Author: Larry Sand
Date: August 8, 2023
California students lack math skills, and the state’s fix could make things even worse.
The 2018 rankings by the Programme for International Student Assessment, or PTSA, places the U.S. 38th out of the 79 countries that participated in the math test, which is given to 15-year-olds. The U.S. scored below the international average, trailing many non-world powers such as Portugal, Latvia, Vietnam, etc.
Here in California, the students can’t even keep up with the sluggish national average. According to the latest National Assessment of Educational Progress, just 23% of 8th graders are proficient in math. In fact, the state’s 8th graders are ranked 38th in math nationally. On California’s most recent Smarter Balanced test, just one in three students met the standard in math. Scores on that exam showed that a paltry 19% of 11th graders met grade-level standards in math.
So, the Golden State educrats just had to do something, and as of 2021, the “somethings” were a sight to behold. The gurus of the proposed math framework, which is not mandatory but rather suggested guidelines, decided that teachers should use “A Pathway to Equitable Math Instruction: Dismantling Racism in Mathematics Instruction” as a resource to improve student learning. This radical drivel insists that addressing student errors, focusing on getting the right answer, and requiring students to show their work is a form of white supremacy. Objectivity is racist, you see.
But due to citizen outrage during the “public comments” period, the state walked back some of its new math mandates, notably dropping the over-the-top A Pathway to Equitable Math Instruction. The commission agreed to remove references to the toolkit from the draft framework, stating it was “inconsistent with teaching to the standards.”
In 2022, another iteration of the framework, also filled with edu-blather, went by the wayside.
In July 2023, the state finally came to a decision, and it’s not a very pretty one. In brief, the California education pundits have taken tried and true methods and replaced them with new-think gobbledygook. For example, while math proficiency has traditionally depended on memorization, the new framework promotes “student-led” instruction, “active learning,” “active inquiry,” and “collaborative” instruction.
Bill Evers, Senior Fellow and Director of the Center on Educational Excellence at the Independent Institute, has many issues with the new framework. He writes that there is ”a science of math instruction,” which includes, among other things, “having students memorize math facts (like multiplication tables and addition and subtraction facts) and standard algorithms.” Evers also stresses that working out answers to problems and doing so quickly are components of math fluency.
In addition to ignoring certain proven math teaching strategies, there is a touchy-feelie and far-left aspect woven into the framework. The 1,000-page document aims to structure the teaching of the state’s math standards around “big ideas” that allow students to “see themselves in the curriculum and in math-related careers by making math instruction culturally relevant and empowering…”
The framework also supports so-called Trauma-Informed Pedagogy, which is geared toward students’ feelings. “Data related to issues can draw not only from a range of mathematical ideas and student curiosities but also from a range of feelings about relevant, complex issues. A focus on complex feelings aligns with trauma-informed pedagogy, which highlights the importance of allowing students to identify and express their feelings as part of mathematics sense-making, and to allow students to address what they learn about their world by suggesting recommendations and taking action.”
The first objective of the “teaching toward social justice” portion of the framework asks teachers to encourage students to “see themselves and others as mathematically competent” as a way to build positive identities.
The framework explains that one way to do that is through culturally responsive teaching practices, which can be implemented in mathematics by “exploring students’ lives and histories and designing and implementing curricula that center contributions that historically marginalized people have made to mathematics.”
Another social justice objective is to empower students “with tools to examine inequities and address important issues in their lives and communities.” Additionally, teachers are advised to use “mathematics to analyze and discuss issues of fairness and justice and to make mathematics relevant and engaging to students.”
Getting downright Marxist, the framework enters into the “oppressors and oppressed” arena, contending that mathematics should be used to “both understand and impact the world.” It argues that math teachers should hold the political position that “mathematics plays a role in the power structures and privileges that exist within our society and can support action and positive change.”
And just for comic relief, the framework suggests that students in California should employ “math identity rainbows” whereby students weave together “colored cords (pink, orange, yellow, blue, and purple) to show that they are part of a classroom community.” Yellow, for instance, represents communicating, while pink is for perseverance. The exercise allegedly “provides students with the opportunity to notice that together they are part of a mathematical community.”
Some people from other states may be wondering, “Why should I care about what happens in California?”
Tom Loveless, a Harvard professor of public policy, has an answer. “With almost six million public school students, the state constitutes the largest textbook market in the United States. Publishers are likely to cater to that market by producing instructional materials in accord with the state’s preferences.”
Hence, if textbooks are vying for the California market, other states could be affected as they may not have an alternative textbook to use.
Darren Miller, a veteran California high school math teacher, sums up the mess in a blog post. “As Instapundit has said many times: If they can’t give you good government, they’ll give you ‘woke’ government. I’ll add to that: If they can’t give you good education, they’ll give you ‘woke’ education. And that’s exactly what California is dishing up here.”
Miller is right, of course. Unless California changes course in a hurry, the state will soon be largely populated by left-wing innumerates who feel very good about themselves. Whoopee.
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Larry Sand, a former classroom teacher, is the president of the non-profit California Teachers Empowerment Network – a non-partisan, non-political group dedicated to providing teachers and the general public with reliable and balanced information about professional affiliations and positions on educational issues. The views presented here are strictly his own.