk tests—and still pass.” There is little doubt that as NYC students are advanced from grade to grade, their acquisition of true math skills is criminally perfunctory.
The education establishment now has a school of thought that it is OK to let these kids fail—because they were just not cut out for math.
The Dana Center Mathematics Pathways at the University of Texas at Austin offers six different “pathways” for students in teaching math; only one offers calculus I in high school. The rest—for “liberal arts” or “teaching”-oriented children (as if one can determine a person’s ultimate career goal at age 14)—lead to textbooks that teach math specifically in a way that isn’t computationally intensive.
Shannon Watkins, a higher education researcher in North Carolina, told me in an interview that education professionals “are looking to design alternative math gateway courses, because college algebra is considered ‘a stumbling block’ for these students.”
The low expectations on these students create a culture where performance isn’t valued and students leave with few math skills of use in the working world.
Yes, an achievement gap in math exists between the nation’s black and Latino students and the nation’s white and Asian students.
That is not in question. But teaching “inclusive” math directed at the very kids who most need a rigorous, high-functioning math curriculum is the opposite of an answer. Worse: It exacerbates the problem.
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